Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Bereavement - loss and the process of grief

In our society, we often don't give much space to the grieving process. After a bereavement you may be given a few days off work; and then you 'should be' ready to carry on as usual. Other people may ask how you are, but perhaps you feel they are expecting you to say that you are OK now, even if that's not really how you feel inside.

Stepping stones across the waterGrieving takes as long as it takes! It isn't something you can hurry; nor is it something you can just 'do' to fit in with a busy work schedule. However you may feel the pressure to show others that you are 'back to normal,'  when in fact you're still grieving. There is no 'right' way to grieve. We do it in our own time and our own way.

I feel that this is important in itself - the fact that we all have our own individual way of grieving. If a loved one dies, those who were close to that person may all grieve in different ways. This can have various consequences.

You may feel that you don't want to 'burden' others or perhaps that you need to be the 'strong one' and put your own feelings to one side in order to be there for them. Therefore you keep your feelings to yourself, maybe even burying them. Sometimes it may seem that there is nothing else you can do. At some point though, these feelings are likely to re-emerge, perhaps when you're least expecting it. They come back to bite you.

One way of thinking about this is that feelings may re-emerge when you have the space and the capacity to deal with them. I'm saying this because people may feel that they 'shouldn't ' have feelings of grief after 'all this time' - maybe years after the bereavement. It tends to happen though because these feelings were put to one side. They need to come out at some point. It's part of the grieving process - part of healing. You do it when you are able.

Another consequence of a bereavement is that while you may be grieving yourself, and your family or partner is grieving too, at any one point in time, your feelings may not correspond. Therefore you may feel out of tune with others. Why do you feel sad, when they are angry? Why do you feel angry, when they are feeling sad? Why does someone feel numb and others highly emotional?

These differences can cause feelings of isolation. It can be hard to understand each other - just when you need each other most. This is a normal experience in grieving. It makes things more complicated though - an extra stress.

Accepting that other people will be grieving in their own way - just as you are - can ease the process. Some people may very openly express their feelings, while others keep it in. But they both could be hurting just as much as each other. Some people may just feel numb. That doesn't mean they don't care but that it is hard for them to take it in all at once - a kind of self protection. We take in what we are able to. It takes time. 

Allowing each other the space for your own processes is therefore very helpful. You may not entirely understand how others feel, but acknowledging and accepting the difference can still help. It's certainly a good starting point.

I've mentioned anger, sadness and feeling numb. There may be one particular feeling at any one time, but it can also feel like a mix of conflicting feelings battling it out.  Again, although difficult, this is normal. Accepting that you are experiencing a mix of feelings, however much you'd rather not, can be helpful.

Counselling is an option for exploring these complex feelings, when it's hard to sort them out by yourself. Having a space to talk about how you feel can help untangle and make more sense of these feelings.

These are just some brief comments about bereavement and loss, particularly focusing on our individual differences and acceptance of this. Finally, I'd like to say that grieving is a process.This means that however idiosyncratic, it does have a beginning, middle and end, however complex it may seem. Working through your difficult feelings, as grieving allows you to do, gives you a chance to heal. It isn't just time but the healing takes place in time. Having patience and compassion for yourself and others can help with this process of grief.

Lin Travis Counselling Services

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