How long will this go on?
The journey through grief is a highly individual experience. Rather than focus on a timeline it is perhaps more helpful to focus on its intensity and duration. Initially grief is overwhelming and people can feel out of control. With time people find they have more ability to choose when they access memories and emotions. The intensity of grief is related to the degree of attachment to the person, relationship to the deceased, level of understanding and social support from others, personality and the nature of the bereavement.
Am I going mad?
It may certainly feel like it at times! Particularly if the individuals need to grieve is out of step with social and cultural expectations. Grief affects people physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. People may be required to make adjustments to their lives and learn new skills, at a time when they feel least able to do so. Receiving validation and permission to grieve is important in the recovery and healing process.
Do I have the right to inflict this on others? What can I expect of them and they of me?
Others may feel intensely uncomfortable with the emotion and the pain of the bereaved to the point of feeling helpless. The anxiety this causes may mean that the bereaved person might feel they are being avoided – increasing feelings of isolation. It is important that the grieving person is assertive about their needs and wishes, and it is helpful if they communicate with family, friends, and colleagues rather than leave them guessing about what would be useful and comforting. Never underestimate the power of listening and being a warm presence. There are no magic words or actions. Trust your ability to care taking into account your relationship with the person you are trying to help.
Are there a right way and a wrong way of coping with grief?
People are individuals with personalities and life experiences, which influence the way in which they deal with grief. People’s style of grieving must be respected and in this sense there is no right or wrong way of coping. However it is generally believed that the amount of support people receive can ameliorate some of the impact of grief and facilitate recovery. People often have an awareness about what they need to do to feel better but feel inhibited or judged and don’t act on their inclinations. Talking about what is happening, what they are going through, expressing emotion and being in a supportive and accepting climate is generally helpful. Both religious and cultural factors may impact upon person’s feelings of “right” or “wrong ways” to deal with their grief.
How do I know when I need help?
Reassurance from others who have also experienced grief and an understanding of what people have commonly undergone when grieving can be a helpful yardstick. Any continued fears or anxieties about your well being or thoughts of self-harm should be addressed by seeking help. Prolonged intense emotion or obsessional thought or behavior that makes functioning difficult may also require help.
Stages of grief
Grief does not follow a linear pattern. It is more like a roller coaster, two steps forward and one step back. Ultimately people manage to integrate the experience to the point of having a new life arising from the old. The loss remains and is always remembered, but the intensity is no longer disabling or disorganising. Much of grieving is about expressing emotion- some may be unfamiliar, and unacceptable to self or others, e.g. anger, guilt, remorse. Finding a safe place and an accepting person for support to work through all the effects of bereavement is important. The amount of support available from family and friends may be limited if they too are grieving. Misunderstandings can arise when people experience different responses to a shared loss. External supports may then become a vital factor in understanding and expressing your grief. It is important to know that you can survive the experience and that the new life that eventually comes about may have very positive effects despite the difficulty of arriving at this point.
Does counseling help?
It is important to say that grief is a normal response to loss and that people work through the loss with the loving support of family and friends. However, for a variety of reasons it may be necessary to seek professional help in the form of counseling. Counseling may initially intensify painful feelings as the external distractions are removed, and the client is able to focus on their experiences and
explore them fully. People who are grieving may need to talk about their story over and over again and are often concerned about the ‘wear out’ factor on family and friends, especially if details are very distressing. Equally they may find that others have unrealistic expectations of their recovery or experiences. Where people have to continue on in roles as parents or carers counseling may provide
valuable time-out for their own need to grieve and receive support. A supportive, safe and accepting environment and time set aside regularly can make a great difference. It may provide comfort and hope at a time of great confusion and crisis.
Ten Ways to Help the Bereaved
- By present and attentive to the bereaved person.
- Allow for moments of silence and reflection.
- Listen in a non-judgmental and accepting way.
- Avoid the use of clichés such as ‘Think of all the good times’, ‘you can always have another child’.
- Mention the deceased person’s name and encourage the bereaved person to talk about them.
- Offer practical and emotional support e.g. by minding children or cooking a meal.
- Understand that tears are normal and healthy part of the grieving process.
- Don’t try to fill in conversations with a lot of outside news.
- Remember that grief may take years to work through.
Acknowledge anniversaries and dates of significance for the bereaved