Bereavement is the period of mourning and grief after the death of a loved one. This is the period when one experiences grief and mourning takes place.
However, the duration of bereavement may depend on how close and attached an individual was to the deceased.
Bereavement usually leads to grief, and individual grievances may vary depending upon the circumstances of the death, but this is a normal, healthy response to the loss of a loved one.
However, bereavement may also come with its own negative effects when not properly handled. It may build up and develop to something else, such as a decline in one’s physical or mental health, the health of another loved one, or the end of an important relationship.
The bereaved must be allowed to mourn their loss and express their feelings as it can help them recover more quickly. Also, it is advisable to seek professional help when one experiences difficulty in dealing with a loss.
A professional therapist might be able to help through therapy sessions or counseling. This way, the bereaved works through a gradual healing process where the emotions connected to the loss are identified and dealt with so that they can cope with the loss and live independently.
If a person has very few or no symptoms of bereavement or grief, or the symptoms last for much longer than usual, then the bereaved individual may be experiencing a phase called “complicated grief.” In such circumstances, psychotherapy may be the best treatment.
There are actions that a bereaved individual can take on their own to help them deal with their bereavement. You can start by talking about the death with people who care, accept the normal feelings that come with loss, mind your health, eat healthy and well, and celebrate the life of the deceased.
Causes of bereavement
The death of a loved one is an emotionally devastating event that can be overwhelming, and the circumstances surrounding their death might influence one’s reaction.
As if losing a dearly beloved family member or a romantic partner is not enough, one might still have to deal with so many decisions regarding funeral arrangements and finances.
And worse still, the bereaved might also have to explain the death to other loved ones and family members and help them through their grief.
The period and state of one’s bereavement may depend on a number of personal factors; they include;
- One’s relationship with the deceased
- Religious beliefs
- Previous experience with similar circumstances
- Whether or not one believes it was time for the deceased to die.
The death of a parent has enormous impacts on the lives of their children, no matter what age a person is when their parents die. And parents tend to feel responsible for their child’s death after the loss of a child.
People usually feel like they have lost a vital part of themselves after losing a romantic partner. Losing a person to suicide can also lead to some sort of intense bereavement that might as well produce intense grief in loved ones and others.
Dealing and coping with bereavement after a loved one commits suicide is usually more difficult than dealing with other losses as it births more complicated feelings and experiences of guilt, shame, and rejection.
The loss of a beloved pet that provides companionship and emotional support might also cause one to be bereaved. When someone loses a beloved pet, it’s not unusual to feel bereaved and overwhelmed by the intensity of the situation.
Some persons might find it hard to comprehend such reactions to what they see as the loss of an ordinary pet, and they may be less understanding in these circumstances, but the loss is still significant, and the bereaved should be allowed to mourn their loss.
A vast, complicated range of emotions may be experienced after losing a loved one; you might feel a combination of pain, fear, and deep sadness, but it is natural and expected at this point.
In the first instance, one may find it hard to accept and come to terms with the reality that the loss has actually occurred, and then the feelings of anger might arise too. This anger is often directed toward doctors, nurses, God, oneself, other loved ones, or even the deceased.
The bereaved may experience loss of appetite, crying spells, loss of concentration, trouble sleeping, or lack of productivity (especially at work).
Some of the most common symptoms and signs of bereavement include:
- shock, daze, and numbness – this is usually the first reaction to loss, especially when unexpected
- overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying, tiredness, and exhaustion
- feeling of guilt – when people lose a loved one, they often feel guilty about something they said or did not say, something they did or did not do, or not being there and not being able to stop their loved one dying
- feeling of anger – after the death of a loved one, the bereaved often feels anger, it could be towards the deceased or the reason for their demise, towards the doctors and nurses, or anyone or anything
These feelings may not pop up consistently, and other powerful emotions and feelings may come up unexpectedly. However, there are a few things that you can do to help deal and cope with bereavement, grief, and loss.
How to support a Bereaved person
Below are a few steps that one could take to ensure that their bereaved loved ones heal fast and get better
- Don’t let fears about saying or doing the wrong thing stop you from reaching out to them.
- Let your grieving loved one know that you’re there to listen. The bereaved needs to feel free to express their feelings without fear of judgment, argument, or criticism, no matter how irrational.
- Let them know that it’s okay to breakdown and cry, get angry, or behave the way they need to in front of you. The emphasis should be on how they feel and how they will get better.
- Understand that everyone grieves differently and for different lengths of time.
- The emotions and feelings of a bereaved person can change rapidly, so don’t assume you know how the person feels at any given point of time.
- Bereavement is an intensely individual experience, two different personalities cannot experience it the exact same way, so don’t assume you “know” what the person is feeling and do not compare your grief or bereavement to theirs.
- Be genuine in your communication. Don’t try to minimize or maximize their loss, if you don’t know what to say then you could just give them a listening ear or simply tell them how you feel by saying: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care and I’m here for you.”
- Don’t press or force the bereaved person if they don’t feel like talking. In most cases, they find comfort from merely being in your company. If you can’t come up with anything to say, just offer eye contact, hold and squeeze their hands, or give them a reassuring hug.
- We must understand that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and a bereaved person might express extreme emotions and behaviors such as anger, guilt, despair, or fear.
- You should never judge or tell a bereaved or grieving person how to mourn their loved ones; instead, you should make them understand that what they feel is normal.
- Always show and offer your support. Ask for what can be done for the grieving person and help with specific tasks, such as funeral arrangements.
- Offer to help in practical ways. You can also help by sharing your own experience if you’ve been through a similar ordeal as this will help them feel better
- Maintain your support after the funeral
Approaching a bereaved friend
Knowing the right thing to say or do when a friend or someone you know is bereaving can be another complicated issue of its own, especially because a bereaved person struggles with many intense and painful emotions that include anger, guilt, depression, and sadness.
In most cases, they tend to feel isolated and lonely in their grief, and so they need physical and emotional support to get through this phase of their lives. And now one might be afraid of intruding, doing or saying the wrong things, or making the bereaved feel even worse at such a difficult time.
You might even think that there is very little or nothing you can do to make things better, and that is understandable. But that person needs your support now more than ever, and your fears shouldn’t prevent you from reaching out to them.
You don’t necessarily need to have answers to their questions or say and do the right things; your support and caring presence are all that they may need, and it will go a long way to help your loved one cope with the loss and gradually begin to heal. Therefore, the most important thing you can do for the bereaved is to simply be there for them.
Instead of worrying about what to say to the bereaved, it’s actually more important to listen. People sometimes avoid talking about the deceased and are quick to change the subject when the issue is mentioned, thinking it will help the bereaved get over their current state.
However, this doesn’t really help in most cases as the bereaved may need to feel that their loss is acknowledged, and their loved one will not be forgotten. So you can instead let the bereaved talk about their loved one and how they died.
They might want to tell the story repeatedly, sometimes in minute detail, listen and be patient with them. Repeating the story helps to process and accept the loss, so as they tell the story over and over again, the pain lessens. By listening attentively and compassionately, you’re helping your loved one heal.
Practical ways to help
Bereaved and grieving people usually find it very difficult to ask for help as they would not like to be a burden, especially given their present circumstance; they might feel guilty about receiving so much attention.
And sometimes, they might just be too depressed to reach out, so instead of waiting on them to call on you when they need help, you should be the one offering and giving help without them asking for it.
And if possible, you can try to be consistent in your offers of assistance as this lets the bereaved person know that you’ll be there whenever they need you. They can always count on you for attentiveness without having to make the additional effort of asking again and again.
Here are some practical ways that you can offer to help a grieving person:
- You can run errands for them
- Help with funeral arrangements Stay with them in their homes, take phone calls and receive guests
- You can help take care of house shores
- Help take care of their children, take them to school and pick them up from school
- Drive them wherever they need to go
- Help with insurance forms or bills
- Look after their pets
- You can also accompany them to a support group meeting
- Take them to lunch or a movie, and spend as much time as you can with them.
The bereaved may learn to accept the loss, but they may never get over the pain of losing a loved one. The intensity of the pain lessens over time, but the sadness may never completely go away, so you should continue to offer support even after the funeral or after a long while.
Be on the lookout for those times and days of the year that will be particularly hard for your bereaved loved one. They could be holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries. Be sensitive to these occasions, and always be there for them.
Also, bereavement or grieving can make a person feel depressed, lonely, and confused, and that is also normal. But if the bereaved person is not getting better, or they get worse with time, this may be a sign that normal bereavement and grief has grown into a more serious problem, such as clinical depression.
Once this is noticed, it is important that the bereaved seek professional help.
- What you can do to cope with your grief, and heal faster
- You should try talking about your feelings to a loved one, a health professional, a therapist, or a counselor.
- Try doing those things that make you feel happy
- When necessary, make simple lifestyle adjustments that help you feel more in control of your feelings and able to cope with the situation
- Talk to people and find help on how to get to sleep if you’re struggling to sleep
- Consider therapy or peer support, where people share their experiences to help each other.
- Try relaxation and mindfulness exercises
- Do not try to get everything done at once – set small targets that are easily achievable and then take it one step at a time
- Shift your focus away from the things you cannot change, i.e., wishing you can bring a dead loved one back to life – shift your focus, time, and energy to activities that can help you feel better
- Mingle with people; get into conversations, laugh, and try to live a normal life. Try not to feel alone
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, or gambling, and try not to use them as mediums to relieve pain as they can also contribute to poor mental health.