Dealing with bereavement | Education Support Partnership

Dealing with bereavement

Bereavement can leave people feeling panicky, frozen, depressed, angry and a whole host of very overwhelming feelings. There is no one way to grieve and sometimes it can affect people years after the death happened, especially if they did not mourn at the time. As mortals we are not very well equipped to deal with our mortality or those of the people we are close to.

Fortunately, as a society we are learning to support and help people better who are dealing with bereavement. Children used to get little in the way of therapy or peer support. This can have serious consequences in later life and can cause depression, suicidal thoughts, anger, feelings of inadequacy or failure, or issues in having relationships for fear of them ending.  

Without group or individual therapy there is a significant likelihood of mental or emotional health issues in later life related to other endings e.g. a man loses his mother aged 20 and seeks no professional help at the time so does not have somewhere to process his feelings of loss. Aged 45 his wife wants a divorce and the man experiences high levels of anger and rejection that cause a deep depression that are related to more than the current situation of his impending divorce.

It is worth bearing in mind that bereavement is a process that can involve the following stages as defined by Elisabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler: 

 

(image from Psycom.net)

Denial: This stage is where it is hard to comprehend what has happened and people cannot believe that the person has died.

Anger: This stage is when we are faced with the enormity of what the loss of the person means. At this point people can feel angry about their loss and the impact of what has happened. As people come out of denial and face reality this can often feel worse.

Bargaining: This is when we believe that if we bargain it will take away our pain or bring the person back or we will realise that this is just a bad dream. E.g. if I just keep going perhaps it will all feel better. Also common are feelings of ‘what if’. This is where we to try and take back control of something that is not in our control by putting ourselves or others at the centre of what has happened.

Depression: This stage is where we can be thrown back into the reality of the present without the person and start to experience feelings of loss, sadness, despair and lack of meaning. This is an appropriate response and a process we need to go through. If we get stuck for an extended period in this phase it is a definite time to get help. Sometimes people find this hard as they can feel that if they move on from feeling depressed they are further losing the person.

Acceptance: Acceptance can be conflated with the idea that ‘it is okay’ or that ‘time heals’. Time can move us through the process and can help with the worst of feelings but we may always miss someone or feel the pain of a bereavement. Acceptance is more about coming to terms with what has happened, accepting that this is our new norm, moving on from feeling very depressed and being able to also sometimes experience happiness.  

Freud talks about the difference of mourning and melancholia. Mourning is where we go through the process of bereavement a bit like moving through the 5 stages of grief. Melancholia is where we get stuck in the bargaining or the depression stage and we cannot get on with our lives. Often when we get stuck in melancholia and are unable to move on, it may be because of other traumatic events or things that have happened to us previously or in our childhood.  

It is advisable to seek help if you are experiencing extended periods of depression and at some appropriate point after the bereavement. This will help you move through the different stages of grief without getting stuck in one phase and avoid you experiencing delayed grief related issues later on.

What can you do?