When we think of bereavement, we normally think of loss of life, but it can extend to loss in other ways: loss of job; loss of freedom (for example during lockdown) or loss of the life we knew – whether it be through divorce or relocation. Occasionally, it may even originate from a positive situation – for example, getting a new job or marriage, where we are leaving the old life behind – so there are many types of bereavement.
With any form of loss there are things we can do to offer support. This often begins by understanding what happens when people experience loss and how we can help them as a community through listening, offering resources or providing time off to grieve. However, because we’re human and we all process change differently, it’s important to listen to each other and to adapt to what course of action would be most appropriate. Some individuals may benefit from time off work, others prefer the security offered by the routine.
A theory developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross suggests that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Whilst these stages are only part of a theory, there is sufficient evidence to support the validity of these events. Dr Kübler-Ross later said that her theory was never intended as a linear journey, but a series of points that we may often revisit as we adjust to life without someone we loved. Individuals may not exhibit a given stage until years after the event, but eventually they will pass through all the stages and reach acceptance.
As colleagues, a key method to help someone through bereavement is through active listening in order to allow the person to express their feelings without sharing your own feelings with them. Death and loss can be difficult to talk about and many people struggle to know what to say when trying to support someone who has been bereaved, even if they are a close family member or a good friend. For example, you may feel inclined to respond with ‘I understand’, but even if you have been through a parallel journey, it will never be the same loss. Or if someone’s partner recently left, ‘well, you’ll be better off without them’ offers little comfort- in fact, it can greatly add to the negative emotions. What does help is listening and showing the individual you’ve heard what they’re saying, such as repeating key words back to the individual.
A model that compliments the work of Kübler-Ross is called the ‘4 Room Apartment’, adapted by Nicola Phillips. People going through any form of change – big, small, good or bad – experience four stages or Rooms. We are initially in Stage 1- “contentment”, life as we know it, when we are faced with a change such as the birth of a child or the beginning of a national lockdown. We then travel to the next room – “denial” as the shock hits us: ‘It’s not what I expected’ or ‘I don’t believe it’. Denial can also be presented as an individual making no change to their usual routine and carrying on as normal whilst assuring others that they’re ‘fine’. In the third room “confusion” you’ll often hear things such as ‘I’m not sure I am doing it right’, or ‘when will this ever end?’, or in this stage there might be a feeling of being stuck. Often, our responses are along the lines of ‘Oh, you’ll be ok’ or ‘that’s how I felt as well’. Stages 2 and 3 can exist for a varied period of time because our minds will strive to go back to what we once knew. During these stages, the best thing we can do is listen to their concerns and allow them to articulate their feelings. The final room – “renewal” means acceptance of the change, even if the individual doesn’t regain happiness.
Bereavement turns our world upside down and can be one of the most painful experiences we endure. Most of us, at some time in our life, will experience the death or loss of someone we love, so it is important that we understand that not all grief is presented in the same way. Bereavement is also not a straight road, emotions can resurface after you thought it had passed; some stages may not be felt at all, but there is always help available. Whether through friends, family, colleagues or professionals and organisations – some listed below. But in the working environment, enabling the person to have some space to talk and to listen to what they believe will help them can be invaluable. The main thing to remember is that this is not a permanent state. It will pass when its purpose has been achieved.
Cruse Bereavement Care is a large national charity, founded 60 years ago, that offers bereavement counselling and resources to people of all ages.
A register of trained and accredited counsellors
Care for the Family offers bereavement support for parents in the form of a community: shared stories, useful articles and a Facebook group. It also puts on events (online and offline) for bereaved parents. Their website signposts to other online directories and specialist organisations to help with a wide range of different specific situations.
The Lullaby Trust provides bereavement support and grief counselling for parents after the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or young child.
Winstons Wish also supports children and their families after the death of a parent or a sibling.
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