Living with bereavement

By November 8, 2012 No Comments

I felt moved to write this after hearing Matthew Parris (Radio 4, Today Programme) talking about his reaction to the death of his father and how he feels now, nine years later, as well as reading about Lord Saatchi’s inconsolable grief after the death of his wife last year. They both express their grief in different ways and the time scale since their loved ones deaths’ is also different, but what is undeniable is that neither feels guilty or ashamed about admitting how much they miss the person who died. Lord Saatchi even says ” I have thought that this is close to madness”. What’s more they don’t want to be told to move on.

The Grief Process

There have been various theories of bereavement process written about, the most well known being the Kubler Ross 5 Stages of Grief.  One thing I have learned both from personal experience and working with clients, is that everyone grieves in their own way and bereavement isn’t always a logical process, moving smoothly from one stage to the next. Bereavement isn’t tidy and does not always fit the theory. So what are the five stages?

  • Grief
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Acceptance/Adjustment

The first thing to say, is that you might not experience all these feelings and might miss out some stages altogether. It often depends on your relationship with the person who has died. If we compare the death of an elderly parent, who has had a long life and was ready to go, with the death of a child or teenager,whose life was cut short prematurely, there are obvious differences which will affect the way we grieve.

Most of the theories talk about a final stage of acceptance, healing or renewal. I prefer adjustment as it feels more realistic – the need to adapt to a change in our circumstances. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone manages to adjust successfully and this can lead to people becoming stuck, for all sorts of reasons. One example being the way someone died. If the death was traumatic, it makes it far more difficult to come to terms with and the survivor may need additional help.

Thinking about the clients I have seen over the years and their individual responses to the death of a close relative, the one thing they have all had in common is the feeling that they should be getting over it, usually because they have felt under pressure from significant others; i.e. family or friends who have indicated that maybe they need to move on, get back to normal. People often feel guilty about the effect their grief has on those around them and by giving them permission to grieve, we can help them to accept that it is ok to feel the way they do.

I have lost count of the number of times a client has said to me that having time for themselves in counselling each week, has felt like an indulgence.  Why should grieving for someone who you have been very close to and loved, no matter how long after they have died,  be considered an indulgence? Grief and loss affect us all at different times in our lives and are a natural part of human existence. We should never presume to tell others how they should be feeling or put time limits on their grief. After all, when someone we love dies, they leave a permanent gap which can never be filled.