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At some point in our lives, we all lose someone we love and for most of us, bereavement will be the most distressing experience we will ever face. Bereavement sometimes referred to as grief, is a term used to describe the sense of loss we feel when someone close to us passes away. Everyone experiences grief differently and there is no 'normal' or 'right' way to grieve.

Grief is associated with many different emotions, particularly feelings of sadness, yearning, guilt, regret and anger.  Some people may experience a sense of meaninglessness whilst others can feel a sense of relief. Emotions are often surprising in both how strong and mild they can be at different times.

Thoughts during grief can vary from “there’s nothing I could have done about it” to “it’s my fault, I could/should have done more” or from “she had a good life” to “it was too soon for her to die.” Your thoughts can be both troubling and soothing, and you can bounce between the two as you try and make sense of your loss. During grieving you might switch from crying to laughter, through to sharing your feelings to staying silent. Some people find comfort in the company of others, particularly with those who may be similarly affected by the loss, and others may prefer to be alone with their feelings.

You may feel a number of things immediately after a death:

Shock - It may take you a long time to grasp what has happened. The shock can make you numb, and some people at first carry on as if nothing has happened. It is hard to believe that someone is not coming back. Many people feel disorientated - as if they have lost their place and purpose in life or are living in a different world.

Pain - Feelings of pain and distress following bereavement can be overwhelming and very frightening.

Anger - Sometimes bereaved people can feel angry. This anger is a completely natural emotion, typical of the grieving process. Death can seem cruel and unfair, especially when you feel someone has died before their time or when you had plans for the future together. We may also feel angry towards the person who has died, or angry at ourselves for things we did or didn’t do or say to the person before their death.

Guilt - Guilt is another common reaction. People who have lost someone close often say they feel directly or indirectly to blame for the person’s death. You may also feel guilty if you had a difficult or confusing relationship with the person who has died, or if you feel you didn’t do enough to help them when they were alive.

Depression - Many bereaved people experience feelings of depression following the death of someone close. Life can feel like it no longer holds any meaning and some people say they too want to die.

Longing - Thinking you are hearing or seeing someone who has died is a common experience and can happen when you least expect it. You may find that you can't stop thinking about the events leading up to the death. "Seeing" the person who has died and hearing their voice can happen because the brain is trying to process the death and acknowledge the finality of it.

Other people's reactions - One of the hardest things to face when we are bereaved is the way other people react to us. They often do not know what to say or how to respond to our loss. Because they don't know what to say or are worried about saying the wrong thing, people can avoid those who have lost someone. This is hard for us because we may well want to talk about the person who has died. It can become especially hard as time goes on and other people's memories of the person who has died fade.

How can bereavement counselling help with grief?

Bereavement counselling is designed to help you cope more effectively with the death of a loved one, by offering an understanding of the mourning process. Grief counselling can help you explore areas that could potentially prevent you from moving on by helping you resolve areas of conflict that might still remain.

You will probably never stop missing the person you lost, but with enough time and the right support, a new life can be pieced together and purpose can be reclaimed.

Bereavement counselling aims to get you to the point where you can function normally - however long it takes. It may not feel like it now, but one day, you may be able to find happiness again. By creating a place to keep the person you lost, and finding ways to remember them (like anniversary celebrations, or leaving flowers at grave side) you should be able to preserve their memory and honour the impact they had on your life, without letting their absence obscure your own future.

With time, pain does settle.

Further reading on coping with bereavement

Through Grief’ - Bereavement Journey - by Elizabeth Collick (1986)
You’ll Get Over It: The Rage of Bereavement’ - by Virginia Ironside (1997).
 ‘On Grief and Grieving’ Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss’ - by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler (2005)


 

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