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Coping with Bereavement

Coping with bereavement is incredibly difficult. The grief we experience following the death of a loved one is one of the most emotionally intense things we can go through. Characterised by deep sadness and often a painful longing for the person we’ve lost, our reaction is both emotional and physical.

Although bereavement is something that will touch us all at different times and in different ways, when it happens, we can feel very alone and isolated. While everyone around you seems to carry on as normal, your world has been turned inside out and upside down. It doesn’t seem right, and it doesn’t feel fair.

So, how do you go about coping with bereavement?

Time, Space and Self-Compassion

‘No two people will experience the death of a loved one in the same way. How individuals express their pain depends upon a number of factors including their personality, the circumstances surrounding the death, and the way they view the world. One of the hardest things for people who are grieving is ‘not knowing’ what to expect, especially in the first few months. Often they question whether their experience is ‘normal’ and wonder whether they are going crazy.’ – The Psychology of Grief

There’s no right way to grieve, and no right way to cope. There are no shortcuts and you can’t avoid the grieving process. It demands to be felt and experienced, but it’s a journey that’s different for everyone.

Avoid comparing your grief to others or passing judgment on your response. Let go of ‘I shoulds’ and self-criticism. You must do what is right for you.

It’s important to treat yourself with compassion. Be gentle – grief is one of the deepest emotional wounds we can experience, and it requires the same amount of rest, care, and attention as a physical wound.

As well as giving yourself time and space to grieve, it’s a good idea to continue doing everyday normal things. It’s all about balance. Too much time in grief, or too much distraction, can slow down the grieving process.

Trigger Waves

Grief is often described as coming in waves. Most people report that the intensity and frequency of these waves lessens over time, although ‘trigger waves’, which are usually accompanied by heightened emotions, can occur at any time, even years later.

Triggers can include anything from hearing a song on the radio to seeing someone who resembles the deceased person. Some trigger waves come out of the blue and others are anticipated, such as a significant date. These trigger waves are completely normal and not a sign that you’re getting worse.

Processing Your Emotions

I often ask clients to consider how the person they’ve lost would want them to move through their grief. The stronger the grief, the closer you may have been to the person who’s passed away. Consider how you might continue living in a way that honours their life and their legacy. Allow their memory to support you in your grief.

Writing letters to the person you’ve lost can be a lovely way of working through your grief and processing your emotions. If you feel able, take this a step further and write a reply. Ask yourself, if your loved one could write back, what would they want you to know or hear?

If you feel like talking, talk as much as you can and consider seeing a therapist who will help you work through your emotions. If you don’t feel like talking, that’s ok. Try tuning into your emotional needs and giving your sadness space.

If you’ve lost someone in tragic circumstances, your last memories of them could be difficult. Make sure you have a photo nearby that shows them how you’d like to remember them, so you can always bring this to mind.

Useful Links

Nicky Clifford is a grief recovery expert. You can read her story and learn more about her work here.

Grief from the Perspective of an Old Man

The Griefcast – Funny people talking about death and grief, a podcast hosted by Cariad Lloyd.

If you’re coping with bereavement or grief, I’m always happy to help, so do get in touch if you’d like more guidance or advice.

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.