Monthly Archives: June 2013

Grieving within Western Society

grievingConforming to Western Society

When we speak of bereavement and grieving in our Western Culture people often feel uncomfortable and tend to avoid the subject. Clients often report to me that they find they cannot talk of the dead person to friends or colleagues. It is almost as though they are not allowed to carry on thinking of the deceased person to the point that if they do, other people find it embarrassing.  In Western Society there is social pressure for the bereaved to grieve quickly and quietly. These pressures, as Harris (2010) says, constricts the experience of grief rather than support it. These restrictive ways of dealing with grief can create further stress to clients as they are worried to how they are perceived by family and friends.

Grieving at the beginning

I feel we could learn a lot from other societies who place family and community at the forefront of their values. When I worked in Cameroon, a member of the village where I was staying died. Immediately the women started wailing. They were allowed and encouraged to openly express they sadness at their loss. This continued for 3 days. People from nearby villages and relatives from afar visited the village to see the deceased body. The funeral was held with over 500 people attending. The family were never left alone during this period or for a long time after.  Our workers openly spoke of the dead person and told us how we could as ‘Westerners’ (who were visitors to the village) could support the family through their grief.  What a different experience compared to our country. In UK you are allowed up to 3 days bereavement leave from work. It feels as though people prefer you not express your grief in public and society prefers you step back to ‘normality’ after the funeral.

And a year on….

Whilst in Cameroon I also experienced the one year after death party. The villagers held a massive party and toasted the dead person. They poured alcohol at the dead person’s door to let the dead person’s spirit drink it. They then spent all evening talking fondly of the dead person and supporting the grieving family. It was a touching experience. What a different experience towards grief compared to our society. On anniversary death days in Western Society, people outside of the family do not want to know. Some outsiders cannot even understand why it is a difficult day to get through.  ‘It’s just another day’ I have heard in the past.

Talking therapy helps

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is a personal experience. From experience with clients, I would say the first year is worse. Yet for some the first year is just the beginning of their grief journey and it can get worse for them. It is common after losing a loved one is that you need to find sense of what you are feeling and need to talk and talk about the same thing. Few people are willing to hear. You can experience numbness, low self-esteem, anger, sadness. If you are suffering from grief, counselling may help you to come to terms with your grief. Sometimes talking to someone who is not involved in the bereavement can be beneficial.

What can we learn?

We could learn a lot from other cultures on how to deal with grief. Let’s start by allowing people to express their grief. Accept their sadness not criticize it. Let’s learn how to carry and support our family and friends rather than asking them to conform to our way of grieving or society’s way.Let’s listen to them and not be irritated that we have heard that story before. Let’s be compassionate friends to each other and help our friends and family through their grieving process. It’s only a start but an encouraging one.

If you would like to learn more how to support a grieving person through a bereavement, have a look at this blog post. It includes things not to say!

Hazel Hill can provide support through online counselling or counselling 1:1 in Sheffield. She has a specific expertise for those who need support for bereavement.

Reference

Harris, D (2010), Oppression of the Bereaved: A Critical Analysis of Grief in Western Society, MEGA Journal of Death and Dying, Issue:  Volume 60, Number 3 pgs:  241 – 253

Behind closed doors

Behind closed doorsThe report on an alleged public attack upon Nigella Lawson was not pleasant reading. Clearly, the involvement of her husband has reignited the debates surrounding domestic violence. Domestic violence does not discriminate and can happen to anyone, both men and women from any background. The majority of it happens behind closed doors. We know that no-one should be faced with this pain or living in an abusive relationship. Yet those affected by abuse are increasing as reported by Women’s Aid –  1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime – many of these on a number of occasions and on average, two women are killed per week by a current, or former life partner. Women end up ashamed and do not realise that help is out there. Continue reading

Absent Fathers

Father’s Day can be a special day for many families. My children eagerly made their Dad a card and went to bed excited at waking him their Dad up tomorrow morning. However, a bushy eyed child is not what all Dads will be facing on Father’s Day. A lot of Fathers will be painfully reminded of their child they have lost or no longer have access too. Additionally other children, young and old, have the reminder that their dead dad is not there. Death itself can be seen as a freedom but being left behind with your grief and loss is difficult. It’s a long painful journey and some days are harder than others. Father’s Day can be a difficult day as it just reminds you of your loss. While some people are grabbing their cards and gifts you are left wondering how you will cope with your grief.

Ignoring Father’s Day often feels like the easiest thing to do yet sometimes it is not as difficult as you think. So what can you do? Some people are comforted by being with their family and having a special meal.  Some prefer to be on their own but rather than spending it in bed, try to make a plan for the day.  The anticipation can be worse than the day itself. Focusing on your Dad’s life and what he means to you might bring up good memories. You could visit his favourite spot or listen to music that he loved.

A useful tool I use with my clients who are grieving over the death of their Father is a ‘Dad box’. You put small reminders of your Dad in a memory box. Some clients don’t look into it for years whereas others get it on difficult days like Father’s Day. Some have described the box as a handy receptacle for all sorts of feelings. When they are feeling low they open it up and allow their feelings to be released.

Being without your Dad on Father’s Day is difficult time. If you hold onto hope it is possible. If you do feel at breaking point and cannot cope with your grief on Father’s Day then you can ring The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. For further information on grief look Cruse’s website.  The site gives further explanation of the grief and how to cope with bereavement. Don’t be afraid to ask for help as you may find that talking to someone can help.  I

Hazel provides counselling in Sheffield and South Yorkshire or via email, skype or instant messaging. Contact me her at counselling@inyourcommunity.org.uk for more information.

Boosting your low self esteem

self esteemWhat is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is your self-image and how you feel about yourself. Your self-esteem is made up of thoughts and feeling you have about yourself. The more positive feeling you have about yourself, the higher your self-esteem and the more negative feelings you have about yourself, the lower your self-esteem. Self-esteem is important as it affects the way you live. It affects how you think, act and feel about yourself and others and how successful you are in achieving the things you want in life.  High self-esteem can make you feel capable, productive, lovable and self-confident. Whereas low self-esteem can make you feel worthless, incompetent and unloved. Continue reading

First Steps to Coping with Stress

first steps to coping with stressToday many of the pressure of life demands can cause stress, particularly work, relationships and money problems. Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure which in turn can lead you feeling you are unable to cope. We all have different ways of reacting to stress. When you feel stressed, it can get in the way of sorting out these demands, or can even affect everything you do. Common signs of stress include sleeping problems, loss or increase of appetite and difficulty concentrating.

The Supposedly Helpful Crutch

People deal with stress by often drinking more, smoking more, acting unreasonably and losing their temper.  However, drowning your frustration in alcohol, eating junk foods, self-medicating with drugs such as nicotine is not the answer. If anything they add to your problem. It is important to take positive action when faced with stress as, if experienced over a period of time; it can seriously impair your mental and physical health. You need to find coping strategies than can really help you reduce this effects of any stress in your life.

Six Stress Coping Strategies for Individuals

The following list is first steps to take that can really help you reduce the stress in your life.

  1. Be aware of your own warning signs of feeling run down. This maybe could be a sudden feeling of anxiety, extreme tiredness, feeling very tearful, catching every cough and cold.
  2. Review what is really causing you negative stress for you? You could be surprised! Think about what action you could perhaps take to change things. How much of your negative stress by you? For example, are you expectations of yourself and others realistic?
  3. Instead of using alcohol, not eating properly and smoking more as a crutch try eating a balanced diet, cut out sugar, eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, drink plenty of water and keep caffeine to the minimum.
  4. Do not feel guilty about including a period of relaxation every day. We all need to turn off from time to time. Do something you enjoy and fits into your life. This could, for example, be reading, listening to music, doing yoga or meditating, enjoying a warm bath. It does not have to take long or be considered time wasting. It is a vital part of life.
  5. Make sure exercise is part of your life. Exercise which is suitable for you. If you have any doubts as to the correct sort for you ask your Doctor. 
  6. Do you often find yourself saying ‘yes’ when in fact you mean ‘no’? Are you always late for things? Learn how to be more assertive and manage your time properly. Many of us waste so much time, often making excuses for things we have not done

There are times when we all need the help and confidential support of other people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. It can be so useful.

Further reading

Davis, M (2012) The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook.