Bereavement support & understanding grief
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Wendy Lewis-Cordwell
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Wendy Lewis-Cordwell, Director of Bereavement Care Services - Cumbria and Lancashire, and the North West Bereavement Care Development Consultant for Child Bereavement UK. With 27 years experience in the NHS, and a trained facilitator for BSA 'When a Patient Dies', National Gold Standards Bereavement Care Training, Child Bereavement UK, Grief Journey UK, NCPC Associate and Bereavement Care Services, educating professionals in areas of loss and bereavement.
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Mental health during pregnancy

Bereavement support & understanding grief

Grief is our natural process of reaction and adjustment to loss and change. When we lose someone or something that is important to us, we grieve. There are many types of losses - loss of health, loss of employment, marital breakdown, divorce and death - and the reactions we have after a loss may be very different. Every significant loss challenges us to find ways of coping with the changes that absence brings.
In Short
This does not mean that we put the loss behind us, but we now have to adjust to a life without that person or thing that meant so much to us. For most the death of someone close will be the biggest loss we face. The grieving process is to try to make sense of what has happened while learning to live your life without that person.

What to expect

  • We are all amateurs when it comes to grief and there is no right or wrong way to grieve
  • Each death and the grief that follows is UNIQUE to that person and family
  • No two people’s reaction will be the same, but these are some of thefeelings they might have.

Feelings

The feelings and physical symptoms listed below may come and go and do not follow any particular order.

  • sad
  • numb
  • irritable
  • angry
  • relieved
  • guilty
  • lonely
  • depressed
  • frightened
  • helpless

Physical symptoms

  • more tired than usual
  • hard to sleep (although tired)
  • vivid dreams (not unusual)
  • appetite may change
  • energy levels may be low
  • concentration may be low – so that they are absentminded
  • difficulty absorbing new information

The Grief Process

Many people experience a sense of shock and disbelief when a death occurs. They may appear to be coping well but often feel detached and almost in a dream.

This initial reaction is a protective device that allows them to shut down in some ways as they prepare for what lies ahead. They may be surprised that the pain increases when the numbness begins to wear off and the reality of the loss begins to sink in. As the reality comes into focus so too does the pain of the loss. They begin to notice all that they have lost.

Grief does not happen in a set way. It is not like having the flu, when a person can feel very ill and then begin to feel a bit better until finally they return to being their old self again.

The feelings and thoughts of grief come and go in waves.

Sometimes they may feel they are coping quite well and then experience a burst of grief as they are reminded of the loss.

It can be confusing to suddenly feel angry, for example, if they feel they have already ‘gotten over’ the anger.

It may help to remember that their thoughts and feelings will come and go as they try to come to terms with grief while also living day-to-day life.

  • Grief is a process and it takes time
  • Everyone’s grief if different and UNIQUE
  • There is no right or wrong way to grieve
  • Strong emotions and thoughts are part of grief

How long does grieving take?

There is no set time for grief. Grieving can be a lifetime adjustment, with some feelings coming back many times. They also may find that they feel a ‘dip’ around important dates such as anniversaries and birthdays. They will find that their grief will become less intense and ease over time. That does not mean that they are over their grief but that they begin to find a way to re- engage in life without the person that died.

Prolonged Grief

While most people find their own way to cope with the support of family and friends, some people find they need professional support as they adjust. Bereavement counselling may help if:

  • “The death was unexpected, sudden or possibly avoidable
  • “The relationship with the person who died was troubled or dependent
  • “They do not feel that they have enough support
  • “They have a lot of other stress in their lives, or
  • “They are finding it hard to adjust to change and loss

What may help?

  • “Seek out accurate information about grief and loss
  • “Be patient and gentle with them as they grieve
  • “Recognise the extent of the loss
  • “Allow them time to cope and to grieve in a way that suits them
  • “Try to ensure they sleep well, eat well and take gentle exercise
  • “Encourage them not to make major or rash decisions whilst they are grieving
  • “Accepting emotional and practical support from friends and family
  • “Getting professional help if they are finding it too difficult

Thoughts

They may find they spend a lot of time thinking about the loss and the events leading up to it. It is normal to spend time thinking about ‘if onlys’ and how things might have been different. Many people find they think a lot about why it happened. Although they know the person has died, they may ‘forget’ it briefly, particularly in the morning when they wake up. They may imagine they see or have contact with the person who died. These thoughts can be overwhelming or frightening at times. The emotions and physical symptoms of grief can lead them to wonder if they are grieving the ‘right’ way or even if they are going mad.

Social changes

They may find they need time alone or may feel a need to tell the story of the loss many times over. They may seek out people who can understand their need to talk and distance themselves from people who are uncomfortable with this. They may be disappointed and surprised at who can support them and who cannot.

Spiritual struggles

They may struggle with questions about:

  • the meaning of life
  • their relationship with God
  • their beliefs about what happens after death

Although it may be difficult to imagine in the early days of grief, as time goes on they will find resources and strength within themselves that they did not know existed. Even as we struggle with grief, we can learn and grow with it.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.