Family Bereavement

Grief can be overpowering 

It can stop us in our tracks.  Try to remember it is entirely natural to feel like this, you feel like this because you are in mourning.  You will recover, you will adapt, it may take some time.

  • How long? 
  • That depends, grief is always a different experience for each of us.

An anonymous client tells me: Today my father would be 80.  I am travelling to meet my aunt, his sister, for lunch. He died aged 30.  You do get used to death.  But it took me a long time to feel better about life after he died.  It affected everyone in my family differently.  We all had to deal with it in our own way.

Grief, our experience of bereavement is always personal and particular

We feel loss in the depths of ourselves.  Some deaths we can prepare for.  Some deaths are natural.  Like the death of an elderly grandparent that we have had a long and satisfying relationship with.  It is a huge loss, but it is also natural.  We grieve, but in time we come to feel good about having had the relationship.  And though the person is gone from our daily life they live on in our heart and mind.

With some deaths this happens more easily than with others

The death of a parent when we are young, as in the client example above, can be particularly traumatic and very hard to come to terms with.  It can be very hard to find meaning in our lives after an untimely death.

Over time things change, even deeply painful and traumatic feelings of loss change.  It can take time, but gradually the sharp edges of grief do soften.

It’s like geology, over time the pain erodes 

We adapt, that is what psyche does, but sometimes it may need some support.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross created a framework for thinking about the experience of being bereaved.  This is referred to as the Five Stages of Grief.  Kubler-Ross described stages of grieving that we go through:

  1. denial
  2. anger
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. acceptance

If you or someone you know is going through a bereavement you may find this framework helpful.  Although it is important to remember that for all of us grief, the process of being bereaved, will be different.  Being bereaved is not something that fits neatly into a model, and Kubler-Ross’s work on the Five Stages of Grief may help to put some shape around the loss. 

You or your loved ones who are grieving will go through something that resembles the five stages of grief in their own way.

It is the same for families when there is a death

The whole family has to adjust and adapt to the loss.  Given time the family unit is recovered.  It is hard to predict how much time.

Some bereavements fare more complicated and feel very difficult to fit into a model;

  • death by suicide
  • murder
  • a tragic accident
  • a death that happens when you were in the middle of trying to fix a problem with your relationship

If you have been bereaved in these kinds of circumstances, you may have a very hard task ahead of you to put some kind of order and meaning back into your life.

Death is ordinary and every day, but we don’t tend to be very good at knowing how to respond to it 

Because of this it often becomes easier to say nothing than to speak together about the loss.  Death is an invisible experience, we cannot really measure the impact, but we can look out for signs that certain family members are finding it hard to come to terms with what has happened.

When we don’t know how to express our feelings of grief in words, we may start to express it in our actions.  Instead of being able to talk we act our feelings out.

Family bereavement – try not to get caught up in the behaviour, remember the feelings that are behind it

It is no surprise that children and adolescents may struggle following the death of a parent.  But we may get caught up in looking at their behaviour rather than seeing the grief that is behind it.

When a parent dies a child loses a role model.  It is not surprising that the loss coincides with significant changes in behaviour and school performance.

Grief – learning to recognise the signs

We may learn to see, for example, that the problems a child is having at school, or in their general behaviour (risk-taking, drug use, rule-breaking, shoplifting) are less signs of some sort of character defect, and more as evidence that something profound has gone wrong for them. 

They aren’t being simply wayward; they are in mourning.  They are going through a difficult process of bereavement.  They need help to process the loss.  If attention can be placed on the loss then the behaviour may settle down.

Bereavement can severely limit our capacity to live well, to express our creativity

The conflicted state of mind you are left in becomes part of your ongoing identity.  We have to keep trying to work with the experience of loss.  If we don’t then it will still come out, but it will do so in obscure and possibly destructive ways.

Given the right attention we will adapt to the loss, we just need time.

Freud describes how when someone has died we have to make a whole adaptation.  Every molecule of us has to say goodbye to the lost person. In Freud’s essay Mourning and Melancholia, he describes what can happen for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to mourn.  In Freud’s view, there are times when mourning fails and the death continues to cast a shadow of depression over the bereaved person’s life.

The painful reminders of loss

There are all the anniversaries to get used to; anniversaries of dates of deaths, of birthdays, all kinds of dates, there are so many poignant reminders, so many chance reminders that suddenly bring us back to our loss again.  Somehow we have to find a way to carry on.

People speak of moving on, these things are different for all of us.  We can learn to adapt and to move on, but the loss always remains.  We can adapt and move on, but it is difficult and takes work.

  • Being bereaved is different for all of us.  The pace of grief is different for all of us. We get used to the idea that everything happens fast and that by tomorrow different subjects will occupy our minds.

When it comes to being bereaved everything is different

We go on functioning, living, but for the bereaved person, a part of them is changed.  We may look the same.  But our hearts are sore, our minds distracted.  The sharpness of the wound of being bereaved dulls over time.  But it may never go away.  We continue to remember and miss the people we have known and loved, though with time the sting is reduced.

Some people may look at the bereaved person and think they are taking too long over their grief 

They may start to suggest that there is something wrong with you. You may start to be told that you are depressed.  It is very easy to end up on antidepressants when really the only thing wrong is that you have been bereaved.  You are in mourning.

Grief is a natural process to go through

The experience, the time mourning takes is different for each of us.  Don’t feel pressured to fit into other people’s time frames; mourn at your own pace.

It takes time to adapt and come to terms with bereavement.

  • Take the time you need. 
  • Don’t try to fit your experience into someone else’s version of things.  Your loss is personal. 
  • Give yourself time, be patient.

Contact me

I have twenty years experience of helping people find ways to engage with and to try to come to terms with being bereaved. 

Giving yourself the chance to speak in a confidential setting about your experience, your loss and grief may be a helpful thing to do.  It may provide you with the chance to talk about how your life has been affected, to speak without feeling you have to worry about someone else’s feelings. It may help you adapt to what has happened.

Even if the death was many years ago, don’t be put off the idea of speaking about it now.

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my work might help you.