Following the sudden death of my beautiful sister in 2003, I embarked on a diploma course in grief and bereavement counselling. I found the course inspiring but sometimes difficult as I began to recognise the different stages that I had gone through. Following the death of Tania, I felt that all around me people were just getting on with their lives and I sometimes struggled with seeing people laughing and having fun. I wanted to shout, “Don’t you know my sister has just died so why are you laughing?” Of course, I now know that this is quite a normal reaction to have. However, nothing prepares us for the loss of a loved one whether sudden or knowing the person has been unwell.
Grief can manifest itself in a number of different ways, whether it be anger, numbness, withdrawing into themselves or even depression. Bereavement is the time we spend adjusting to loss and is different for every individual. There is no right or wrong way to feel during this period of time.
The one thing that I know that really helped was talking. It’s not good to bottle up how you are feeling or denying yourself the time to be sad. It just prolongs the pain although do feel free to respond in whatever you way you wish when people say – time is a good healer! That’s absolute rubbish, you just learn to deal with it better as time goes on and I must admit I have told people that when mentioned (seems to be a very common phrase when people don’t know what to say). I remember going back to work after being off work for 8 days (my employer at the time was extremely supportive) and noticing that people I used to speak to frequently throughout my working day/week just avoided me. I found this so very hurtful and I know they didn’t really know what to say so chose to say nothing. However, one of my colleagues after so sadly losing her father a few years later, came up to me at work and said how sorry she was for not just speaking to me and acknowledging what had happened as she had experienced the same and realised how very hurtful it was. Even if it is just to let someone know you are there for them or letting them know they are sorry to hear about the sad news, it’s best to say something no matter how difficult you find it (it’s about them, not you), rather than ignoring that person that is in desperate need for support and a kind word.
Unfortunately, we all experience the loss of a loved one at some point in our lives and it’s important to keep their memory alive whilst you try to get along as best you can. It takes time to accept what has happened and learn to live life without that person. The time following a bereavement can involve a lot of very powerful emotions but these are completely normal. You may find that you need a little help moving on from one stage to the next but this is where counselling can help guide you and and when you feel able.
In general there are four stages to grief:
- Acceptance to what has happened
- Experience of grief, pain and anger
- Adjustment as your life will be different
- Moving on and understanding the importance of mourning
When a loved one dies, it is completely normal for you to be in complete shock. For quite some time you can feel that you are still looking out for that person or that you can see them, maybe in a crowd of people. An essential part of the bereavement process is accepting that they really have gone, however hard you find it that you won’t see them again. Without acceptance, it can be extremely hard to grieve properly.
Grief can come in so many different forms and people grieve in their own private way. Some may cry continuously, some may be angry and other may be very quiet and withdrawn. However, the following emotions are totally normal:
- Sorrow and extreme sadness
- Longing (to see them again)
As painful as it feels, it is important to let yourself grieve for your loss. Some people lock their emotions inside and try to get on with life as usual. Denying yourself the time to grieve properly could result in complications that prevent you from getting on with life and lead to further problems.
Trying to adjust to life without your loved one can be so very difficult but with time, understanding and ensuring that your emotions are released you will hopefully find yourself adjusting. Of course, if you shared your daily life with your loved one then the changes to your life will be substantially larger than if you only saw that person once in a while. It is so important that you keep their memory alive and talk to friends, family and your counsellor.
You will always remember the person who died and you may continue to grieve for their loss forever. I especially find myself grieving for the things that my sister is missing, simple things like the wonderful array of yellow daffodils adorning the gardens and banks of grass in the spring (a time of year she really enjoyed – my lovely dad planted lots of daffodil bulbs for Tania at her grave – see picture left), the sun shining on her face, the way she always had tan marks on her feet from flip flops in the summer, television programmes that I know she would love (so I watch them for her), Christmas, as such a fun time of year for the family and of course my extremely special mum and dad along with her husband Adrian who miss her dreadfully and love her so much. The list goes on.
However, you will slowly get to the point where life begins to take you on a new route and you will naturally begin to move on. This is not a bad thing. It simply means that you have found new ways to channel your emotions into new things and have found a new way to cope.
Bereavement counselling is designed to help people cope more effectively with the death of a loved one. Specifically, bereavement counselling can help you understand the mourning process, explore areas that could potentially prevent you from healing, help resolve areas of conflict that may still remain, help you adjust and address possible issues of depression.
Bereavement counselling aims to get you to the point where you can function normally – however long it takes. One day, you may be able to find happiness again. By creating a place to keep the person you lost, and finding ways to remember them (like anniversary celebrations, or leaving flowers on a grave), you should be able to preserve their memory and honour the impact they had on your life, without letting their absence obscure your own future.
I don’t charge for counselling sessions but appreciate a donation to my sister’s memorial fund where money is raised for epilepsy research. Please contact me if you would like more information or to book an appointment. Donations can be made by clicking here.