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Coping with Death

Loss/ Bereavement — admin @ 1:36 pm

Bereavement is part of the human experience. Every day people die in different circumstances and at different ages. Yet it is something that is always difficult and can have devastating effects on those ‘left behind’. Although there are feelings and behaviours which come under the umbrella of ‘normal grief reactions’, it is still individual to the person and will be influenced by a number of factors. Our relationship to the deceased, whether that relationship was a good or difficult one, how the person died and at what age, will all impact on our reaction to the death. Our own previous history of losses and also concurrent stresses in a short space of time, will be difficult for the strongest of people.
The amount of support available to us from family and friends will also influence how we deal with death. Research has shown that if we feel supported, the amount of stress we feel post bereavement can be reduced. However one of the difficulties with social support like this is that it is often around the time of the bereavement and not so much later on, when the person really needs it. There is a general sense that as people move on with their lives, the bereaved person is encouraged to do the same. If you have lost someone close to you, you will know it is not that simple.
In order to fully understand why death is so difficult for us, it is important to look at the bonds we make with other people. As human beings we naturally make affectionate bonds as a way to survive and enjoy our experience of this world. This is known as Attachment. When someone close to us is dying, this bond is threatened and when death occurs it feels like this bond is broken. This has a huge impact on us at every level, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Being attached to others is what makes us feel safe and not so alone in the world, so when someone close dies those feelings of security are shook and we can be left questioning our place in the world and what our lives are about. It can be a very lonely time.
Normal grief reactions can be described in terms of the range of feelings, the physical sensations in our bodies, the way it can affect our thinking and the things we do in order to cope. Sadness is the most common feeling and is not necessarily expressed through tears. Crying helps some people feel a sense of relief but it is not for everyone. What matters is that the sadness is expressed in some way and not held in. Anger is often felt after someone dies and can be rooted in being angry that you could do nothing to prevent the death and also the pain of that bond being broken. It is quite normal to feel angry at the person who has died for leaving you to cope alone. There can be feelings of guilt around possibly not calling an ambulance sooner or not having been the best partner or parent in the world. Anxiety and loneliness, particularly for those who lose someone who was in their everyday lives. There can be feelings of helplessness especially with those who have lost a spouse, where the deceased took control of all household affairs. There may be shock, even with deaths that are not so sudden. Where there has been a long illness, relief may be predominant. Numbness is often experienced in the early days and can be a way of defending against overwhelming emotion. All of the above are part of the normal grieving process.
There are many potential physical symptoms which play a significant role in the grieving process. Lack of energy, sleeplessness, breathlessness, tightness in the chest or throat, emptiness in the stomach are all symptoms reported by people who have suffered the death of a close person.
Our thinking can become confused and we can have difficulty concentrating on ordinary tasks. There may be preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased and through the experience of yearning, a sense that the person is still with us. It is not unusual for people to report having seen the dead person, which may be attributable to hallucinations, showing that there can be a profound effect on all aspects of our person through the process of grieving.
With good support from family and friends many people can come through the trauma of bereavement without professional help. There are support groups in most local towns to help communities help each other get through. Where grief is complicated or where social support is lacking, bereavement counselling can help people to come to terms with their loss. Counselling looks at helping the person come to terms with the reality of their loss, acceptance being the key part of this. Working through the pain of the grief is a necessary part of mourning. The level of pain experienced differs from person to person but it is not possible to avoid feeling the emotional pain of losing someone you were greatly attached to. Adjusting to one’s environment without the person can be difficult and learning how to be in the world without that connection. Death will have an impact on one’s external environment, if the person was in your everyday life but equally there are inner adjustments to come to terms with like being a single person again and how this may affect your sense of yourself. Our sense of the world can be turned upside-down and it can be hard to find a sense of direction especially with sudden and untimely deaths. Our beliefs can be challenged in this way. The final task in dealing with death is to emotionally relocate the deceased and be able to move on with life. This can be a scary thought and can evoke huge anxiety. We are talking about finding a way to continue to be connected to the person but not in a way that prevents the bereaved from continuing his/her life in this world as this is necessary for him/her to do. The timing of this is loosely defined. There are many variables that will influence how a person deals with the mourning process.
When there comes a time when the person who is left can think about the person who has died without feeling huge pain, we can conclude that they have dealt with their loss. A rough guide of two years can be expected though for some this is shorter and for others longer. For those who are going through this process as you read this, the intensity of the pain of loss is hard to explain. Accept whatever help you can get, to get through this time. The pain will pass, you will feel more hopeful and you will adjust to life without your loved one as you work through your unavoidable pain.

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