About Grief and Bereavement
Living with a ‘New Normal’
Losing someone you love is devastating, whatever the circumstances. After the funeral, when the immediate practicalities of dealing with your loved one’s death are over, the feeling of loss, emptiness and perhaps anger or a fear for the future, can be overwhelming.
Everyone’s journey through bereavement and grief will be different and for many it will be life-long process of coming to terms with the absence of the person they love and of learning to live with a ‘new normal’.
What Research Tells Us About Grief
There is no correct way to grieve. Each person’s situation and circumstances will be different, as will be their response to a death and how they cope with the aftermath.
Equally, there is no quick route through grief. The death of someone close can have a deep and profound affect not only on the bereaved person but on their family and friends too.
However, there are practical strategies and psychological understandings that can, in time, help people to work through their grief and learn to live alongside it.
As grief psychotherapist, Julia Samuel, says in her book ‘Grief Works’, ‘I have regularly seen that it is not the pain of grief that damages individuals…and even whole families… but the things they do to avoid that pain’.
Knowledge, understanding, love and support from others and, in some circumstances, professional help, can help someone to work through their grief and allow them to find the resilience and strength to learn to live with their ‘new normal’.
Research by scientists, such as Neuroscientist and Psychologist Mary-Francis O’Connor, supports this idea of ‘grief works’. O’Connor has explored the mechanics of love and loss, which she summarises in her book ‘The Grieving Brain’.
O’Connor studied the workings of the brain to try to understand why experiencing a bereavement is so painful. She states that ‘Grieving requires the difficult task of throwing out the map we have used to navigate our lives together and transforming our relationship with this person who has died’. Drawing a new map requires forging new bonds and neural pathways, and having our attachment needs met in new ways and by different people. This process requires patience and gentle but meaningful effort, but it can eventually help to lessen feelings of loss.
Finding Help and Support
Many people find it helpful to understand a little bit about what they are feeling and may find comfort in recognising that someone else has felt this too.
Linking up with others who have suffered a similar loss, or exploring coping mechanisms that might get you through the darkest days, can provide enormous strength.
There are many different ways to access the wonderful support that is available. Our Bereavement Resources section links you to charities and organisations that support and information – online, over the phone and in person. Here, you will also has a range of books and podcasts that may be of interest too.
Self-care and Wellbeing
When people have a caring role, once that ends, it is quite common for the carer themselves to suffer ill-health, as they are particularly vulnerable during that time.
Increasing hours of care often results in the general health of carers deteriorating incrementally. Unpaid carers who provide high levels of care for sick, or disabled relatives and friends, are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health compared to people without caring responsibilities.
Carers may not have had the time or energy to look after their own health while caring and during bereavement, they are particularly vulnerable to ill health.
The bereaved may themselves suffer from shock up to Post traumatic Stress. So the bereaved can benefit from talking and gentle support, whether from friends and family or from professionals.
Bereavement is very tiring, so rest and quiet times are important. Also, many people feel guilt, that they did not do enough, or the myriad of ‘what ifs’. This guilt can be free floating and underlying may sometimes be the guilt of still being alive while the loved one has lost their life.
As well as the loss of the person you cared for (and your caring role) you may also face the loss of the relationships you built up with the professionals involved in their care. Being a carer can be demanding and you may have lost touch with family and friends; getting back in contact with them or meeting new people may be the last thing you feel like doing while coping with a bereavement. As a result, you may feel very alone or isolated.
Our Wellbeing section explores some of the ways that the bereaved can help promote both physical and mental health.