Bereavement, loss and grief are normal feelings and phases we go through in life. It happens to us all and is not necessarily related to death (our own or someone else’s), but to situations and experiences coming to an end. This can be distressing. What does bereavement feel like, emotionally and physically – and how can you help yourself during that time?
The main point is to regard the experience of bereavement as an emotional transition and that you have choices about how you manage this process. It might not feel, or look like that to you at the beginning of the bereavement journey, which can be a very dark and lonely place indeed.
But if you can do that, then you may end up feeling less overwhelmed and with a greater sense of control, and are less at risk of getting stuck in these difficult and often dark places. It may give you hope and trust that you can survive these emotions and develop an attitude and view on things, that might be helpful to you in your life with and beyond bereavement.
While this does not bring back the person or circumstances you may have lost, or reverse your health situation, it can help you feel more settled and emotionally strengthened.
Life is all about endings
If you think about it, life is constantly about things starting or coming to an end: our childhood; our teens, middle age, older age; time at school; moving house, town or country; relationships; jobs; illnesses; health; and lives.
Our history of endings and the way they may have impacted us and the way we deal with it, all that is partly quite individual, and also depends on the society we were brought up and live in and the history and events that shape our lifetime.
Like life, death can occur in so many circumstances. Some deaths are expected, and we can prepare for them. Other deaths are unexpected and come as a shock. Deaths can be self-inflicted, due to natural causes, disasters or lives taken by others. We may have a lot of information about what has happened, or not. There may be a body, or not. We may find out immediately, or not for some time.
We may have been in regular contact with the deceased, or perhaps we weren’t. Whether we parted on good terms is another variable. The individual who has passed away might have lived with us or been in a long-term relationship with us. Our shared history could include both good times and challenging periods. While sadness is a common emotion, some may also experience a sense of relief. Given these diverse circumstances, bereavement counselling can offer valuable context and support.
What does bereavement, loss and grief feel like?
While your experience of bereavement is as individual as you, there are also common themes which apply to us all.
We all move through bereavement stages, not necessarily in the same order or at the same speed. The length and intensity of the overall experience depend on the nature of the loss and the nature of our relationship with the person who has died, the timing of death, our support network, our previous experiences of death and loss.
Bereavement does not necessarily get more easy or difficult the more we experience it. It can remain just as painful and devastating. However, we can develop an inner trust, that the pain will lessen with time, and that we can continue to live in the knowledge that we will survive the loss and pain.
Karin Sieger is a British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) registered and accredited psychotherapist and writer based in London.