About Grief and Bereavement
We hear so much about bereavement and grieving but what exactly does that mean?
According to The Oxford English Dictionary: “Bereavement is a period of mourning or state of intense grief, especially following the death of a loved one. Bereavement is often a process that includes going through several stages of grief. Bereavement can also be used more generally to mean the state of having lost something very dear”.
Bereavement is, indeed, the state of having lost something very dear but, more than that, bereavement is about the loss of MANY things that are very dear. You see, when we lose someone special from our lives we lose part of ourselves. We are who we are only in relation to the world we live in and the people we share that world with. We may no longer be someone’s partner, husband or wife, someone’s brother or sister, mother or father, someone’s daughter, son, friend or carer and that changes who we are forever. So if we are not that person, then who are we? We can find we have lost our identity. We also lose, to a lesser or greater extent the future we had mapped out for ourselves. The loss of a spouse or life partner, particularly, makes for a very uncertain future and may lead to huge anxiety about what will happen later in life. Often, there may be financial losses or even the loss of the home full of memories of the person we miss so much. We may lose our gardener, our chauffeur, our carer, our confidant, our fashion advisor, our handyman, social secretary, font of wisdom, bed warmer, dog walker, clown, cook, the list goes on. We may have lost the person to whom we could turn at our lowest ebb. We may have lost the only person who truly needed us in the world and that can be extremely hard to bear.
The dictionary refers to “a state of intense grief” but what is that? Grief is not an illness. It is not a weakness. It is not something to be ashamed of. It is a complicated and ever-changing package of emotions and physical reactions that happen as a result of our loss. It is a totally natural reaction to the death of someone we love. In our society we tend to underestimate the very real physical effects of grief and how long it can take to learn to live with it. Our grief never goes away. It changes form as we learn to accommodate it, until eventually it becomes just part of who we are as we rediscover meaning in our lives. Grief has been described as “The price we pay for love but a price worth paying”. Understanding what we are going through is key to processing our grief and can help us keep our heads above water when we start to flounder in the huge waves of emotion that can hit us out of nowhere.
So what about mourning? The mourning period is a period of healing. It is a time of coming to terms with what has happened, acknowledging how deeply painful it is and accepting it as part of our life story. Only then can we move forward towards writing our next chapter. We gradually build up the strength and motivation to look for meaning and purpose to the rest of our time on Earth. We will never forget our loved ones, they can never be swept away as if they did not exist. Why would we ever want to do that? The mourning period is very much about finding our own personal way of keeping them with us in some form as we carry on with our new lives.