Learning to cope with bereavement
Grieving is a process that brings so many different emotions it can be overwhelming. You think you'll never cope and that life will never be the same, but whether we like it or not, life goes on, the world keeps turning and with time, things can get better.
Everyone has different ways of coping with grief and you have to deal with it in your own way. So it's probably best to consider all the advice and then decide what's best for you.
When my mother died one of the first things that came into my mind was "She can't suffer anymore" and this was followed by a raging guilt about all the things I could have done that I hadn't.
It was the mixture of time and the patience of my family and friends that helped me to cope.
It's been many years since she passed away and I still cry when I visit her grave, but I can also remember the lovely times we had, and celebrate everything we shared together.
I still miss her, in fact I feel emotional just writing about her now, but I cope. I have a full life, and I know that that's what she would have wanted, to see me doing well and being happy.
I like to think that when I die, the people who love me will miss me and feel sad, but not to the point where it's a problem for them to continue their own lives comfortably.
Of course I expect bucketfuls of tears at my funeral and lots of conversations about how wonderful I was, but after that I want my nearest and dearest to get on with their lives because no amount of grief or sadness is going to change the fact that I've gone.
In the same way, you owe it to the person you've lost to carry on. They wouldn't want to see you crumble, so try to be strong. Don't give in to your feelings, rise above them and be determined to cope, in time you will.Death is inevitable, we know we can't escape it and yet nothing prepares us for the sense of loss.
How can I cope with bereavement?
If you're trying to cope with a bereavement then your mind needs to be distracted from your grief.
One way to do this is to keep busy. You may feel that it's the last thing you want to do, but many people have found it helps. The actor Bill Roache found that this approach helped him to get through the trauma of his wife's sudden, unexpected death.
Grieving can affect not only your emotional well being but your physical health as well.
It is a time when you are vulnerable. Keeping busy forces you to think of other things and gives you some respite from the sadness that can feel all consuming, and even make you physically ill.
If you talk to someone who has experienced the loss of someone close it can help.
They will understand your pain and will also be able to reassure you that in time you will feel better.
I found this helped me a lot. Before I experienced the loss of someone dear to me, I never really felt comfortable about what to say to someone who had suffered a bereavement. When I found myself in that situation, I was surprised by how much I just wanted to talk.
Far from feeling it was a taboo subject, I could talk for hours about the past, how I felt, the good and the bad!
You might find it a comfort to place photographs of them in key places around you. You might carry or wear a keepsake, for example a piece of jewellery. You may take comfort from "talking" to them about how you feel and what you've done.
Let family and friends help you. Whether it's just talking or helping with the practical side of life, don't feel that you have to shoulder everything on your own. Having loved ones around you at such a difficult time can be a great comfort.
If you feel you can't cope, that you don't want to go on, then do seek professional help.
It's common to feel these things for a while, but as time goes on, if you don't feel any improvement, or feel that you are adjusting to your loss, and instead become more despairing, then it's probably best to get some expert advice and support.
While loss affects everyone differently, there are a range of symptoms that a lot of people experience to some degree or other. There are no rules, no right or wrong way to grieve, but some of the most common symptoms are listed below.
Sadness is probably the most common symptom of grief. You may feel despairing, hopeless, empty and tearful. Many people cry a lot in the beginning and that's perfectly natural, but it's also perfectly natural not to cry. Don't feel that if you don't cry it's a sign that your grief isn't as genuine or deep as another person. Remember, there's no right or wrong way to grieve.
When someone dies it can almost feel like a dream and it has not really happened, you may find it hard to accept that they have gone. Even though you know they can never come back, a part of you almost expects them to pick up the phone or answer the door.
It's common to think of all the things you could have said and done and feel guilty that you didn't, along with a strong desire to be able to go back and change things. You may feel guilty because you have "selfish" thoughts, like feeling free from a burden of care.
Just remember we can't control thoughts, we can't stop them coming into our heads, so don't torture yourself. Take some comfort from the fact that whatever you are going through it's not strange or unusual, plenty of other people will have gone through exactly the same thing.
You may feel guilty because you imagine you didn't do enough to help keep them safe, or cure them. Some people feel guilty that they are still here and that the person who has died should be alive instead of them.
You may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry at yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that has been done to you.
A significant loss can trigger severe worry and anxiety. You can become obsessive about death and dying, either about yourself or the people you love. You may find yourself "calculating" how long you have left or you may develop an obsessive fear of dying.
You may become over protective of the people you love because you are so frightened of losing them. You may even have panic attacks.
Grief can manifest itself in physical symptoms such as headaches, poor appetite and weight loss, even chest pains.
There is no pattern to grieving, so never feel guilty or abnormal no matter what you go through.
Don't expect to gradually feel better as each day goes by. That may happen for a while and then you may experience a surge of sadness and despair, just hold onto the belief that in time you will feel better and learn to cope.
There has been a lot written about the stages or cycles of grief.
In 1969 psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced what became known as "The five stages of grief".
Many of these models have common factors.
- Shock, pain and sadness
- Acceptance that the loss has happened and the person has gone
- Adjusting to life without them and accepting that your life must go on
- Learning to appreciate and enjoy life again, despite your loss, and being able to enjoy happy memories as well as sad ones
The main thing to remember is that however grief affects you, you are not unusual or strange, and whatever helps you to cope can't be wrong.Case Studies
Mary's daughter was eighteen when she was killed suddenly on her way home from work. Mary's story shows how grief can be devastating and yet somehow, through the pain and despair she managed to do something positive.
"I had felt anxious all evening for no reason and when the phone rang I felt a dreadful sense of foreboding. The voice on the other end was solemn, serious and I knew straight away that something was wrong.
My daughter had been involved in an accident and had been taken to the local hospital. My husband and I rushed to the hospital only to find that our beautiful, precious girl was on a life support machine and she had no chance of surviving.
I felt like my head was going to explode, that I couldn't contain the anguish surging through me.
This couldn't be happening! I knew deep down however, that it was and I wept uncontrollably.
Time seemed to have no markers, everything about that night was blurred by pain and misery.
The one crystal clear image was that of our beautiful girl, who lay, eyes closed as if asleep. I almost expected her to wake up but there was no hope of her ever waking again.
As I sat holding her hand I was aware of a doctor's voice behind me and slowly the words 'organ donor' began to register. Ironically, not long before the accident, my daughter and I had discussed organ donation at some length. It was something she felt strongly about and she carried her donor card at all times. I, on the other hand, had always had reservations about it, but respected her wishes.
I never thought for one moment it would be something which I would have to confront.
When the doctor asked me if my daughter's organs could be used to help other people in need, I wanted to scream, "No, don't touch her!" I couldn't bear to think of her being mutilated, Yet I heard myself saying yes because I knew it was what she would have wanted, and to do otherwise would have been a betrayal of her trust.
That night and the days that followed will be etched into my memory forever. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do and there were so many times that I thought I could not carry on, but somehow I did. I don't think I will ever "get over it" and to be honest I don't think I would want to, but I have learned how to cope.
The love and support of my family and the passing of time has helped me to manage my grief. And in a strange way, the knowledge that other people have been helped by my daughter's death has helped me to bear my loss.
I know that it's what she would have wanted and It's comforting to think that part of her lives on in other people. She was such a caring, considerate girl in life, and to her credit, she even thought of helping others when her own life was over. I am very proud of my girl.
When my husband died I felt as though I had been set adrift, cut off from everything I had ever known and left to find a way to survive in a new and frightening world.
His death came after a difficult illness which caused us both a lot of suffering in one way or another, but nothing prepared me for the pain I felt when he finally passed away.
I remember feeling totally isolated. We had been married for fifteen years and the thought of life without him was unbearable for me. How could I cope on my own? I had never had to do any of the everyday, mundane tasks because Billy had dealt with all that side of things, paying bills, booking holidays maintaining the car.
It was how he liked it and I was more than happy to go along with it, but suddenly I was on my own, just me.
The man I loved so much was gone and I had to face up to life without him.
My family and friends were very supportive, but after a while I started to realise that there is a limit to people's sympathy. Not that anyone was ever rude, not at all, but as time went on I started to sense that the initial surge of sympathy was waning.
Everyone has their own lives to live with their own complications and problems, and I felt that my friends were thinking "Come on now Jackie, it's time to pull yourself together.
We've done our best to help and we'll always be here for you, but you've got to be strong," and of course they were right.
As time passed I became more and more aware of how difficult it was having no one to share my life with. Everyone seemed to be part of a couple and I missed Billy so much!
Eventually however, after lots of tears and heartache, I started to lead a new life on my own. I forced myself to do things, some of which I hated, and go to places, to be busy.
I even surprised myself by starting to enjoy being free and independent. I could do what I wanted when I wanted. I still had times of great sadness and isolation but things gradually improved because I was determined not to become a sad, lonely old woman.
Today I lead a full life. I go out with friends, I help out in the local charity shop and I've taken up several new hobbies. I'm even thinking of applying for a part time job!
I've tried going on one or two dates but none of them were Billy, and I decided early on that that was one route I didn't want to explore. I know it's what many other people want, but for me Billy was the love of my life and I'm just grateful that he was with me for so long.
I feel blessed in so many ways. They say what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and I feel very proud that I've weathered the storm.
So whatever your situation, you must deal with it in a way that suits you. Remember, no one can tell you how to grieve, there is no right or wrong way and you should never feel guilty.
It's an extremely difficult and distressing life experience for everyone involved but the passing of time, along with the love and support of family and friends, will help you to cope.
Please feel free to leave a comment about bereavement
Any success stories and helpfull tips which will benefit others are most welcome, negative or unfriendly comments are not. Please remember we are here to help each other.
Back to the top