Bereavement & Loss

Bereavement & Loss

Grieving is the natural process we go through in response to losses of many kinds, e.g. death, loss of a job, relationship breakdown, life events and changes. When we are in the midst of grief, we can feel that it will never end, and that we will always feel as we do now.

The loss of someone who is significant to you, through death, but also through separation, may be one of the hardest things you will experience in your life.

Other losses such as the loss of a job, the loss of good health or major life changes can often cause many of the same symptoms of grief. It is important to recognise how these life events affect us and accept that we may need to grieve for them too. Much of what is said here will apply to any loss, not only loss through death.

People respond differently to loss, and often individuals can feel very alone in dealing with the intense personal emotions they may be experiencing. They may wonder if what they are feeling and experiencing following their loss is ‘ok’, to be expected. They might not even realise that their feelings are their own response to grief.

Grief takes time to work through. There are no hard and fast guidelines. It takes as long as it takes, but as a general rule it will take longer than you expect. It is important not to try to 'get over it' too quickly, not to adopt a 'stiff upper lip' attitude. Grief is an inevitable, normal, and human response to loss. We may not seem to grieve much immediately, but may find that weeks, months, later we feel upset and painfully aware of our loss.

Experiences of bereavement and loss are entirely individual. No one can tell you how you will or should feel. Everyone grieves in his or her own special way. Even people in the same family may grieve in different ways from each other, and this can be hard to accept. Some wish to mourn in a way which celebrates the life of the deceased; others make a great and visible show of their grief. Some people are very low key in their response to a death, marking it with a funeral and perhaps a gathering afterwards, but with no recognised period of mourning and often no great show of feeling

Symptoms of Normal Grief

There are however some generally accepted and recognised reactions:

  • You may at first feel totally numb, as if paralysed
  • You may find yourself unable to believe the person really is dead
  • You may find yourself very angry about what has happened.
  • You may feel an enormous sense of unfairness
  • You may find yourself crying uncontrollably and unable to function as normal
  • You may feel guilty about surviving, about not having said goodbye; about leaving things unresolved
  • You may feel an aching void, a sense of emtiness, which you feel will never be filled again
  • Whether it is expected or a shock, you may feel traumatised, but especially in the case of a death which been in any way violent such as through an accident, suicide or murder.
  • When we grieve we experience a whole spectrum of emotions that can leave us feeling worn out, exhausted and confused


The Reaction of Others

You will be aware that people around you will react in very different ways to your grief.

There will be those who very much want to help in practical ways, or by giving you emotional support. It is up to you to guide them as to how they may best help you; whether you need a listening ear, or maybe need to be left alone for a while. Remember, they can't know what will help unless you tell them. Don't be afraid to take up offers of help; it is not a sign of weakness to lean on someone when you need support.

There will be others who are unable to cope with your grief, who may not be able to talk about the death or your loss or even acknowledge it. This may be because it raises difficult feelings in them, or because they feel inadequate because they don’t know what to say to you. This can seem very hurtful if you don’t understand what may be behind this seemingly insensitive behaviour.

How can you Help Yourself?

Here are some suggestions which you may find helpful:

  • Recognise that mourning takes its time and you cannot hurry it along. If you feel like crying, then do it. If you don’t want to cry in front of others, find a place where you do feel able to express your emotions safely.
  • Do not be afraid to accept whatever help you are offered from friends, relatives, religious ministers etc.
  • If you need to talk about what you have lost, even if you need to do so over and over again, allow yourself to do so until the need lessens.
  • If you are worried about over-using friends, consider talking to a Student Counsellor or other professional helper
  • Looking after yourself is something easily forgotten when grieving, but doing something to make you feel better is especially important. Grief is a major stressor, so take time to relax .
  • Think about practical ways of doing something to ease your pain. Would it help to write a letter to the deceased saying what you perhaps didn't manage to say in their lifetime? Would you like to plant a tree or shrub in their memory and watch it blossom? Could you light a candle on special days?
  • The first anniversary of the loss is an important milestone and can be particularly difficult. Subsequent birthdays and anniversaries can be poignant reminders of your loss, and you may need to find your own way of dealing with such times by either marking them as special commemorative events or by ensuring you distract yourself while time passes.

And Later.........

The pain gradually lessens. It does happen even though you think it never will. But while we may never forget the loss, eventually we are able to pick up the threads of our lives.

But with that might come guilt and worry about forgetting or letting go of what we have lost. Along the years, although the pain lessens, the memories will never leave you as the loss finds its place in your history and experience. The more easily you can accept the need to grieve, the more comfortably it will rest. And it is right that we move through grieving, to a point where we can let go, and emotionally re-invest in our lives again.

If you think it would help to talk to a counsellor about your feelings, contact the Student Counselling Service.