Bereavement is a word which refers to the process of mourning and grief which people experience after a person close to them passes away. The word bereavement has its roots in the ancient German language, and literally meant "seize by violence". This word is appropriate because when a loved one dies their family and friends can both feel that the deceased was seized by violence, and that they themselves are seized by violent feelings of profound despair. Though everyone experiences bereavement in their own individual way, many people have found that counselling can help play a role in the process.
THE PHASES OF BEREAVEMENT
Bereavement is a process which has several distinct phases or stages. The emotions experienced in each stage are better thought of pulsating feelings, which wax and wane, as opposed to a constant and intense emotional burden. As an example, it is common that people who are grieving a lost loved one will experience moments of laughter, for example when thinking about something funny they experienced together. This can then be followed by a deepening feeling of sadness. While not everyone will experience the bereavement process in the same way, some of the typical phases of the process include:
Disbelief that your loved one is really deceased
It is often the case that upon learning that a loved one has passed away, some people will simply find the news unbelievable. This state of disbelief can even continue until and past funeral services.
Eventually the fact that a loved one has passed away will be accepted as a fact of reality. This is a crucial part of the bereavement process. This part of the process can be punctuated by extreme sadness and attempts to try to make sense of the loss. Symptoms experienced during this phase may include:
- Constant memories of the person
- Thinking you see the person out and about
- Longing for their presence
Trying to adjust to life
When a loved one is lost their presence will be notably absent, especially during time periods you used to share together. These moments can be particularly difficult as you find new ways to experience life without their presence.
Learning to live without them
Many times people feel that learning to live without their deceased loved one is the same as "forgetting" about them. But this is not the case. While we never forget those who meant the most to us, it is important that we return to normal life after their deaths. This "moving on" can be a very difficult part of the bereavement process because in some ways we are never able to truly move on. However, life does go on, and we must make the effort to continue to find joy and value in our lives.
Sometimes people are understandably so upset after the loss of a loved one, that they find it very difficult, if not impossible, to complete the bereavement process. They may find that they simply cannot resolve their pain, that their anger or sadness resulting from their loss gives way to depression or even contemplations of suicide. In these cases it is recommended that the individual seek counselling immediately.
Sometimes it may be difficult to distinguish between grief and depression. One of the ways to help distinguish between the two is duration: Intense grief may last a matter of weeks, whereas depression can last months or even years. Additionally, whereas normal grief usually comes in waves, depression can seem like a smothering blanket which never lets up. If you think you may have entered into depression as the result of a lost loved one, it is important to get bereavement counselling immediately. A qualified bereavement counsellor will help you:
- Understand the process you are going through
- Resolve any emotional conflicts which may be impeding your healing
- Confront thoughts of suicide or other threatening thoughts or behaviours
- Adjust to your new reality