Bereavement affects people in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. “You might feel a lot of emotions at once, or feel you’re having a good day then you wake up and feel worse again”. Powerful feelings can come unexpectedly. “It’s like waves on a beach. You can be standing in water up to your knees and feel you can cope then suddenly a big wave comes and knocks you off your feet.”
Experts generally accept that there are four stages of bereavement:
- Accepting that your loss is real
- Experiencing the pain of grief
- Adjusting to life without the person who has died
- Putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new (in other words, moving on)
There are five stages of grief according to – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and we can move through these directly or move around each one before moving forward.
1 – Denial
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It’s a defence mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely.
2 – Anger
Anger can manifest in many different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. Knowing this helps in keeping detached and non-judgemental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset.
3 – Bargaining
Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends?..” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.
4 – Depression
Sometimes referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it’s the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the ‘aftermath’ although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It’s a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.
5 – Acceptance
Again this stage definitely varies according to the person’s situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
Bereavement counselling may be able to provide support during these very difficult times. Talking about the loss often allows a person to adjust to their new life with all its changes – good and bad. Keeping things bottled up or denying the sadness could prolong the pain. Any loss has to be acknowledged for us to move forward. Bereavement counselling tries to help clients find a place for their loss so they can carry on with life and eventually find acceptance.
One of the main differences between grief and depression is that grief comes in waves while depression is like a cloud that hangs over everything. Sometimes, a grieving person is able to forget their sadness for certain lengths of time – perhaps when concentrating on something, perhaps when surrounded by people who make them feel happy. Grief is triggered by things – a smell, a sudden memory – while depression is pervasive, cutting through everything.
Bereavement counselling aims to get you to the point where you can function normally – however long it takes. One day, you may be able to find happiness again. By creating a place to keep the person you lost, and finding ways to remember them (like anniversary celebrations, or leaving flowers at a memorial site), you should be able to preserve their memory and honour the impact they had on your life, without letting their absence obscure your own future.