How long will this go on?
Am I going crazy?
Do I have the right to inflict this on others? What can I expect of them and they of me?
Is there a right way and a wrong way of coping with grief?
How do I know when I need help?
What are the stages of grief?
Does counselling help?
Ten Ways to Help the Bereaved
Knowing What to Expect
Living with Grief
How do you help a loved one grieve?
How Can We Help Others Grieve
Helping Children Grieve
Does time really heal all wounds?
How can I help a child deal with the death of a loved one?
How can I help an adult friend or family member deal with the death of a loved one?
The grief journey is a highly individual experience. Rather than focus on a timeline it is perhaps more helpful to focus on its intensity and duration. Initially grief is overwhelming and people can feel out of control. With time people find they have more ability to choose when they access memories and emotions. The intensity of grief is related to the degree of attachment to the person, relationship to the deceased, level of understanding and social support from others, personality and the nature of the bereavement.
It may certainly feel like it at times! Particularly if the individuals need to grieve is out of step with social and cultural expectations. Grief affects people physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. People may be required to make adjustments to their lives and learn new skills, at a time when they feel least able to do so. But we need to remember that grioef is a normal reaction to an unwelcome event. Grief is the price we pay for love. Receiving validation and permission to grieve is important in the recovery and healing process.
Others may feel intensely uncomfortable with the emotion and the pain of the bereaved to the point of feeling helpless. The anxiety this causes may mean that the bereaved person might feel they are being avoided – increasing feelings of isolation. If we really understand what is going on … the person wants the OLD you back and doesn’t know how or want to cope with this NEW you that is grieving. It is important that the grieving person is assertive about their needs and wishes, and it is helpful if they communicate with family, friends, and colleagues rather than leave them guessing about what would be useful and comforting. Never underestimate the power of listening and being a warm presence. There are no magic words or actions. Trust your ability to care taking into account your relationship with the person you are trying to help.
People are individuals with personalities, life experiences and cultures, all of which influence the way in which they deal with grief. People’s style of grieving must be respected and in this sense there is no right or wrong way of coping. However it is generally believed that the amount of support people receive can alleviate some of the impact of grief and facilitate recovery. People often have an awareness about what they need to do to feel better but feel inhibited or judged by others, and so don’t act on their inclinations. Talking about what is happening, what they are going through, expressing emotion and being in a supportive and accepting climate is generally helpful. Talking about it helps … acceptance by others often impacts upon a persons feelings of “right” or “wrong ways” to deal with their grief.
Reassurance from others who have also experienced grief and an understanding of what people have commonly undergone when grieving can be a helpful yardstick. Any continued fears or anxieties about your well being or thoughts of self-harm should be addressed by seeking help, either from a counsellor, pastor or healthcare professional. Prolonged intense emotion or obsessional thought or behaviour that make functioning difficult may also require help.
While the theory of the stages of grief can be helpful in our understanding, the problem is that grief does not follow an orderly pattern like stages. In fact Elizabeth Kubler Ross, the author of the stages of mourning, some 25 years later said “The stages of grief were never intended to fit messy emotions into neat packages”. Grief does not follow a linear pattern. It is more like a roller coaster, two steps forward and one step back. Ultimately people manage to integrate the experience to the point of having a new life arising from the old. The loss remains and is always remembered, but the intensity is no longer disabling or disorganising.
Much of grieving is about expressing emotion- some may be unfamiliar, and unacceptable to self or to others, e.g. anger, guilt, remorse. Finding a safe place and an accepting person for support to work through all the effects of bereavement is important. The amount of support available from family and friends may be limited if they too are grieving. Misunderstandings can arise when people experience different responses to a shared loss. External supports may then become a vital factor in understanding and expressing your grief. It is important to know that you can survive the experience and that the new life that eventually comes about may have very positive effects despite the difficulty of arriving at this point.
It is important to say that grief is a normal response to loss and that people work through the loss with the loving support of family and friends, or a support group. However, for a variety of reasons it may be necessary to seek professional help in the form of counselling. Counselling may initially intensify painful feelings as the external distractions are removed, and the client is able to focus on their experiences and explore them fully. People who are grieving may need to talk about their story over and over again and are often concerned about the ‘wear out’ factor on family and friends, especially if details are very distressing. Equally they may find that others have unrealistic expectations of their recovery or experiences. Where people have to continue on in roles as parents or carers counselling may provide valuable time-out for their own need to grieve and receive support. A supportive, safe and accepting environment and time set aside regularly can make a great difference. It may provide comfort and hope at a time of great confusion and crisis.
- By being present and attentive to the bereaved person.
- Allow for moments of silence and reflection.
- Listen in a non-judgemental and accepting way .
- Avoid the use of cliches such as ‘Think of all the good times’, This is a blessing in disguise .. or maybe it’s for the best.’ .
- Mention the deceased person’s name and encourage the bereaved person to talk about them.
- Offer practical and emotional support e.g. by minding children or cooking a meal.
- Understand that tears are normal and healthy part of the grieving process.
- Don’t try to fill in conversations with a lot of outside news.
- Remember that grief may take years to work through.
- Acknowledge anniversaries and dates of significance for the bereaved person.
When a death takes place, you may experience a wide range of emotions, even when the death is expected. No time frames. Howevermany people report feeling an initial stage of numbness after first learning of a death, but there is no real order to the grieving process.
Some emotions you may experience include:
These feelings are normal and common reactions to loss. You may not be prepared for the intensity and duration of your emotions or how swiftly your moods may change. You may even begin to doubt the stability of your mental health. But be assured that these feelings are healthy and appropriate and will help you come to terms with your loss. Remember: It takes time to fully absorb the impact of a major loss. You never stop missing your loved one, but the pain eases after time and allows you to go on with your life.
Coping with death is vital to your mental health and well being. It is only natural to experience grief when a loved one dies … grief is the cost of caring. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to grieve. But there are many ways to cope effectively with your pain.
- Seek out caring people. Find relatives and friends who can understand your feelings of loss. Join support groups with others who are experiencing similar losses.
- Express your feelings. Tell others how you are feeling; it will help you to work through the grieving process.
- Take care of your health. Maintain regular contact with your family physician and be sure to eat well and get plenty of rest. Be aware of the danger of developing a dependence on medication or alcohol to deal with your grief.
- Accept that life is for the living. It takes effort to begin to live again in the present and not dwell on the past.
- Postpone major life changes. Try to hold off on making any major changes, such as moving, remarrying, changing jobs or having another child. You should give yourself time to adjust to your loss.
- Be patient. It can take months or even years to absorb a major loss and accept your changed life.
- Seek outside help when necessary. If your grief seems like it is too much to bear, seek professional assistance to help work through your grief. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to seek help.
Remember, with support, patience and effort, you will survive grief. Some day the pain will lessen, leaving you with cherished memories of your loved one.
In one way You can’t help a loved one to grieve. We can’t take away their pain, which may be frustrating but is a reality. Grieving is the most personal experience possible. It’s a complex process of dealing with our own relationship with the deceased, facing our own demons, acknowledging our own mortality, dealing with the guilt associated with how we interacted with the deceased, and somehow facing the realization that the person that you love is gone and will never again be with you. Perhaps the best thing we can do to help someone grieve is to listen to their feelings.
If you want to be a friend to someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one:
First – recognize that you cannot possibly understand what he or she is going through.
Second – don’t try to make it better. You can’t. All you will do is alienate someone by trying to change what can’t be changed. Many people, in circumstances such as this, will not react because they don’t want to seem ungrateful for your attention, but the reality is that it hurts and there is nothing that you can do to make it better.
Third – just be there. Be a friend. Say “I’m sorry,” but don’t try to indicate in any way that you understand. Hugs are very appropriate, but ask the person if they want a hug. Sometimes people who are going through a very bad time dealing with their loss will feel alienated. Many people seem to avoid someone who is grieving. Maybe they feel that it is contagious; maybe they are so uncomfortable being around that extreme emotional pain that they avoid the person.
Fourth – try to understand that in many cases they are going through a physical pain as well as an emotional pain. While the pain never really goes away, they will eventually learn to deal with it. That’s probably not a good thing to tell them right at the moment, but many people who are going through that kind of loss may not WANT the pain to go away right now. It’s a reminder that something incredibly important has happened. That their life has changed forever.
If someone you care about has lost a loved one, you can help them through the grieving process.
- Share the sorrow. Allow them – even encourage them – to talk about their feelings of loss and share memories of the deceased.
- Don’t offer false comfort. It doesn’t help the grieving person when you say “it was for the best” or “you’ll get over it in time.” Instead, offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen.
- Offer practical help. Baby-sitting, cooking and running errands are all ways to help someone who is in the midst of grieving.
- Be patient. Remember that it can take a long time to recover from a major loss. Make yourself available to talk.
- Encourage professional help when necessary. Don’t hesitate to recommend professional help when you feel someone is experiencing too much pain to cope alone.
Children who experience a major loss may grieve differently than adults. A parent’s death can be particularly difficult for small children, affecting their sense of security or survival. Often, they are confused about the changes they see taking place around them, particularly if well-meaning adults try to protect them from the truth or from their surviving parent’s display of grief.
Limited understanding and an inability to express feelings puts very young children at a special disadvantage. Young children may revert to earlier behaviors (such as bed-wetting), ask questions about the deceased that seem insensitive, invent games about dying or pretend that the death never happened.
Coping with a child’s grief puts added strain on a bereaved parent. However, angry outbursts or criticism only deepen a child’s anxiety and delays recovery. Instead, talk honestly with children, in terms they can understand. Take extra time to talk with them about death and the person who has died. Help them work through their feelings and remember that they are looking to adults for suitable behavior.
It is important for a person to grieve, to learn to cope with life as it now is and to deal with unfinished business caused by a death, divorce or any other significant emotional loss. Grief is something that we have to “work through. Healing just doesn’t happen by itself although many people seem to think it will. Part of the problem stems from the biggest single inaccurate idea that we have been conditioned to believe: that “time heals all wounds.” Time does not heal. Actions are what help identify and complete unfinished emotional business. Waiting to do grief work is potentially unhealthy. John Donne: He who has no time to mourn has no time to mend” In other words it is not time that heals, it is what we do with the time that can make the difference.
Children grieve just as adults do. Any child old enough to form a relationship will experience some form of grief when a relationship is severed. Adults may not view a child behavior as grief as it is often demonstrated in behavioral patterns which we misunderstand and do not appear to us to be grief … such as “moody,” “cranky,” or “withdrawn.” When a death occurs children need to be surrounded by feelings of warmth, acceptance and understanding. This may be a tall order to expect of the adults who are experiencing their own grief and upset. Caring adults can guide children through this time when the child is experiencing feelings for which they have no words and thus cannot identify. In a very real way, this time can be a growth experience for the child, teaching about love and relationships. The first task is to create an atmosphere in which the child’s thoughts, fears and wishes are recognized. This means that they should be allowed to participate in any of the arrangements, ceremonies and gatherings which are comfortable for them. First, explain what will be happening and why it is happening at a level the child can understand. A child may not be able to speak at a grandparent’s funeral but would benefit greatly from the opportunity to draw a picture to be placed in the casket or displayed at the service. Be aware that children will probably have short attention spans and may need to leave a service or gathering before the adults are ready. Many families provide a non-family attendant to care for the children in this event. The key is to allow the participation, not to force it. Forced participation can be harmful. Children instinctively have a good sense of how involved they wish to be. They should be listened to carefully.
Someone you know may be experiencing grief – perhaps the loss of a loved one, perhaps another type of loss – and you want to help. The fear of making things worse may encourage you to do nothing. Yet you do not wish to appear to be uncaring. Remember that it is better to try to do something, inadequate as you may feel, than to do nothing at all. Don’t attempt to sooth or stifle the emotions of the griever. Tears and anger are an important part of the healing process. Grief is not a sign of weakness. It is the result of a strong relationship and deserves the honor of strong emotion. When supporting someone in their grief the most important thing is to simply listen. Grief is a very confusing process, expressions of logic are lost on the griever. The question “tell me how you are feeling” followed by a patient and attentive ear will seem like a major blessing to the grief stricken. Be present, reveal your caring, listen. Your desire is to assist your friend down the path of healing. They will find their own way down that path, but they need a helping hand, an assurance that they are not entirely alone on their journey. It does not matter that you do not understand the details, your presence is enough. Risk a visit, it need not be long. The mourner may need time to be alone but will surely appreciate the effort you made to visit. Do some act of kindness. There are always ways to help. Run errands, answer the phone, prepare meals, mow the lawn, care for the children, shop for groceries, meet incoming planes or provide lodging for out of town relatives. The smallest good deed is better than the grandest good intention.