Bereaved – how are we supposed to go on living when someone we love has died?

Grief is a natural response to the death of a loved one – to being bereaved.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed a framework for thinking about grief and being bereaved which is referred to as the Five Stages of Grief.  The stages are

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

You may find that this framework is helpful for you, but it is worth remembering that for all of us our grief, the process of being bereaved is different.  Being bereaved is not something that fits neatly into a model.   The idea of the Five Stages of Grief is meant to help us put some shape around our loss.  You or your loved ones who are grieving will go through something approximating the five stages in their own way.

footsteps in beach

Some complicated bereavements feel impossible to fit into a model

  • a death by suicide
  • a tragic accident
  • a murder
  • a death that happens when you were in the middle of trying to fix a problem with your relationship
  • a death where other people fail to recognise your loss
If you have been bereaved in these kinds of circumstances you may have a very hard task ahead of you to put some kind of order and meaning back into your life.

In deaths such as these it is very easy for you to become locked into the circumstances and complicated dynamics of the loss.  In cases like this being bereaved can be a kind of life sentence, a wound that can never heal very well.  We have to find the best ways we can to live as well as we can with our wounds.

To be bereaved can severely limit our capacity to live well, to express our creativity.  The conflicted state of mind you are left in becomes part of your ongoing identity.  In my view we have to keep trying to work with the pain of the loss.

Being bereaved; psychotherapy, poetry, philosophy

For Freud, when someone has died we have to make a whole adaptation.  Every molecule of us has to say goodbye to the lost person. In Freud’s essay Mourning and Melancholia he describes what can happen for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to mourn.  In Freud’s view, there are times when mourning fails and the death continues to cast a shadow of depression over the bereaved person’s life.

David Eagleman’s book Sum: Tales from the Afterlives is a poetic and philosophical look at the grieving and being bereaved.  Eagleman creates a kind of web of short ideas in which the experience of being bereaved, of life in the afterlife, is imagined.  In a way Eagleman echoes Freud’s idea that in mourning, in being bereaved, every part of our being and memory has to say goodbye to our lost, loved person.

Christopher Reid’s poetry collection A Scattering (2010) is a moving presentation of how he was bereaved following the death of his wife.

Anniversaries of dates of deaths, of birthdays, all kinds of dates, there are so many poignant reminders, so many chance reminders that suddenly bring us back to our loss again.  Somehow we have to find a way to carry on.

  • In cases where we know a death is coming perhaps because of illness or disease, we can become very involved in the process of preparation and of saying goodbye yet when the death comes it still takes us by surprise.  Now we have gone from being a helper to being a bereaved person.  It is a profound change.

The guilt of feeling that you might be getting on with your life without the person who has died.

Whether it is years later there remains a complex set of feelings related to being bereaved.  You can get used to all kinds of new routines and relationships, but the person you have lost remains there, a missing part of you.

Bereaved – how do we learn to let go of the person we have lost?

People speak of moving on, these things are different for all of us.  We can learn to move on, but the fact that we have lost someone will always remain.  We can move on, but it is difficult and takes work.

  • Being bereaved is different for all of us.  The pace of grief is different for all of us. We get used to the idea that everything happens fast and that by tomorrow different stories will occupy our minds.

When it comes to being bereaved everything is different.  We go on functioning, living, but for the bereaved person a part of them is changed.  We may look the same.  But our hearts are sore.  The sharpness of the wound of being bereaved dulls over time.  But it never goes away.  We always remember and miss the people we have known and loved, though with time the sting is reduced.

Other people may look at the bereaved person and think they are taking too long over their grief.  They may start to suggest that there is something wrong with you. You may start to be told that you are depressed.  It is very easy to end up on antidepressants when really the only thing wrong is that you have been bereaved.

Grief is an entirely natural process to go through.  The experience, the time mourning takes is different for each of us.  You should mourn at your own pace, try not to get caught up in other people’s idea of the time scales of grief, mourning and recovery.

It takes time to get used to being bereaved.

  • Try to be patient with yourself.  Don’t be rushed, take the time you need.  This is a personal thing.
  • Don’t feel you should fit your experience into someone else’s version of things.  Your loss is profoundly personal.  Never give up on working your way back to a more creative and satisfying way of living with your loss.
  • Be patient and give yourself time.

Contact me

I have twenty years experience of helping people find ways to engage with and to try to come to terms with being bereaved.  Giving yourself the chance to speak in a confidential setting about your experience, your loss and grief may be a helpful thing to do.  It may provide you with the chance to talk about how your life has been affected, to speak without feeling you have to worry about someone else’s feelings.

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my work might help you.