Losing someone we care about can be heart-breaking and mourning their loss can bring about a storm of different emotions. Bereavement can look and feel quite different for each of us, that’s because we are all unique, we will all grieve in our own unique way for the loss we have suffered. Everyone is different, so there is not a right or wrong way to grieve. This blog about bereavement hopes to shed light on some of the complexities of this experience and why it can be so difficult and painful.
There are actually lots of different types of grief because there are different aspects to the loss, such as the nature of the death, the relationship you had with the deceased and how you as an individual react to the loss. Some examples of these are:
- Anticipatory grief can be when a person has died from a long-term illness, you’re able to anticipate their death and often the grieving begins as soon as you’re aware they are going to die (although it doesn’t necessarily make the grief feel any easier when they pass away).
- Ambivalent grief is when you have conflicting feelings about the person who has died, either because there were difficulties in the relationship, unresolved feelings towards the person, lack of contact before the death or other such strains between you and the person who has died.
- Delayed grief is when the grief reaction occurs an unusually long time after the death, perhaps because the person has suppressed their feelings of loss to avoid the pain or as a way of trying to ‘hold it together’ for others.
- Complicated grief is when the grief is intense and doesn’t ease over time, you struggle to function, and the despair doesn’t lessen. This could include severe depression, social isolation, and suicidal thoughts.
- Disenfranchised grief is when there is a sense from a person’s culture or community that grieving the person who has died isn’t socially acceptable, for example if the death was by drug overdose, suicide, drink-driving or if the relationship with the deceased is deemed insignificant or stigmatized i.e. an ex-spouse, extra-marital partner, pet. There is a sense that it is shameful to grieve, and feelings have to be hidden.
Whatever your experience of bereavement, the reaction to it could involve many feelings such as shock, denial, anger, bitterness, guilt, sadness, longing, fear, anxiety, worry, disorientation, feeling numb, hopelessness, loneliness and despair. You may even have hallucinatory moments when you think you see them or hear them.
Behavioural reactions might include crying, being focused only on your loved one’s death, lack of interest in doing anything, struggling to do daily activities, withdrawal from others.
Grief can also have physical effects such as: insomnia, fatigue, appetite loss or comfort eating, nausea, headaches, chest pain and increased blood pressure, lowered immunity, increased use of alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs.
Whatever we feel and experience can leave us feeling incredibly vulnerable and as though we cannot cope.
In an attempt to understand grief and what we need to go through to navigate it, Worden (2018)1 talks about the 4 tasks of grieving. Starting firstly with accepting the reality of the loss. In the initial time of hearing of the death of someone it can take time to believe and accept the reality of the situation, even if you have attended the funeral and said your goodbyes, it may still take time to come to terms with the depth of relationship you had with that person and therefore the impact the loss has on you.
Secondly to experience the pain of grief, allowing yourself to feel all the feelings that are inside you and knowing that it’s OK to let them out. It’s important to acknowledge and express your feelings in whatever way helps, whether that’s talking them through, writing them down, through tears, or even screaming at the top of your lungs, expressing and understanding feelings is vital and an essential part of grieving. Avoiding these feelings can delay and complicate grief.
Thirdly, grieving isn’t simply about missing someone and wishing they were still with us, it’s also about trying to find ways to cope without their presence, help and support. It may mean adapting to a new way of living such as living alone, doing things alone and re-evaluating who you are and how you will live life without the other person. Also, on a practical level it may involve having more parenting responsibilities, managing the finances, doing all the housework/DIY etc.
The fourth stage can be the most difficult, which is to find a way of continuing to remember and be connected to the person we have lost, whilst allowing ourselves to find ways of engaging in life where we might gain pleasure in new activities and/or relationships.
As you might imagine, these stages aren’t always linear and we could even be trying to do all of these things at the same time or find it very hard to do one or all of them. Also grieving isn’t necessarily a constant process, people often describe grief that comes in waves where it can hit you all of a sudden and then subside somewhat. There is no prescription for how you will grieve or how long it will take.
One thing that I often hear when it comes to grieving is that people around you don’t always know what to say to you for fear of upsetting you, this can make the bereaved person feel like they’re being avoided and can add to feelings of loneliness. Also, sometimes people find it hard to talk about their grief because they’re not used to talking about their feelings, perhaps because that’s how they’ve been brought up in their family, or because they feel they would be a burden to others.
If you feel as though you have no one to talk to who can understand or engage with your grief, or you’re finding it hard to cope with the grief, then you may find it helpful to talk to a counsellor so please feel free to contact me if you’d like some support. I can provide a safe and welcoming space where you can be free to explore and share thoughts and feelings and be supported in untangling issues that feel difficult or confusing. Having someone who can accompany you for a time in your journey of bereavement can help you know you’re not on your own and support you in navigating your way through.
1. Worden, W.J., Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, Springer Publishing, 2018.