Coping with bereavement

When a loved one dies, you may wonder how you are going to cope. The loss of a partner, family member or close friend is likely to leave you overflowing with emotions – sadness, anger, bewilderment and even fear. The first thing to remember is that all this is perfectly normal, and a natural part of the grieving process. The second thing to remember is that grief isn’t just something you need to ‘cope with’. It is an important emotion all of its own, and you should give it time and space to run its course.

Here are some ways that you can manage the process of grief, and enable yourself to remember your loved one without the feeling being overwhelming.

Don’t pressure yourself

Resist any calls to ‘pull yourself together’ after the initial few weeks, even if this urging comes from you. Everyone grieves at their own pace and in their own way, so resisting it may merely prolong the process. If don’t feel able to return to work or normal daily activities, don’t force yourself to do things before you’re ready. Be patient – it can take weeks or even months to move through the various stages of grief.

Be kind to yourself and concentrate on the basics, like getting some sleep and eating and drinking enough.

The seven stages of grief

It’s often said that grief involves seven stages. These are usually described as:

  1. Shock
  2. Pain
  3. Anger / bargaining
  4. Depression / reflection
  5. The upward turn
  6. Reconstruction
  7. Acceptance

The first four stages are the most difficult to work through, and are likely to take the longest time. Stage 5, the upward turn, is the moment when you can start thinking clearly about your daily life again, and start to take control of decisions once again. Don’t rush towards this stage – it will arrive at its own pace.

Here are some more ways that can help you work through stages 1 to 4.

Consider grief counselling

Not everyone shows their grief on the outside, and this can lead people to presume you’re okay when you’re not. What’s more, even good friends can become anxious around a grieving person, afraid to say the wrong thing (or even afraid to intrude), so just when you may need them most, they may withdraw.

Therefore you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for professional help if you find it hard to manage your grief. Surprisingly, it can be much easier to tell your innermost feelings to a bereavement counsellor than to someone who is close to you.

A bereavement counsellor is trained to help you work through whatever you’re feeling, at any of the seven stages. He or she will also offer practical ways to manage and come to terms with your loss. Your GP will be able to refer you to a suitable source of grief counselling.

Find a bereavement support group

Connecting with people who understand exactly what you’re going through can help you manage your grief. As well as grieving your loss, you might be struggling to cope with the way your loved one died. There are many charities, organisations and online forums for specific types of bereavement, all of which can help you.

Charities such as Cruse can connect you with the most suitable group for your needs.

Distract yourself

Keeping busy can be a great antidote to some of the worst effects of grief. Seeing friends and getting involved in activities can make a real difference, whether it’s a new hobby or just a day trip to the beach. Remember this is not you trying to ‘cheer yourself up’ or forget about your grief, but simply to give your mind something else to do in the meantime. Just as you need to keep moving after you’ve broken a leg, so too do you need to keep your mind stimulated when it’s preoccupied by grief, or else the recovery process takes much longer.

If your main problem after a bereavement is loneliness, there are befriending services that can help find you as much or as little company as you need.

The six Rs of mourning

Just as there are seven stages of grief, there are six steps to overcome it through the mourning process. These are: Recognise, React, Recollect, Relinquish, Readjust and Reinvest.

  1. Recognize your loss. Don’t deny what’s happened or how much it has hurt you (denial can happen in the ‘Shock’ stage).
  2. React to your bereavement. Feel the pain and express it, and acknowledge the other things you may have lost as well.
  3. Remember your loved one in the way that you wish to, reliving feelings and your memories of being together. This helps you to recognise how much of the person lives on in those shared experiences.
  4. Now you can Relinquish attachments to your loved one that are no longer positive or beneficial to you now – such as daily habits or routines that were built around them, which you may have been reluctant to change out of respect.
  5. Readjust to your new life without them, now that you know you won’t forget your life with them. You can adapt to new ways of living your life, and find your new identity in the process.
  6. Reinvest your time and energy into new life goals, new friendships and new relationships.

Finally, remember that going through grief is a long, slow process of retraining your mind, so take it day by day, work through the setbacks, and don’t give up.