We will all experience bereavement at some point in our lives, and it can be a very difficult thing to cope with.
It’s best to start by defining the difference between bereavement and grief. These terms are often used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. Bereavement is the experience of losing someone (or something) close to us. Grief is the range of emotions we feel as we gradually adjust to the loss. There is no time limit to grief, and everyone feels differently.
In the time immediately after a bereavement, people may feel acute grief, which can be characterised by intense sadness and sobbing, feeling preoccupied with thoughts and recollections of the departed, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and a lack of interest in everyday activities. In many cases, there is a smooth transition from acute grief to what’s known as integrated grief – this is when the bereaved finds their way back to a fulfilling existence and accepts that the loss is real. They no longer feel preoccupied with their loved one and can start to take part in joyful and gratifying experiences. There is no set time frame for this transition to occur as everyone is different, but it can be expected to take a few months.
However, some people do not make this transition, and the effects of grief don’t dissipate and can affect day to day life for a long time (typically anything longer than 6 months). They may have trouble accepting the loss and may feel pangs of painful yearning, traumatic distress, chronic sleep disturbance, or suicidal thoughts. This is known as complicated grief and is more likely to happen if the death was unexpected or traumatic. People may need support to help manage these feelings, which may take the form of one-to-one grief counselling, peer-to-peer support groups or alternative therapies such as arts and crafts, walking groups or similar.
It is important to acknowledge that there is no set pattern to grief, and we should not judge others if their experience does not match our own. Kindness and understanding go a long way in helping to ease the process, but there are other things that you can try – but remember, everyone is different, so it’s possible that not all of these things will work for you.
Keeping a regular and consistent routine can really help provide structure and support in the days and week s after a bereavement. In particular, eating and resting at regular times can help ensure you are looking after yourself.
Treat yourself kindly – it’s important to allow yourself to feel the range of emotions that are part of grief, and the time to process them. However, it’s also ok to feel a bit of happiness too, so don’t feel guilty if you experience moments where you’re not consumed by grief.
It can really help to talk to friends and family, especially if they too were close to the person who has died. However, it can also help to talk to someone outside of this network about how you’re feeling, so it may help to try to find a support group of others who understand what you’re going through. Support can also be found at organisation such as those listed below.
If you, or anyone you know, need support in coping with bereavement and grief, there are organisations who can help. Cruse Bereavement Support and Cruse Scotland, The Good Grief Trust and the Samaritans can all provide support to help manage the emotions, practicalities and that bereavement brings.