What is bereavement?
If you have experienced the death of someone who was very important to you, you might be finding it very difficult to adjust to the immense changes happening in your life right now. Grief can shake everything up – your beliefs, your personality, and even your sense of reality.
Bereavement is the time we spend adjusting to loss. There is no standard time limit and there is no right or wrong way to feel during the bereavement period – everyone must learn to cope in their own way.
Grief, although normal, can manifest in a huge range of unexpected ways. Some people get angry, some people withdraw further into themselves and some people become completely numb. Sometimes, grief can turn into something more serious – like depression.
Bereavement counselling may be able to provide support during these very difficult times. Talking about the loss often allows a person to adjust to their new life with all its changes – good and bad. Keeping things bottled up or denying the sadness could prolong the pain. Any loss has to be acknowledged for us to move forward. Bereavement counselling tries to help clients find a place for their loss so they can carry on with life and eventually find acceptance.
What is bereavement?
The word ‘bereavement’ comes from the ancient German for ‘seize by violence’. Sometimes when someone dies, it can feel just like that – like that person has been forcibly taken away. Today the word ‘bereavement’ is used to describe the period of grief and mourning we go through after someone close to us dies.
When someone you care about suddenly leaves your life, it’s not a case of taking time out to recover. ‘Recovery’ suggests that you will emerge exactly the same as you were before. In reality, all of your experiences shape the person you are, and experiencing the death of someone you care about often has the biggest impact. Bereavement is about trying to accept what happened, learning to adjust to life without that person and finding a place to keep their memory alive while you try to get along as best you can.
Stages of bereavement
During bereavement, it is important to find ways to mourn our loss and express our grief.
The bereavement period can be a confusing time involving a lot of very powerful emotions. These emotions can grow, fade and shift as we move across the different stages of bereavement. Not everyone experiences the same stages of bereavement at the same time or in the same order. However, most people generally go through the following four stages at some point:
- accepting that your loss really happened
- experiencing the pain that comes with grief
- trying to adjust to life without the person who died
- putting less emotional energy into your grief and finding a new place to put it i.e. moving on.
Most people go through all of these stages, but not everyone moves between them smoothly. Sometimes, people get stuck on one stage and find it difficult to move on.
- Accepting that your loss really happened
Nothing prepares us for the loss of a loved one. Even when a person is ill and we see their death coming for a long time.
Most people experience severe shock when they’re told a loved one has died. It takes time to really believe that that person, who only recently seemed so real and tangible, no longer exists.
For a while after a loss, you might find yourself looking out for that person in crowds. You might wake up in the morning and forget momentarily that they have gone. A part of you might hope that everyone was wrong, and the person will return to you somehow.
Accepting that your loss really happened is an essential part of the bereavement process. Without acceptance, you may find it hard to really grieve for your loved one.
- Experiencing the pain that comes with grief
Grief is the agony you feel inside when you realise that you have lost somebody. Grief is complex. It comes in a million different forms – some people cry for days, some people get angry and lash out, other people withdraw from the world and grieve in their own private way. Different emotions associated with grief include:
- longing (to see them again)
What you feel after a person has died will depend on the relationship you had with that person and the nature of their death. Of course, there is no telling what form your grief will take, and everyone’s experience is unique.
As painful as it feels, it is important to let yourself grieve for your loss. Some people lock their emotions inside and try to get on with life as usual. Denying yourself the time to grieve properly could result in complications that prevent you from getting on with life.
- Trying to adjust to life without them
Once you have accepted your loss and spent time understanding and releasing your emotions, you may eventually find yourself adjusting to a new kind of life. How you cope with this stage will again depend on what kind of relationship you had with the person who died. If you shared your daily life with them, then the changes to your life are likely to be bigger than if you only saw that person once in a while.
When a big gap opens up in your life very suddenly, it can throw everything into complete turmoil. Suddenly, everything can seem different. You may even feel like you’ve shifted into a different dimension, where nothing is real. The realisation that everyday life goes on even though your own life has been ripped apart can feel like a massive blow. With time however, your feet will hit solid ground again and you will start to adjust to life without them.
- Moving on
One day you will probably get to a point where life begins to take you on a new route. You may always remember the person who died, and you may continue to grieve for their loss forever – but naturally you will begin to ‘move on’. This is not a bad thing. It does not mean you are heartless, or that you are somehow being a traitor to your loved one. It simply means you have found a way to channel your emotions into new things. In other words – you have found a way to cope.