Sometime in our lives we are all faced with bereavement. If we think about it we either think bereavement will never happen to us or we’ll cope when or if it happens. When we lose a loved one the bereavement throws us into a world of grief. It’s a place that is confusing and painful bringing us unhappiness. Many of my clients do not understand the grief they are experiencing and the majority worry they are doing it wrong. I assure them no way is the right way.
Grief is sometimes only understood by those who have been bereaved. We will find people are insensitive and tell us to ‘move on’. I believe our Western Culture could learn from other cultures on learning to let people talk about grief. I discuss that further here. You have to find their own way. Talking through the stages of grief can reassure people the feelings and emotions are ok.
On hearing the news that someone you love has died, your first reaction is often numbness, or sometimes acute panic followed by numbness. It can sometimes feel like an out of body experience where you feel you are watching the event as if was happening to someone else. This lack of sensation may last from a few hours to a few weeks. It can alternate with outbursts of extremely intense distress or anger or both. The reality of the loss begins to register, leading to intense pining, heightened irritability and sobbing or crying out loud for the lost person.
Crying may not come at first – more of a stunned, silent bewilderment. It will eventually come as it helps to cry to release feelings of despair, hurt, anger and the rest. The overwhelming feelings of sorrow and loneliness may come like a tidal wave. This is when we need to be allowed to cry and not feel ashamed or guilty.
Denial and disbelief
This stage is a painful heart-rending stage. You go through a stage of being unable to accept that someone has died and they will not return. You may hear the person’s voice or even mistake them for someone else. You will wake up thinking they are there and some people even search for their loved one. You may find yourself shouting out to them asking where they are or blocking them out of your head – just getting on with life.
Out of anxiety and fear comes moments of guilt, which feel very much the same. Moments when you full of regrets and ask yourself ‘If only’ questions.
This stage can last a long time. I’ve had clients who have lost their partner who tried ‘getting on with life’ and then finding themselves crumble 12 – 18 months after the loss when they realise they cannot cope and start the acute grief stage. They feel stuck and unable to move on.
Signs of healing
The grief process is moving towards an end when there is:
- Painful acceptance of the reality of death;
- Reorganisation of life around new circumstances
- Re-establishment of normal relationships and activities
When these milestones are reached will vary with each person. Suddenly one day you realise that you have not been consumed with grief all day and thought about something else. You may not know how you’ve reached that stage but when you’ve reached there it shows you are coping better with the bereavement. You will still have bad days and often unexpectedly when something reminds you of that person. Often we get feel sadness at an event where we wish the dead can see us (for example, a child wishing their parent was there for their birth of their child). We have a conflict between the need to relinquish what has been lost and the wish to hold on to it – the pull between the past and the future.
These stages of grief are explained in different ways by different people. The most popular are the two below:
- Murray-Parkes ‘Stages of Grief’
Murrey-Parkes, C (1975) Bereavement studies of grief in adult life
- Worden’s ‘Tasks of Grief’
Worden, J. W (1983) Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, Tavistock
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