Updated: May 18
This week I began volunteering with Cruse, having completed a specialist Level 2 qualification all about grief and bereavment. I have decided to share some of the things that I have learned about grief, both from my own experience, the training, research I've done and working with others talking about loss and grief`.
1. Grief is not just what we experience after a death. Grief is the feeling we experience when we lose someone or something significant to us. Grief is interestingly also felt about other life changes, not just following a death. For example, following a serious crime or traumatic experience, we can feel grief for our own lost innocence of our 'life before'. Humans experience grief and a sense of loss, struggling to adjust, and grieve about jobs. For example, people can grieve a lost identity, lifestyle and work friends after a redundancy, a move or retirement. Many people feel a sense of grief about a lost life and and identity prior to a divorce. People who lose animals also grieve. Grief is a universal response to loss.
2. Grief reactions are many and varied. Each individual has an individual set of reactions which will vary in intensity and duration. The intensity and duration of the experience for the bereaved person will be dependent upon their own state of well-being in the lead up to the death (and after), any other compounding life events (either before or after the loss), their relationship to the person who has died and the circumstances of the death itself as well as their own resilience factors and support available to them.
Some grief reactions experienced are emotional in nature (sadness, anger, numbness, yearning, loneliness, helplessness, relief, anxiety, shock for example). Thoughts are also impacted. For example, there is usually a sense of disbelief and shock (even when a death is known to be imminent as humans adjust to new realities). Research has found that the denial phase is common and acceptance is one of the first emotional tasks for the bereaved to process. There is often a sense of preoccupation with detail (sometimes manifests as blame or fact finding in an attempt to make sense of a death). Often a sense of feeling confused and a general feeling of confusion will be present for some months. Grief often impacts behaviour too. For example, the bereaved person might experience nightmares or lots of dreams, become very forgetful, cry a lot, become hyper busy, clingy or stop eating. Grief can show itself physically. For example, through disturbed sleep, feeling sick, having reduced energy and/or become hyper sensitive to noise. Grief also impacts practically (there are many tasks to do following a death), socially (many people find death awkward and socialising is often the last priority), spiritually (it is natural to question faith) and intellectually (the previous feeling of control and world view is shaken and many re-evaluate their priorities following a significant death).
All together having a significant loss causes many ripples and so it is unsurprising that many people find death of a loved one, one of the most stressful life events they ever experience.
I like to use this blob picture to help clients to see different stages of their grief reactions from week to week, with an accepting attitude. Often these states are fluctuating and fluid and do not need to be viewed with any shame as we are 'just humans' struggling to adjust.
3. Many people experience a continuing bond with the deceased person. This could be litereally in that many people say they come to feel a sense of presence of the deceased and continue to smell, feel a touch or to talk to their loved ones. This is a normal reaction as it is actually very common. Other ways people hold to their loved ones is by treasured objects, wearing clothes or wanting to be in special places to feel close to them and so on. Some people do not experience or want this and that is also not unusual as pain is by its nature is difficult. Some people find that they want to try to move on from their loved one. Here is alink from Mary Curie of ideas to help.
4. People who are grieving often feel a lot of responsibility, guilt and shame. Have a read of one of my first blogs on secondary suffering for more information on this. One of the theories of grief is the 'dual process' model (shown below in the image from Self Love Rainbow). The model illustrates how after a bereavement the bereaved person oscillates or moves many times a day from focussing on the loss and gradually to focussing on restoration of their life. Guilt and shame can add to problems as they feel they"should not" be doing either at different points of the grieving process. Some cultures or groups put more emphasis on remembering the loss and others on 'moving on'. This is so significant in my experience that I would say that dealing with guilt and shame is a significant part of dealing with grief.
5. Talking and mindfulness are both very helpful when processing loss and grief. They can help with understanding the processes, feeling accepted as often there is much judgement and conflict following death in our culture. Counselling can help to process and work through feelings of guilt or shame and also, very importantly, helping with emotional regulation or trauma.
Cruse Bereavement offer free support as well as other charities such as Marie Curie or specialist charities that can help if bereraved by suicide, knife crime or for loss of children. Private counsellors also offer support if you do not want to wait or prefer face to face therapy, as there are frequently waiting lists and charities often work by Zoom or telephone, though you can specifically request face to face, the wait may be longer.
I would like to finish by adding that there is not a time when you ever 'get your life back' to how it was, though this is a deep yearning that is often present. The pain is always there and yet life can still grow around that pain, with time. To want life to be unchanging in this sense, is normal and the common experience of humans facing loss. It is not something we need to feel guilty or ashamed or shamed by others about. Speaking to someone who will not judge you, is very helpful. This poem illustrates how I feel about the death of my friend, Katy, and I hope if you are bereaved that this little blog and the poem, helps you in some small way.
Adrift by Mark Nepo
Everything is beautiful and I am so sad. This is how the heart makes
A duet of wonder and grief.
The light spraying through the lace of the fern is
As delicate As the fibers of memory forming their web Around the knot in my throat.
The breeze makes the birds move from branch to branch as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost in the next room, in the next song,
in the laugh of the next stranger.
In the very center, under it all,
What we have that no one can take away
All that we’ve lost
Face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift,
Feeling punctured By a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.
With love and kindness to anyone who has lost something or someone precious. Please feel free to get in touch if you feel that I could help you.
Here is a link if you want to know how to support others.