Bereavement is a sense of grief caused by the loss of someone or something that we hold dear to us.
Loss is one of life’s most stressful events, it happens to us many times during the course of our lives, and can affect us in different ways on each occasion.
“Grieving over a lost one is a uniquely personal process, there is no time limit and nor is there a right or wrong way to do it”
There are thought to be five distinct phases or stages associated with the grieving process.
During the bereavement process, people will typically spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. The five stages do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often need to move between stages before we can achieve a more peaceful acceptance of the death. In our modern lives most of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve what is needed to come to an appropriate level of acceptance. The death of loved ones often inspires us to evaluate our own feelings of mortality, and raises previously unknown fears and uncertainties.
On learning of a terminal illness or death of a loved one it is not uncommon for people to denial the reality of the situation. Denial is a survival response and assists in buffering us from the immediate shock, it helps us to rationalise overwhelming emotions and carry us through the first wave of pain
As the masking effects of denial and isolation wear off, reality and its pain re-emerge. But we are not ready. There follows an intense emotion which we attempt to deflect from our vulnerable core. This pain becomes redirected and expressed as anger. The anger needs to escape and find a target, this may be at inanimate objects, complete strangers, or friends and family. Anger may even be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this can make us even more angry. The doctor who diagnosed the illness and was unable to cure the disease might become a convenient target.
When denial and anger no longer hold back the pain, a sense of helplessness and vulnerability ensues. At this stage people may attempt bargaining
Why me, what have I done to deserve this?
If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
Secretly, we may even make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable
Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
Many people do not experience the stages in the order listed above, which is okay. The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the grieving process — it helps you understand and put into context where you are.
Above all, bear this in mind — all people grieve differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry.
We may need help to cope with the changes in our lives. Grief is part of being human, but that doesn’t mean we have to go through the journey alone. At Redbridge Counselling we are here to listen and support you through this emotional period.
At some point in our lives, we each have to face the pain of losing someone, or something, we care deeply about. We may feel a range of emotions and sensations in our grief such as shock, emotional numbness, anger, guilt and regret. We may also feel depressed, exhausted and slowed down. The pain of losing something or someone we care so deeply about can seem so monumental that we may feel like we can never recover from the loss. Yet, while we each have our own methods of coming to terms with bereavement and grief, for those who are unable to process these difficult emotions, such losses can leave deep emotional scars and potentially long-term emotional difficulties.