Losing someone close is always difficult; the closer we were to that person, the deeper the sense of loss and pain.  The process of grief is painful and, at times, terrifying but it is this very process that enables us to emerge from the loss with a sense of strength and a sense of understanding.  The journey of grief enables us to get to a destination where we can re-engage with life once again, albeit in a changed fashion.

Death is a part of life and as our emotional capacity has developed over millennia, the human species has developed an innate ability to cope with loss.  Human kind has created rituals around death to encourage the grieving to say goodbye, to retain memories and to recreate a life without the person they have lost.   It is normal to experience many symptoms in the first few months and years after the loss of someone close and these symptoms range in intensity depending on our relationship to the person who has died and the circumstances of their death.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Sadness
  • Crying
  • Anger
  • Disbelief
  • Guilt
  • Relief
  • Hallucinations (“seeing” the person who has died)
  • Bargaining (with God or another higher power)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Low mood and depression
  • Social withdrawal

However, the process of bereavement is extremely painful and without support it can easily stall, leaving those left behind in a state of unresolved grief.

We might feel that we “shouldn’t” cry, or that it’s wrong to feel angry, or that people might think we’re going mad if we admit experiencing some very dark moments.  Perhaps we feel ashamed of feelings of guilt or relief or perhaps we feel a need to protect others from our own pain.  When we hold back from experiencing the full range of painful emotions, we can sometimes find ourselves experiencing mental and physical health conditions which we might not even link to our experience of bereavement.  These symptoms might be experienced years after the loss of a loved one and can include:

  • Increased pain
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Misuse of drugs and alcohol
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias

It takes great courage to be able to proceed along this painful and often terrifying journey of grief.  There are several ways to make the process as gentle as possible:

Talk it through  Talking about bereavement with friends and family enables us to take ownership of our experience of loss.  When we talk about grief we naturally choose words which comfort us and this helps us to soothe ourselves whilst, at the same time, encouraging positive memories of the person we’ve lost.   In this way, we are no longer a helpless bystander but we become involved in the process and we very gently regain a sense of control over a bewildering situation.

Embrace the pain  Our natural, human desire is to avoid sadness and discomfort.  However, when grief is the issue, we need to find ways to gently approach the pain and to view it as a friend; as a vehicle which will carry us along the journey of bereavement.  This can be very difficult to do alone and it is often easier to find the support of a skilled counsellor who can offer encouragement and strength as we move towards, and closer to, our distress.

Distract ourselves  This advice appears to run counter to the advice of “Embrace the Pain”.  There are definitely times when we need to allow ourselves to cry and to feel the distressing emotions of grief, as explained above, but we need to balance this with gently re-connecting with life whilst feeling the absence of the person we loved.  It can help us to take a slightly wider perspective when we understand that the world still turns and life still continues even though we are thrust into the centre of grief.  Some gentle activities which can be helpful during this time include:

  • Walking in the countryside or by the sea
  • Starting a new hobby or re-engaging with an old one
  • Meeting up with close friends
  • Connecting with animals; walking a friend’s dog, “cat-sitting” or simply feeding the birds

Find support  It can be very comforting to know that you are not alone in your grief and it can be helpful to hear how others have coped during their own difficult times.  Getting in touch with a support group might be a positive step forward when you are feeling more ready to engage with others.  One such group is:

The Hope and Friendship Group
St. Osmund’s Church Parish Rooms
Exeter Street

The group meets for coffee on 2nd and 4th Monday of each month at 11am.  Call June on 01722 328419 for more details.

Read all about it  Finding a book about grief is often a good way of reminding ourselves that others have trodden the same path and that they have reached a destination of peace and understanding.  The following titles are just a small selection of the many excellent books available on this subject: