The word bereavement means, ‘to be robbed of something valued’. Often bereavement is described as the emotional reactions felt following the death of a loved one, although most often applied when the loss involves a death it can be applied to many other situations such as the loss of a relationship.
Grieving, like so many other parts of our lives, is a process that people go through in stages. When we lose someone, we have to adjust to the loss. This process takes time and varies from individual to individual. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for individuals to move back and forth between stages.
There are five recognizable stages in bereavement. They are:
Stage one – shock/denial. The reality of the loss takes time to sink in. Initial reactions vary from numbness, denial, disbelief and hysteria, to not being able to think straight. This natural reaction helps cushions us against the loss and allows us to feel it more slowly and cope with it better.
Stage two – Protests/anger. At this stage the person protests that the loss cannot be real. Strong and powerful feelings occur, such as anger, guilt, sadness, fear, yearning and searching, while the person struggles between denying and accepting the reality of what has happened. During this stage, anger can manifest itself in many ways; we can blame ourselves, others may easily be agitated and have emotional outbursts. During this stage care must be taken to not turn the anger inwards. It is better to release the anger as this helps with the grieving process.
Stage three- bargaining. During this stage, bargaining can be between ourselves. or depending on your beliefs, with your god. Often, we will offer something to try and take the reality of what has happened away. Sometimes we may try and make deals to have our loved ones back as they were before the event. It is only human to want things as they were before.
Stage four – disorganization. This is the stage when the reality of the loss is only too real. This is the low point of the grief process, characterized by bleakness, despair, depression, apathy, anxiety and confusion. The person may feel that the feelings will go on forever. Out of all the stages, this stage is generally the most difficult, as individuals may enter a depressive state. Sometimes thoughts of self-harm may occur. If these thoughts do occur, professional help is needed.
Stage five- Reorganisation. The person begins to rebuild their life, acquiring more balance and able to remember happier times. They are able to accept the loss and regain some energy and plan for the future. The person returns to previous functioning, but often with changed values and new meaning to life. They may still have thoughts of their loved one, but less intense and less frequent. It may take some time to get here, but it will happen.
Some of the tasks involved in grieving.
Accepting the loss:the starting point of grief is intellectually and emotionally to accept the loss. At first the person experiencing the loss cannot comprehend it and may cling to the belief that the person is still there.
Feel the pain:An array of emotions are allowed, recognisedand experienced. The pain of grief is very real, and as with any pain may be avoided. However, it is an essential part of the process and must be acknowledged and worked through. Some avoid the pain by keeping busy, others say to themselves that they must be strong; however, in the longer term, it is helpful if painful feelings are expressed.
Talking about it: talking about regrets, fears and anger is helpful. If you are the listener, encourage the person to talk of the deceased, how they are feeling and what they are experiencing. Sometimes, just being present and listening is all the person grieving needs.
Take one day at a time: grieving takes time; there are no limits and it is not a process that can be hurried. Some people feel pressured to “get over it” or “move on”, but for some, grieving can take years. It takes as long as it takes.
Be your own best friend:look after yourself, eat well, and take time to retreat. Take care not to become completely isolated, as family and friends and other social supports are important in helping cope with grief.
Write a letter from the heart. Write a letter saying everything you wished you had said to the person while they were alive . Write about the good things and the bad things, the things your liked most and least. Also write about the things you could never talk about and how you will remember the deceased. Say goodbye in your own time and in your own way.
Powell, T. (2000). The mental health handbook; revised edition. Speechmark Publishing Ltd: UK.
Ireson Computing Ltd (2005). Coping with the five stages of grieving retrieved 6 April2005, at http://www.york-united-kingdom.co.uk/funerals/grief/