Common feelings around loss and bereavement
Loss and death are natural parts of life that we often struggle to talk and even think about. There is a large taboo around talking about death in western culture; as adults we all know that one day we are all going to die and yet we spend so little time talking about this or its consequences.
Perhaps part of our aversion to the topic is that it is part of a larger phenomena in Western culture where some emotions are seen as negative and to express or talk about them is seen as to fuel them. For others they might not talk about death and loss as they don't want to be seen as being negative or upset others. Another factor might be that we avoid talking about things like death as a way to cope with other uncomfortable feelings that come up around loss like uncertainty and powerlessness. Ignorance is bliss, right?
Regardless of the reasons, the result is that when people do experience a bereavement it can often be the most distressing thing they have been through and it frequently turns people’s lives upside down.
When people experience a bereavement it can be hard for them to express what they are going through. The loss can often leave much confusion and soul searching in its wake. This can often be confounded particularly when the loss is unexpected and/or accompanied by trauma. Suffering a bereavement can also feel isolating when the bereaved don't feel able to talk about their experience or to seek help and also by other people around them withdrawing or offering unhelpful advice or words because they do not know how they can support someone effectively who has experienced a loss.
Emotions that can come up following a loss vary. Common feelings include:
Shock - Shock is often experienced initially on receiving news of a loss. You can feel numb as you try to make sense of what has happened and some people may initially act outwardly as if everything is fine.
Pain - Losing someone you love can be extremely distressing. The emotional pain of the loss can often be felt by those grieving in their body.
Anger - Feelings of anger can be a way that some people experience loss, particularly though certainly not limited to if there is a feeling of injustice or wrong doing around the death. Sometimes you might find yourself getting very angry over small things that would have at best mildly irritated you in the past. Anger can also be felt towards the person who died for leaving them and/or towards themselves for not having done enough, feeling that they have made a mistake or were somehow responsible for the deceased's death. Feelings of anger are common in loss but not often spoken about so it might feel abnormal to feel anger but it is very normal.
Despair - When we lose someone we love, be they a partner or parent, sibling or child, it can feel like a light gets extinguished in us. This is an understandable feeling when someone so important to us in our lives has died. We might even start thinking about our own death and if life is worth living anymore. It is important to talk to someone you trust about these thoughts and feelings if you feel they are overwhelming. It is also important to remember that you do matter to more people than you can probably imagine when you are in an emotional state of despair and that despite your loss, there are other things and reasons worth living for.
Guilt - Often when someone dies we can feel feelings of guilt. We can feel responsible for their death or that we didn’t spend enough time with them before they were gone. Perhaps the last words we said to them were unkind and that memory haunts us. Guilt is a common reaction, unfortunately death is often unexpected and we rarely get time to make peace with those we love and have a proper goodbye. It's important to find compassion for yourself if you are experiencing guilt as we cannot change the past or have know at the time what was going to happen. One thing that can be important to remember is that one memory or event does not define the whole relationship you had with that person anymore than a sentence in a book or the final scene in a film is the sum of a whole book or film respectively.
Depression - Like despair, feelings of depression are very common to experience following a loss. We can find ourselves not feeling motivated anymore to do everyday things, to work or to meet up with friends and family. Sometimes it is an important part of grieving to withdraw from the world so we can reorganise ourselves, acknowledge our pain and find our new way of living in the world. And at other times the feeling of depression can increase our isolation by stopping us from seeking help, from connecting with others and from doing things that are supportive in our lives like, exercise, hobbies and meaningful work.
Longing - Seeing, hearing or dreaming about the person you have lost is not an uncommon experience. It can happen when you least expect it and you might find yourself calling out to that person as if they are still here. It might feel like you are going mad but it is in fact the brain trying to process make sense and accept what has happened.
None of these emotions are wrong or unnatural to feel even though it may feel very disturbing and painful at times.
Older models of grief put forward the idea that people went through different emotional stages of grief. The most famous of these is the Grief Cycle put forward by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, with its five stages being: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
More recent research however suggests that, many people do not experience all of the different stages and rather than it being a linear cycle, people may move frequently in and out of different stages of grief. One important thing it does help to illustrate though is that grief is a process and that the feelings that accompany it can change over time as someone works through their loss.
There is no right or normal way to express grief or to mourn somebody. If you are grieving a loved one and finding things overwhelming, do seek support. Bereavement support groups and/or individual counselling can help you work through unresolved grief and provide a space for you to express and explore difficult thoughts and feelings that you might be experiencing but find it difficult to talk to others about.
If you are interested in finding out more about counselling or booking an initial counselling session email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text me on 07480 441993