Bereavement and loss are often used interchangeably; however it is important to note how each term can mean different things to different people. For example, someone going through a trauma like losing a loved one has suffered a loss and is bereaved. Whereas someone who has lost a job is not bereaved but has suffered a loss. Two very different scenarios. There is a massive difference in the impact and the pain felt in each case however they would both be classed as a loss. It is in understanding the significance and impact of the type of loss a person has suffered that we can only begin to try to understand what it means, so for example losing a spouse or child have different connotations but huge emotional impact for loved ones left behind.
For some losing a job could be felt acutely, the key here is to try not to draw comparisons, but to look at things from the other’s perspective. To understand what it means for the individual to have lost a loved one, their job, or a pet, because it would impact each person differently in each unique circumstance.
We are all different and in this difference we manage and cope using a variety of methods from taking medication, using talking therapies, to utilising support from freinds and family. Bereavement can feel overwhelmingly difficult to manage and no matter what anyone says only the person going through it can fully understand the significant impact of loss felt. What others can attempt to do is try to understand through being present, listening and really hearing the person to offer empathy and try to imagine what it might be like to walk in the bereaved persons shoes for a time. To appreciate just how difficult life may feel for them or the challenges it may throw up, change after loss is inevitable. Lives are often turned upside down and nothing is the same again. What was a ‘normal daily routine’ for some will forever be changed.
In the case of a bereaved person there is often a story to be shared, about the life that was led before. A story of a family or friend that lived amongst them and the experiences that were shared, the relationship that is now no more of this world but contained in the memories of those left behind. Celebrating the life of the person who has passed and the legacy that they left behind is often meaningful to loved ones. In sharing these experiences some people find solace and it can form a framework as a strategy for coping because by remembering loved ones who have passed away there is a sense of connection to them.
It is also important to bear in mind the circumstances around the death of a loved one whether it was an accident that was sudden, a terminal illness that was gradual or a suicide that left more questions than answers. Each of these unique circumstances will have different effects and impacts on how people cope with their loss.
So why do people struggle around the topic of loss? What do you say? How do you behave?
Firstly never make assumptions. Nobody can claim to know how another is feeling- but we can use empathy to reach out to others and try to understand. There is a whole range of emotions that can be felt from anguish and despair, to relief and guilt, and everything in between. Therefore no two people will feel exactly the same it will vary according to the relationship and experiences shared.
Listen -try not to make it about you. Often when talking to a bereaved person there can be a temptation to say and share experiences that we have felt ourselves about a loss that we may have had in the past. Although this may be useful for you to draw on emotionally to try and understand it may not be the most appropriate time to share it. Try to stay focused and hear whats being shared.
There can be a level of fear and uncertainty amongst people when it comes to saying and doing ‘the right thing’ around those who have lost loved ones. Truth be told there is no ‘right thing’; it is about having respect and offering support without being intrusive, being available if needed and using empathy to try and understand what they may be going through.
Sometimes support extends beyond words. You don’t have to ‘say’ anything. Just being present, emotionally available and supportive is enough.
Often people hold back from talking about their loss for fear of ‘ruining the mood’ socially but this can lead to feeling isolated and alone. It is often people’s own uncomfortableness around death and loss that makes them avoidant. There is nothing worse than being told “its been a while now- shouldn’t you be over it?” Like losing a loved one is something you need to ‘get over’.
What happens in reality is we learn new ways of adjusting and adapting to life without that person. We never forget, and may never ‘get over’ them but understand that life goes on and with each passing moment our love for them is not diminished but kept alive by remembering them. Hearts and minds can be powerful storage units that enable us to carry on going through life and living without compromising memories of loved ones. This doesn’t mean that by marrying again or having more children it detracts in any way from the painful loss, it just allows life to go on safe in the knowledge that everyone we love past and present have a special place in our hearts. Consciously aware that one does not replace another.
There is no disloyalty, no guilt, no shame and no fear when choosing to live life onwards after losing a loved one. Time helps but having an open and loving heart that contains a space for every special person is what carries us forwards.