COLUMN: Bereavement is different for all

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As a therapist I have worked with clients experiencing a range of emotions and personal challenges, however without doubt one of the most difficult things to work with is bereavement.

In session as counsellors we remain impartial, objective and composed, as rightly the therapy is about the client and not us. However this does not mean we are infallible and immune to sharing the pain our clients do.

Bereavement affects us all in different ways, and grief is often a manifestation of the hurt we experience when we lose someone or something close to us.

Bereavement is interesting because it often elicits two responses in particular. People are either very quick to try and give advice of the best way to get through this, to offer reassurance that it will all be ok and you will come out the other side.

Alternatively, people are reticent to really say anything through fear of saying the wrong thing and potentially exacerbating those feelings of despair which often accompany bereavement.

In truth there is no specific way to move through bereavement, like most things it depends on the individual and their coping strategies.

Some people just need somebody to listen, somebody to be there in person to allow them to unburden themselves and externalise what they are feeling.

Others will want somebody to tell them it is going to be ok, and some will try to search for answers to begin to understand and make sense of what has happened.

Ultimately they will find what works for them and sometimes the support is needed during that process. The key consideration is not make judgments or try to attach your expectations to the process as it is not about you and everybody handles bereavement in different ways.

You will no doubt have heard about the five stages of grief which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

So initially we struggle to accept we have lost that someone or something and they/it will no longer be part of our life; then we feel anger at them having left us, or toward family, friends or even higher powers at their role in the loss; we then begin bargaining which underpins desperation and despair, where we offer to change our ways or never ask for anything again if this could just be undone.

Penultimately is depression where the anguish at the loss will start to present itself, the despair of what life will look like without the lost object of our love; finally we have acceptance, which is not to be confused with being ok, or better. It merely means we accept what has happened and begin concentrating on the present.

Not everybody will experience all five stages of grief and people will remain in the different stages for different periods of time.

The key message here is that we all handle it differently and when we are supporting somebody through this allow them time and be patient. Do not set unrealistic expectations and ensure you let them know it is ok to feel like the way they do. The most important thing is just to be there, but remember this should be at their request and not yours.