Bereavement and loss

People react in different ways to loss. Anxiety and helplessness often come first. Anger is also common, including feeling angry at someone who has died for “leaving you behind”. Sadness often comes later. Feelings like these are a natural part of the grieving process. Knowing that they are common may help them seem more normal. It’s also important to know that they will pass.

Although bereavement is very common  its universality does not make it less of a shock or any easier to handle when it happens to us. Prince Harry illustrated this perfectly, and very poignantly, when he spoke out about the impact his mother’s death had had on him.

Prince Harry said that he had found it too sad to think about so he had simply stopped thinking about it. His way of dealing with his mother’s death had been to push it all down and block it out for years, and this had affected his mental health later on. The prince’s response to bereavement is not at all unusual, blocking out grief and sadness is an understandable and natural reaction to the pain of loss. Unfortunately, though, not thinking about something does not magic it away. So the unprocessed emotions remain underneath, and can lead to what is called ‘complicated grief’ surfacing later. This is the hidden, ignored and unprocessed feelings, which have lain buried for years coming to light in a way that can seriously impact on your wellbeing. A psychological study found that 25% of people who had experienced bereavement had been diagnosed with complicated grief.

In a way all grief is complicated, because it is not just one feeling, but a whole bunch of reactions and emotions evoked by a loss such as shock, numbness, a sense of surreality, longing, regret, sadness, guilt, agitation, and anger. So, even if addressed and dealt with in the first hours or days, grief can take quite a long time to process, and there is no prescribed amount of time it ‘should’ take.

However, avoiding these emotions and evading talking about them with others can store up trouble for the future, and lead to complicated grief.

How to cope with grief and loss

There’s no instant fix. You might feel affected every day for about a year to 18 months after a major loss. But after this time the grief is less likely to be at the forefront of your mind.

There are practical things you can do to get through a time of bereavement or loss:

  • Express yourself. Talking is often a good way to soothe painful emotions. Talking to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor can begin the healing process.
  • Allow yourself to feel sad. It’s a healthy part of the grieving process.
  • Keep your routine up.  Keeping up simple things like walking the dog can help.
  • Sleep. Emotional strain can make you very tired. 
  • Eat healthily. 
  • Avoid things that “numb” the pain, such as alcohol. It will make you feel worse once the numbness wears off.
  • Maybe consider counselling if you feel stuck and unable to move forward