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The Bereavement Journey

It may bring some measure of comfort to know that you are not alone in your loss. Today, millions of people around the world are experiencing what is often called the grieving process. The culture they live in helps define their expectations for their bereavement journey.

bereavement counsellingIn every case of loss, the fabric of life - the textured cloth that defines a family and a community - was torn by their passing. The ways that societies and cultures deal with the repair and re-strengthening of that fabric may differ in beliefs and practices but they share similar goals: to allow mourners to express their emotions while moving them, over time, to accept and adapt to the loss.

For example, the people living on Ifaluk, an atoll in Micronesia, believe that after a good cry, the bereaved will return to ordinary functioning. One is supposed to forget the person who died. In fact, continued grieving is seen as a failure and damaging to the equilibrium of this peaceful community where conflict, anger, and intense emotions are discouraged.

Compare that to Egypt, where a major loss will cause years of muted suffering and depression. Unlike Ifaluk residents, such intense expression of loss is considered normal and the social support given the Egyptian bereaved actively encourages suffering and dwelling on pain and gravity of the loss.

In our society, we have expectations of those who grieve the death of a loved one too. In fact, we tend to put pressure on those who mourn. Maria Kubitz wrote, "We live in a society so uncomfortable with emotional pain that when someone dies, society expects the outward mourning period to end once the funeral is over. When the bereaved do not cooperate with these prescribed time tables, they are often accused of 'wallowing' in their grief. They are indignantly told to 'move on' and 'get over it.'"

In the article Don't Rush Your Grief, we remind you that "Your grief is yours and no one else can know how long it should take; it's a time in your life to be honored and respected." However, we also want you to know there are signposts or points along the path you can use to mark your bereavement journey.

Bereavement Counselling Assessing Yourself

It was Bob Deits, author of Life after Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life after Experiencing Major Loss, who offered his readers this set of milestones:

The Third Month: At this point, all shock and numbness is gone. "The full impact of the loss is upon you", shares Deits, and you may feel that this is truly "the bottom of the barrel." He continues, "Enough has happened by this time that denying your loss is impossible." He suggests that this may be the perfect time for you to write a letter of goodbye to your loved one. "Writing this letter is an act of lovingly releasing a part of your life that will always remain important to you in memory, but which you must now leave behind."

Six to Nine Months: This is when "you need to focus on the special relationship of your body and emotions", Deits tells readers. He strongly urges that you do two things: schedule a physical exam and join a grief support group. In effect, these actions care for both your body and your emotional well-being.

One Year: No one needs to mark the anniversary date of their loss on a wall calendar; we are keenly aware of the loss-related details including the date, time, and place. We can even remember the weather. "Most people," he writes, "find the anticipation of the one-year anniversary is more stressful than reaching the date itself. And, many...reach the anniversary date with a mixture of sadness and hope." He urges his readers to "take charge of this important day," and "look forward (to the future) with as much hope as you give to looking back in sorrow."

The Eighteenth Month: "This is the point," Deits shares, "at which you find out your grief work isn't finished. In fact, you may be sure that the rough patches are over, but one day you wake to find that you're right back where you started. Sadness returns. Tears flow like they did in the first weeks after your loss." However, it is important that you realize this return to sadness is expected and a sign of progress, not regression. He tells readers that it won't last long and "the best way to handle it is to do what you would do if the loss were a recent one."

Where are you along this path? Which signpost along the road are you approaching? As you near closer to it, remember that it represents nothing to be feared but rather it heralds "a time of discovering something new and being challenged to release a part of the past."

Bereavement Care

For many people, life is made more meaningful and enjoyable by learning. They always seem to have their noses stuck in a book and spend hours watching documentaries. The world around them fascinates them and they seem to spend all their time trying to understand both it and the reasons why they behave as they do.

bereavement care girl dock

For someone with an inquisitive nature, bereavement can be a time of intense learning. Consider this wonderful quotation from The Once and Future King, by T.H. White:

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

Your bereavement care offers you many opportunities to learn about yourself and from those around you. It's almost like a school course – one where you are the only student and classes are held 24/7. This analogy seems to work for many. When they see the grieving process as a learning experience, they start looking for the lessons hidden within the feelings and experiences, and it benefits them greatly.

Todd Kashdan, of George Mason University found that "people who exhibit high levels of curiosity experience higher levels of satisfaction with life, and find a greater sense of meaning in life - leading to sustainable, lasting happiness."

If you're not a curious person at heart, you can still cultivate a sense of curious fascination in the following ways:

  • Reframe common situations and experiences. Look for intriguing characteristics in the people around you and your environment. Always look within for those emotional details that define the experience.
  • Don't let fear stop you. The inquiring mind asks tough questions and when ready tries new things. When you're ready, don't shy away from engaging in the world around you.
  • Bring forth your passionate interests. If you love needlepoint, take on a project which requires you to learn a new stitch. Whatever you enjoyed doing before the death of your loved one, bring it back into your life. This allows you to be in the flow, which calls up feelings of well-being.
  • Relentlessly ask questions. If you're feeling extra sad one day, don't fail to ask why. Whether you're out in the wider world or simply sitting at home, always remember, who, why, when, when, where, and how are your best friends right now.

In keeping with the spirit of self-development, do your best to honestly answer this question: What have you learned today? Reflect on your new discoveries in your journal writing.