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Bereavement

If you have experienced a recent bereavement or are still struggling with an historical loss, Counselling4you can help. We understand the grieving cycle and the many emotions that the loss of a dear one evokes.

Bereavement is a distressing but common experience. Sooner or later we will all suffer the death of someone we love. Yet in our everyday life we think and talk about death very little, perhaps because we encounter it less often than our grandparents did. For them, the death of a brother or sister, friend or relative, was a common experience in their childhood or teenage years. For us, these losses usually happen later in life. So, we do not have much of a chance to learn about grieving, how it feels, what the right things to do are, what is 'normal', or how to come to terms with it. In spite of this we have to cope when we are finally faced with the death of someone we love. 

Here is some information about some of the ways in which people grieve after such a loss, about the ways in which bereaved people can get stuck in the grieving process, and the help available.

Grieving

Grieving takes place after any sort of loss, but most powerfully after the death of someone we love. It is not just one feeling, but a whole succession of feelings, which take a while to get through and which cannot be hurried.

Grief is most commonly experienced after the death of someone we have known for some time. However, it is clear that people who have had stillbirths or miscarriages, or who have lost very young babies suffer a similar experience of grieving and need the same sort of care and consideration.

In the few hours or days following the death of someone close people often feel simply stunned.  This sense of emotional numbness can help in getting through all the important practical arrangements that have to be made. However, this feeling of unreality may become a problem if it goes on too long. Seeing the body of the dead person may, for some, is an important way of beginning to overcome this. For many people, the funeral or memorial service is an occasion when the reality of what has happened really starts to sink in.

Soon though, this numbness disappears, it may be replaced by a dreadful sense of agitation, of pining or yearning for the dead person. There is a feeling of wanting somehow to find them, even though this is clearly impossible. This makes it difficult to relax or concentrate and it may be difficult to sleep properly. Dreams may also be extremely disturbing. Some people feel that they 'see' their loved one everywhere they go - in the street, the park, around the house, anywhere they had spent time together. People often feel very angry at this time - towards doctors and nurses who did not prevent the death, towards friends and relatives who did not do enough, or even towards the person who has left them.

Another common feeling is guilt. People find themselves going over in their minds all the things they would have liked to have said or done. They may even consider what they could have done differently that might have prevented the death. Guilt may also arise if a sense of relief is felt when someone has died after a particularly painful or distressing illness. This feeling of relief is natural, extremely understandable and very common.

This state of agitation is usually strongest about two weeks after the death, but is soon followed by times of quiet sadness or depression, withdrawal and silence. These sudden changes of emotion can be confusing to friends or relatives but are just part of the normal way of passing through the different stages of grief.

Although the agitation lessens, the periods of depression become more frequent and reach their peak between four and six weeks later. There may be periods of time just sitting, doing nothing. In fact, they are usually thinking about the person they have lost, going over again and again both the good times and the bad times they had together. This is a quiet normal but essential part of coming to terms with the death.

As time passes, the fierce pain of early bereavement begins to fade. The depression lessens and it is possible to think about other things and even to look again to the future. However, the sense of having lost a part of oneself never goes away entirely. After some time it is possible to feel whole again, even though a part is missing. Even so, years later you may sometimes find yourself talking as though he/she were still there with you.

These various stages of mourning often overlap and show themselves in different ways in different people. Most recover from a major bereavement within one or two years.

The final phase of grieving is a letting-go of the person who has died and the start of a new way of life. The depression clears completely, sleep improves and energy returns too normal. Sexual feelings may have vanished for some time, but now return - this is quite normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

Generally there is no 'standard' way of grieving. We are all individuals and have our own particular ways of grieving. In addition, people from different cultures deal with death in their own, distinctive ways. Over the centuries, people in different parts of the world have worked out their own ceremonies for coping with death. In some communities death is seen as just one step in the continuous cycle of life and death rather than as a 'full stop'. The rituals and ceremonies of mourning may be very public and demonstrative, or private and quiet. In some cultures the period of mourning is fixed, in others not. The feelings experienced by bereaved people in different cultures may be similar, but their ways of expressing them are very different.

Children and Adolescents

Even though children may not understand the meaning of death, they will feel the loss of close relatives in much the same way as adults. It is clear that, even from infancy, children grieve and feel great distress.
However, they have a different experience of time from that of adults and may go through the stages of mourning quite rapidly.

How Can Friends and Relatives Help?

It must be remembered that festive occasions and anniversaries (not only of the death but also birthdays and weddings) are particularly painful times when friends and relatives can make a special effort to be around.

Practical help with cleaning, shopping or looking after children can ease the burden of being alone. Elderly bereaved partners may need help with the chores that the deceased partner used to handle - coping with bills, cooking, housework, getting the car serviced and so on.

It is important to allow people enough time to grieve. Some can seem to get over the loss quickly, but others take longer. So don't expect too much too soon from a bereaved relative or friend - they need the time to grieve properly, and this will help to avoid problems in the future.

Unresolved Grief

There are people who seem hardly to grieve at all. They do not cry at the funeral, avoid any mention of their loss and return to their normal life remarkably quickly. This is their normal way of dealing with loss but often no harm results. Others may suffer from strange physical symptoms or repeated spells of depression over the following years.

Some may not have the opportunity to grieve properly. The heavy demands of looking after a family or business may mean that there just isn't the time.