BEREAVEMENT AND GRIEVING
STAGES OF GRIEF
It is generally accepted that people go through certain characteristic emotional states when they are grieving. These can include shock, numbness, anger, disbelief, emotional rawness, nervous exhaustion with sensitivity and intolerance to noise, light, and the presence of other people - even your nearest and dearest. There may be a profound tiredness and exhaustion which can last for many months. Sometimes utter desolation can give way to sudden bursts of energy.
It is not uncommon to have sudden, brief hallucinations where you are convinced you have actually seen or heard the person who has passed away. Knowing that this can happen to you is important, as it helps reassure you that you are not going mad. You may also experience a profound shock at seeing people in the street who seem to bear a close resemblance to your loved one. Although it seems impossible at the time, all these heightened and intense states usually lessen with the passage of time.
Sometimes the anger of bereaved people can be profound. For example, the bereaved person can be convinced that their loved one might have survived if only he or she had had better medical care, and they feel a compound of rage and helplessness. We all handle grief differently. Some bereaved folk may need to talk at great length about their sense of desolation, the injustice of their loss, the emptiness of life without their loved one. Those whose job it is to listen may feel very frustrated at hearing the same things over and over again, but gradually the passage of time generally restores balance and equilibrium. Others may become incredibly busy in the weeks and months after a death, redecorating the house from top to bottom, travelling a great deal, signing up for courses and undertaking new projects.
Some of the information on these pages will be helpful for the bereaved, some of it will help those around the bereaved to understand what they are going through and why they are behaving as they are.
Grief often comes in waves. One can be calm for a while and then inexplicably some little thing will set off another bout of crying. This can be frustrating and perplexing for those nearby, but it is very normal and usually the passage of time will mean that the intervals between episodes of intense grief become greater. Sometimes the bereaved person may not want to "get over" their grief. This doesn't mean they are being self-indulgent, rather they may feel caught between the natural tendency of grief to subside and the feeling that they are being unfaithful to the memory of their loved one.
In time, some folk begin to get the feeling that they would like to honour the life of their loved one and express their own love for them by bringing something good out of their death, as much as is possible.
These are just a few of the things I've come across over the years which may be of use to you. If you're not ready or don't feel like taking this step, that's fine; we're all different and these are just suggestions - to be considered and accepted or rejected as you wish. Just do what feels right for you.
- Giving to/volunteering for a charity that is near to your heart
- At a certain point along the journey of grieving, you may come to a point where you decide that you will not "make a mausoleum" out of the memory of the person who died, but that instead you will actively choose to think of the heart-warming moments that you spent with them. After all, in a way, the person who died lives on in our memories and no-one can take those good memories from us. They can be our personal treasure chest into which we can dip at any time we choose. And the love they gave us can carry on nurturing and nourishing us when we visit good memories.
- Along these lines, one of my patients (I have also been a therapist for nearly 20 years) had recently lost her father and was very sad to think that her own children would never know him. At my suggestion, she began to write down all her memories of him to make a scrapbook with photos so that she could introduce her children to their grandfather as they were growing up.
- A dear friend of mine who lost her husband of over forty years decided not to send his much-loved and very good quality shirts to the charity shop, but instead she cut them up and turned them into lovely bags for things such as make-up, toiletries, clothes pegs so that her daughters could have something small and special to remind them of their wonderful and much-loved Dad.
- Another friend decided to bring something good out of the death of someone in the family by promising herself that she would get in touch with friends she had begun to lose touch with. She had a light bulb moment when she realized that we get things like car repairs and MOTs done promptly but that with the pressures of modern life it is easy to put off picking up the phone to talk to friends. Weeks and months pass and still we have not made that contact, and suddenly another year has disappeared!