Bereavement and Loss
I have worked in a hospice as a counsellor of adults and children for 2 years, and counselled many people who have experienced loss and bereavement.
Experiencing the loss of someone can be a confusing and harrowing time. The way a loved one died can make this worse – was there time to say goodbye? Do you wish that you had told them certain things? Do you feel that you could have done more for them and you are plagued by guilt? Was your life entwined so much with theirs that its unbearable to even imagine living without them? Sometimes people die when we are not in a good place with them and this can also make things difficult. What happens when we lose a loved one that we were angry with? It doesn’t feel right to ‘speak ill of the dead’ but we may feel that we want to. Were there family problems at the time of the death?
Everyone’s experience of death is different, but almost everyone experiences confusion and feeling out of control at some time. You can feel as if you are ‘going mad’ because nothing makes sense. It can feel like a raging sea that’s trying to drown you and it keeps throwing you up on to the beach leaving you cut and broken, only to drag you out to sea again. For others it can feel like the vortex of a storm.
There are very many books about the subject of death and dying and how we seem to go through different stages of bereavement, but we are all very different and no two people grieve in the same way.
If we are not able to grieve for some reason (say we have small children to look after or a demanding job or simply don’t feel able to admit the truth that someone has gone from our lives) and we then suffer another loss, this may lead to something called complicated grief where we feel so overwhelmed that we struggle to cope with everyday life. Our bodies feel full to overflowing with pain and confusion and these things need a release, but we don’t know how to do this so we develop strategies to keep control – strategies like continuous cleaning, self medicating by taking tablets/drugs or alcohol, self harming, compulsive behaviour like checking a certain number of times that all switches are turned off before we allow ourselves to leave the house. These things are nothing to be ashamed of – you were trying to find relief at a dark time and were struggling to cope.
Because of the nature of losses being piled on top of each other, it is possible to feel that you never mourned someone’s death many years after the event and this is something that can be gently addressed in therapy.
Our particular culture still seems to struggle with dealing with death – it’s as if people think that you will go back to ‘normal’ after the funeral, when in reality we are often just in autopilot until then and the truth that someone is not coming back only begins to start to dawn on us over time. This can be a long process, but if you are not sure if this is taking you too long a very rough guide is that the first year is really very difficult, the second is also difficult but maybe not quite as much as the first year. After the third year you would expect to experience joy again and be fully engaged with those around you, although, depending on your relationship with the one that has died you may always miss them.
Human relationships are very powerful.