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  • Writer's pictureRuth Jewell

Bereavement and Grief


Bereavement and grief are often entwined. We have no control over either of them, they will appear in our lives, often when we least expect it, but how do we deal with that?

It is often assumed that if you are bereaved, then you will be grieving, and if you are grieving that you have been bereaved. Neither of these is always true, but the two often do go hand in hand.


Bereavement and grief aren't things that we can control. We generally have no idea when they will happen (even if you have a loved one on the end of life path, there is no definite timeframe). We are also not very good at talking about these two things. We often tell people we are fine, rather than admit that we are bereaved or grieving, and when we do admit it people often struggle with how to respond.


There really isn't a right, or a wrong way to deal with it, either as the person going through it, or someone wanting to be supportive. Every situation is different and we all deal with it in very different ways. You may well hear the phrase 'grief journey' but to be completely frank with you, there isn't one. There is no convenient timeline that we all follow.


Last November my estranged brother died. He had walked away from our parents about thirty five years ago, after a very silly falling out, and then gradually distanced himself from the rest of us over time. He was always stubborn and proud, and that pride prevented him from building bridges, even though we all reached out to him over the years.


I have grieved for my brother every single day that he hasn't been in my live, not just those days since he died, but every day for almost thirty years. I wasn't bereaved, he was still there, and on a rare occasion I would see him (generally at a funeral), but I grieved for the relationship that we had had. For me, it was a very special relationship. Along with our older brother, they were the two people I looked up too. They were six and nine years older than me, my protectors and trail blazers. They spoilt me and loved me, and made my childhood fun. I never, ever stopped loving either brother, they had an equal place in my heart.


When that dreaded phone call came, I howled, I fell apart. If you had asked me how I would feel I would probably have said something along the lines that he hadn't been in my life for so long, that I would be fine... I was far from fine. I was heartbroken. I was bereaved and I was grieving. Partly, I was grieving for the waste of years when we could have been there for each other, partly for the ending... the fact that I now knew that we couldn't possibly make it up now - that he would never, ever be in my life again.


I also needed to support our Mum. As a Mum myself, I could understand how heartbroken she would be. Rifts in families are far more common than people realise, but they cause so much pain and anguish, especially for those who have carried and nurtured their children. For Mum the anguish was the same as it was for me - there was never ever going to be a chance of him returning to her life, and no parent should ever outlive their child.


My grief has been overwhelming at times. It has had no rhyme or reason to it, one moment I would be fine, the next I would be in pieces. Sometimes I would go through a whole day in tears, others I would fall into bed without having shed a tear all day. Having a funeral to attend helped. It always does. We need the opportunity to say goodbye, to pay our respects. When people tell me that they are planning a direct cremation, to save their family having to hold a service, I always question why they feel that that will help. It is inherent in us to say a formal goodbye, and not being able to do that is very hard indeed.


I came across friends who had no idea what to say to me, but in my case I was happy to talk to them about how I was feeling. I always believe that being open and honest is beneficial to everyone, and it allowed them to talk to me, to question me about how I was feeling, and just as importantly why I was so upset. What is important to remember is that grief shows itself in different forms. For some people it can be an outward show of emotion, some retreat into a shell, for some they just carry on as normal and need routine and normality. All of this is completely normal.


Just remember never, ever, to ask someone who is bereaved, or grieving, if they are OK now, or even worse - if they are over it. What it is important to remember is that we just learn to live with the grief, to live without our loved one. We don't forget them and the grief doesn't go away. Equally, at any point in the future, it could engulf us again, and that is fine. Grief follows its own path, and we just have to go with it.


Whilst there is no prescribed route for grief, we do know that you have to live through the first year, after a death, to then know that you can live through future years. This is mainly because we have to learn that we can survive every Birthday, Anniversary and special occasion, and that we will get through them, and come out the other side. When we have done that, then we know that we will do the same again in the future; the grief isn't lessened, we just know that we can live with it.


Remember, though, that for some people their grief is so deep that it may well be years before they begin to emerge, and are in a position to pick themselves up and begin to rebuild their lives without their loved one.


Should a friend, or colleague, suddenly behave in a different way to normal, then take time to think back to see if they have suffered a bereavement in the last few weeks, months or years. Their change in behaviour may well be because their grief has been triggered, and whilst they were fine at the time, it has now overwhelmed them. Delayed grief often causes a change on behaviour, they may retreat from a friendship group, ring in sick, start to rebel in a work environment, or say things that are out of character. All that you can do in this case is be there to support them, ask them if they want to talk, and offer to find them some professional support.


My advice is to never shy away from talking about the deceased. They are still loved, and will always be a part of the life of loved ones, friends and colleagues. Just beacsue they have died doesn't mean that they aren't still significant. Always say their name, and remember that it is better to say the wrong thing, than say nothing at all.


Cruse has lots of valuable support on their website, to help you to understand grief, visit https://www.cruse.org.uk/understanding-grief/


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