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Bereavement at Christmas time.

Counselling,Loss/ Bereavement — admin @ 6:42 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about how bereavement and loss surface at this time of year. One of the things that struck us in talking about it is the wide variety of different kinds of loss and how these are experienced. There is the loss of a baby either postnatally, by miscarriage or stillbirth. Then there is death brought about by lifestyle factors such as alcoholism, obesity, smoking or other addiction. Death by suicide can also bring its own particular difficulties for those left behind and struggling to come to terms with it. All of these losses can be felt particularly poignantly at this time of year. We remember times past spent with our loved one and how we celebrated Christmas with them.

How we mourn a loss is a very personal thing. Often the course of mourning follows a similar path to that of our relationship with the person whom we have lost. If for example it was a fractious relationship characterised by falling out and making up we may experience the process of mourning as a very stop start affair. We may feel we are coming to terms with our loss only to find an old anger resurfacing again. And the appearance of feelings of anger as part of mourning can be a real source of difficulty. Anger is said to be a natural part of the mourning process but if for whatever reason we feel we can’t express it we may get a bit stuck and prolong the mourning period.

An example of anger becoming difficult to express can be in death which is caused by lifestyle choices. We may feel abandoned by a loved one who has died as a result of alcoholism for example. The question of the part the deceased played in their own death may be very difficult for us to face. It may be that we cannot freely admit to feeling angry at the choices they made. This can be the case with addictions or illnesses caused by complications of obesity like diabetes, heart attack or stroke. Our grief is added to if we rue that our loved one did not take better care of themselves.

Death by suicide can leave a similar legacy. It can leave a number of unanswered questions. Sometimes we hear of people deliberately falling out with loved ones before taking their own lives. The reasons for this are complicated but in part it may be because they feel it will make their loss easier to bear. This is not true of course and can serve to make the process of mourning all the more difficult. It also raises so many ‘what if’ questions that it is difficult to try to make some sort of sense of it all as part of coming to terms with it. Friends and work colleagues can also find it difficult to know what to say and this can lead to increased feelings of isolation or shame.

Christmas is a time for family and in particular for children. It feels wrong to us that a child dies before its parents. It feels like the natural order of things is turned on its head. Sometimes people say to us that they never fully get over the death of a child. Maybe that is the case with all loss. Perhaps we never do fully get over it but only come to terms with it to the extent that the strength of feeling eases and the loss gradually becomes more bearable. Loss of a baby is particularly strongly felt at this time as we imagine of they had lived what way they would be responding to and enjoying Christmas. This is probably a loss that a mother feels in her heart like no other. This is no less true for a loss by miscarriage where the mother may have bonded with her baby and where this loss might feel less real for others.

There is no prescribed path for dealing with bereavement. It is experienced as such a personal thing and it depends on the nature of our relationship with the one we have lost. It is good to talk about it; if we can. Sometimes this is with a friend or family member; or sometimes with a counsellor. There are times too when it is good to have some quiet time alone to reflect and remember and maybe even shed a few tears. Grieving is a natural process as we acknowledge and try to come to terms with the loss. Different family members will deal with a loss in different ways and to a different timescale. With patience and understanding we hope that the loss becomes less difficult to bear and that our loved one can be talked about and remembered as life following a death gradually returns to some sort of normal. We get along with living knowing we have been influenced in one way or another by the person who is now gone.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk. 15th December 2011.

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