Bereavement - how to heal from grief
The term "bereavement" is usually used to describe the feelings after the death of someone close to us. Still, it can refer to the loss of anything significant, including a relationship, a career or when a much-loved pet dies.
Grief is a normal feeling, and there is no rule book for exactly how you should feel when experiencing a loss. Your journey will be as individual as the relationship you had with the person. Even within the same family, different people will feel different emotions at different times and for varying lengths of time as they adjust to the loss.
If you feel you need support to cope with a bereavement, then there is help out there. At Hope Therapy, we offer person-centred care and support through our confidential bereavement counselling, which can help whether your loss happened some time ago, it is very recent, or you are working to come to terms with a terminal diagnosis.
Common feelings when you experience bereavement
Grieving or mourning is the process people go through to adjust to the feelings of loss. Culture, gender and previous experiences may affect how someone grieves. Still, people can have many emotional and physical symptoms, and there is no right or wrong way to feel. For example, suppose there was a complicated relationship with the deceased such as with an estranged parent. In that case, the grieving process could be difficult and confusing.
A well-known theory of grief by Kubler-Ross (1969) talks about the five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Still, more recent studies have found that people don’t always experience these stages in this order. They might not go through them all and may go back and forth between them.
In reality, the following are all common to experience after a loss:
Feeling acute sadness that the person is no longer in their life.
Losing someone can feel very unfair, leading to anger at the situation and others. It is also common for people to feel angry at themselves if they feel they were partly to blame for the death.
Feelings of fear, intense worry or even panic attacks are not uncommon as people think about the future after a loss.
Common symptoms of depression may be experienced, for instance: a feeling of hopelessness and not knowing how to go on.
Shock or denial
People often feel numb soon after a loss which is a way of helping to prevent it all from being too overwhelming.
Change in sleep patterns
When grieving, people often sleep more or avoid sleep. Some people say they hate to fall asleep because they have dreams where nothing has changed, only to remember the truth when they wake up. Others have nightmares when they sleep. Some people experience insomnia and find that they cannot sleep even when they want to, or they still feel exhausted after they wake up.
Change in appetite
It’s not uncommon to become uninterested in eating, for food to taste strange or for it to be hard to swallow food. But, conversely, other people may find that they eat more than they usually do.
Sometimes people feel relief about the death, even when they cared deeply about that person. This can happen when they have been suffering for some time and death has been a release. Of course, people can feel guilty about feeling this way, but it is normal.
Physical health problems
Intense grief combined with not sleeping or eating properly can make people more likely to get colds or other illnesses.
How long does the feeling of grief last?
The intense feelings of grief felt soon after a loss can feel overwhelming. The emotions last different amounts of time for everyone, but they do eventually lessen. Grief won't necessarily ever go away completely. Still, the person becomes a memory that can be thought of gradually with less pain. The feelings don’t always lessen linearly though, and one day they might feel ok and the next, the emotions hit afresh.
For some people, the feelings don’t get easier to live with, and the intense feelings don’t ease at all on their own. This is called complicated grief, and it requires extra support. Those who have a history of depression can also find bereavement harder to work through.
What can you do to manage your grief?
Don’t feel that you need to move on to someone else’s timetable: there is no “right” mourning period. Some people find that focusing on practical aspects such as planning the funeral and managing financial matters helps them get through each day initially. In contrast, other people are unable to cope with practicalities. It can be hard to talk to people close to you, especially when grieving, which is where grief counselling can be beneficial. Hope Therapy offers support with trained counsellors to help during this difficult time.
Some people find that it helps to talk, while others want to be alone to work through their emotions. Some people may find that if they wish to speak varies from one day to the next. Allowing yourself to go through the process at your speed and letting others know what you need can be helpful.
The pandemic and grief
The Coronavirus pandemic has complicated the grieving process for many people over the last couple of years. The usual activities which often help with grieving, such as funerals, wakes, being with family and even spending time with a loved one before they die, has often been absent or reduced. In addition, there may be more feelings of anger at the behaviour of others and not getting the support needed. This may mean people take longer to process their grief and need more support.
If you feel you need help to heal from bereavement, contact Hope Therapy to speak to a trained member of our counselling team.