The time you spend in bereavement after the death of a loved one can be seen as a time of loss, pain, and grief. But it is also a time of recovery. Here you will discover what bereavement really is, the physical and emotional dimensions to the grief, the impact of grief on adults and children, and what happens after the bereavement is over.
The Emotional Legacy of Bereavement
Bereavement is simply the state you enter into when you mourn someone who has died. Natural and inevitable, this period following the death of loved one can be so painful, pervasive and ongoing that it often feels permanent – but it is not. People recover from the most tremendous losses. In fact, grief itself – the wrenching emotion that comes from that of a loved one – is the way you recover. Your mind and body use grief as a way of bringing you back from the depth of despair.
How does this happen? You may have heard of the key stages of grief associated with bereavement. In the midst of grief, these stages sound formal strange – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – but it may help to know that the stages trace a path of recovery from grief. In other words by going through the process of grief, you surmount it.
When you hear of the death of a loved one, your first response is to deny that the tragedy could possibly have happened. I cant believe it. It’s not possible. Then, as it sinks in, you feel angry -at the person, at yourself, at the cause of the death, at God, at anyone. How could they…? Why didn’t I…? Think of this anger as a way of imagining that the death could have been avoided.
Then the anger fades as you realize there was no avoiding death – it happened – and you begin to try to bargain – with yourself, with God, with anybody – to try to save something out of this bleak situation. Let it not be true. Let death take me instead.
However, at the realization that all the bargaining in the world will not change the face of the death, depression sets in. This is the low point. I don’t care anymore. In the midst of depression, there is little hope and deep despair.
From this low point, in the normal course of grief, you begin to rise from the depression and recapture hope in life once again. Maybe I’ll start a journal to commemorate her… And now you have accepted your loved one’s death.
After this point, the pain of grief begins slowly to fade until it is no longer acute and agonizing, until you can sometime bear to think of your loved on without feeling destroyed.
At least, this is how it may happen. There are no rules for how to grieve. The key is that grieving is a process, and you are human. You may go through all of these stages over and over, or you may through all of these stages over and over, or may go through none; each person’s experience of grief in unique and valid. It boils down to this: bereavement is inevitable, and grieving hurts, yet with enough support, you should be able to recapture your life.
The Physical Legacy of Bereavement
You may be surprised to find that the period of mourning leave you injured just emotionally, but physically as well.
Consider that during the bereavement process, you to lose sleep. You tend to eat less or badly. Your body is under tremendous stress, including that of having to function while in the midst of emotional trauma. To get through your mental pain, your emotions made demands on your body. Your heart rate increases. Your blood pressure rises. Your immune system haywire. Your hormones fluctuate.
The result? You cry. Your head hurts. Your stomach hurts. Your joints hurt. You are exhausted. You move slowly. You get dizzy. You feel strange. You lose hair, You get infections. You probably don’t experience all of those thing: the physical manifestations of grief that each persons experiences are different but that are very real. Every part of your body has the potential to become a victim to the toll the stress is taking on your body.
Perhaps this is one reason many cultures have formal mourning rituals during the bereavement period. Mourning is not just for emotional recovery. Mourning rituals and traditions that limit a bereaved person’s activities, that allow for others to provide food, give the body a rest at this time when it so vulnerable to injury and disease.
Your Children’s Response to Grief
To help your children through the bereavement process, be as loving, patient and informative as you can. Children need to understand what has happened. They need help dealing with the emotional, physical, and behaviosal demands of grief and mourning. And they need to know what to expect at the funereal, and what, if anything, is expected of them.
Give hugs. Attend to the practicalities of your children’s basic care. It’s all to easy, in the midst of your over grief, to neglect their physical need, so take special care that they get sleep and food and exercise, and make arrangements for help if necessary. And make sure your children’s schools and teachers are informed.
If very young, your child many not understand what death is, and may need a clear and explicit explanation of what happened. Speaking bluntly might be tricky if you are used to using indirect phrases – such as “he’s gone” or “we lost her” or “God took him.” Such terms would probably confuse your young child. ” He died” or “She died” is best to start, and then for further explanation, “His body stopped working” or “Her body turned off for good” might work.
Your young child may ask questions that, in adults, would seem inappropriate. The best way to put your child’s mind at rest, however, it to answer literally, truthfully and patiently, as many times as you are asked.
Because young children do not yet comprehend permanence, their grief may be a slow process, inextricably intertwined with accepting that the person is truly gone. They ma, during this time, cry a lot and display temper tantrums.
This is normal. It may be tempting to forget all discipline altogether, but don’t forget that children need structure for their own emotional well-being. Instead perhaps go easier than you normally would, adding a huge dollop of empathy to your discipline, and take up any opportunity to discuss your child’s feelings.
Older Children, starting around 5 0r 6 year of age, will understand the concept of death, through they, too, will have questions. They in particular fear that a similar fate will befall others they care about.
Older children may display what, in normal circumstances, might be interpreted as behavioral problems. They may not seem to hear what you’re saying. They may lose their appetite. They may talk less. They may stop participating in a favorite activity, particularly if it was associated in some way with the lost loved on. They may even opt out of going to the funeral; this is normal, and you should try not to force it.
It’s important to ask your children what they are feeling and to answer their fears and concerns honestly. Depending on how well they knew the deceased, they may be more or less sad. do not try to pressure and child to feel differently. He or she needs to go through the process grieving naturally, just as you do.
Pre-teens and teenagers, who understand more of mortality than their younger counterparts, are likely to feel intense grief and to turn their grief inward as they focus on their own mortality. This may lead to fearful or aversive behavior. This should go away with enough time and a sensitive approach.
In many way, teenagers are like adults in their responses to grief. They are likely to go thought all the same stages and have a wide range of emotions. During the bereavement process, they may grow sullen and withdrawn. Or they may do the opposite and speak openly and readily about every feeling. One this is certain: the will look to your response to grief, and you will be modeling for them the way to deal with grief.
Teenagers may find some comfort in helping you and the family out with the practical issues, just as a younger children need structure, teenagers appreciate being trusted in a role of responsibility. But never forget they are as fragile as you at this time. So it is vital that you be present for your teenager to the degree he or she wants your help, without forcing the issue. and don’t neglect hugs.
Your response to Grief
The fatigue, loss of appetite, and other physical symptoms that beset you are one dimension of your grief. However, unless your physical reaction is severe, you will probably find that you care less about the physical that the emotional effect.
Volattile, erratic, and impulsive emotions are the rule rather than the exception during the bereavement period. There is literally no limit to the number of types of emotions you are likely to fell while you are grieving. While you may not be surprised to find yourself feeling sad, angry, confused, helpless, guilty, miserable, or other negative emotions, you may find yourself shocked at feeling the opposite.
Yet many people experience feelings of happiness, relief, and even humor during their bereavement. Even at funerals, when people begin sharing with each other anecdotes regarding the loved one, laughter can be heard. In the midst of grief, humor allows you to revisit memories and, in sharing them, heal.
You may find yourself, too, having difficulty censoring your speech during your period of bereavement. Grief brings your emotions to the surface and leaves you raw and exposed; you cannot always tell when you are on the verge of losing control. For example, you may suddenly, uncharacteristically and inappropriately yell at an acquaintance. An apology and an explanation will often help repair the damage.
You may also be startled at how well you do function – at first. Once the funeral is over, however, there is less to occupy you and a “breakdown” period may begin. Or it may begin much later, at a time when your guard has lowered and you are not expecting it.
You might wonder, not so much at the pain, but at its abruptness and intensity; the degree of longing and yearning you feel to see your loved on again may overwhelm you without warning.
Sped this time with those closest to you so that you have support around when it happens. You might cry or you might now as grief follows no rules. You might find talking helps or you might find talking makes the pain worse. And then tomorrow you might feel differently. But make sure you have support available no matter what.
The need for support cannot be emphasized enough. If you want to heal from your loss, you really do need support from at least one other person. Human beings are not designed to grieve alone. We are social beings, and burial and funerary rituals as well as mourning traditions are found universally in all cultures – largely to provide support networks to help its member recover from death.
No matter how strong a person you are, there is no shame in crying, sharing memories, or asking for help. In fact, you may find doing so makes you stronger and easies the pain.