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Grief and Bereavement

Lets-Talk-About-Grief

Grief following the loss of a loved one is a tough but very natural journey. I lost my brother to suicide on National Suicide Prevention day and then tragically three years later my seventeen year old son died by suicide in an Australian hospital. Grief, which I have known deeply, is a natural response to losing someone we love and care about. The hurt and pain that arises from our loss has many faces, bringing with it many mixed emotions. These emotions may range from feeling numb, alone, angry, afraid, guilty or regretful. It is a journey to the underworld which can feel deep and dark. It calls for support, loving kindness, self-care, patience, acceptance and often forgiveness. 

How Long Does Grief Last

People often ask “How long does grief last?” or  “How did you get through it?”.

Understand there is no set time or guidelines for your individual grief after bereavement. We are all unique and so is each relationship that comes to a physical ending. We each respond differently to the powerful emotions evoked around our loss. And there is no right or wrong in this.

Like a stone thrown into a pond the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental responses to our loss ripple out affecting all areas of our life beginning with our immediate family, our nearest and dearest.

Grief is a very Personal Experience

Grief is deeply personal. We will all lose someone we love at some stage in our lives, this is inevitable. This can be through the ending of a relationship or friendship or through them dying or passing over. Perhaps the loss of a deeply loved animal friend. Here we will focus on the most final sense of loss, the death of a loved one.

We will all lose our physical bodies one day, it is an inevitable consequence of life. We may understand that the spirit lives on and only the physical is gone, but still our grief can be deeply felt. For it is through the senses of touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing that we experience our relationships. And when these senses are no longer satisfied there is a feeling of terrible emptiness. Circumstances around the passing of loved ones varies and so does our bereavement experience. We may lose a loved one through disease or sickness, to old age or in untimely, traumatic, or sudden circumstances.

Many of us will loose elderly parents after a period of ill health. There is some consolation here in that we can remind ourselves they have lived a long and full life. When their sickness is prolonged we have time to adjust and accept the fact that they are dying and prepare ourselves, at least partially, for the sad but inevitable outcome. We may even experience their passing as a spiritual experience if we can be truly present. We will still grieve the loss of our beloved family and friends as we miss their physical presence, but there is also a sense of it being their time and this does make the grief process feel more natural. Of course it can be much more heart wrenching and painful for longtime partners who find themselves alone after 30 – 50 years of marriage or close friendship.

grief

At the other end of the spectrum the loss of a child in utero, or prior to or at birth can be devastatingly painful for the pregnant or birthing mother and father of the child. What promised to be the beginning of new life bringing joy and hope suddenly turns into unexpected grief and loss. It can be extremely painful and may result in depression due to the mixed emotions and hormonal changes of the grieving mother. The mother may experience this form of grief quite differently to the father and this is quite natural. Sensitive support with love and understanding will help the mother and her partner through her sense of lost hope. She may also find it difficult to face being pregnant again for fear of further heartbreaking loss. She will need much loving kindness and support when she decides to try again for a child.

Sudden loss of a younger person or friend through an accident can be both shocking and  traumatic. Our lives are suddenly changed forever in a most unexpected way.  Having never anticipated the loss of a strong and healthy individual, perhaps in their prime of life, we are left floundering with shock. We are in no way prepared for this loss the impact can hit us like a mac truck. If we are close to this person a gapping hole can be left in their place along with many unanswered questions. Shock, disbelief closely followed by anger is a very common experience.  This form of death is not logical or in any way anticipated so may take some time to come to terms with.

Suicide is a form of loss that again tragically often can come out of the blue and catch us unawares. It is a violent and shocking way to loose a loved one. Being sudden and often unexpected it leaves families and friends reeling with shock. It can leave us with a huge unanswered questions. Why? Many who suicide have hidden their deeper feelings and this may leave us feeling inadequate as parents, friends or siblings. It may cause us to question ourselves or fall into self-blame in an attempt to bring sense to such a senseless act. Shame often shrouds such a passing which makes it more sad.

It is time to talk about our feelings and lift the vale surrounding mental health issues so give yourself permission to speak and be heard. The current ‘RUOK.’ Program running in Australia encourages people to check in on friends and loved ones by engaging them in a caring conversation with the focus on listening. Keeping lines of communication open with those who are going through a hard time or struggling with mental health issues is important. We all have a fundamental need to be heard and acknowledged to feel accepted, loved and validated by our family and loved ones.

There are several stages of mourning and grief that seem to be universal and experienced by people from all walks of life. During our bereavement we go through these stages with different levels of intensity. It seems we may not necessarily go through these stages sequentially and there is not a set time frame for any experience. The bereavement will vary enormously due to the different variables of our particular experience of loss including; the closeness of our relationship to the deceased, weather it was expected or sudden, and the circumstances around our loss, the age of the lost loved one, the level of support we receive and our own mental and emotional capacity.

There is no right or wrong with our grieving process.

It is a time when we need to practice loving kindness, particularly toward ourselves and other close loved ones who are grieving. It is also important to acknowledge our feelings and emotions. Give yourself space and free yourself from any expectations to be, feel, talk or express yourself a certain way.

Elizabeth K. Ross who wrote the ground breaking book “On Death and Dying” (1969) where she first discussed these five stages of grief experienced by those who are dying as well as those left behind grieving.

  1.  Denial and Isolation
  2.  Anger
  3.  Bargaining – If only
  4.  Depression
  5.  Acceptance

In my next blog I will go further into these stages and share my own experience of grief with you. Meanwhile, if you are going through a grieving period now my advise is simple

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Avoid any pressure and give yourself permission to allow your feelings.
  • It is ok to cry, feel sad, lonely, angry, depressed or guilty for a time.
  •  Have people who love you around even if they feel useless and you don’t know what to say.
  •  Remember – This Too Will Pass.

with Love Soraya.

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