We have all heard of the five stages of bereavement: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance developed by Kubler Ross in the seventies. Recent research does suggest that the process of bereavement is not so linear. We can be at a stage of relative acceptance of the loss when events like Christmas or a special anniversary bring the grief back and sadness hits us again in a very powerful way. In fact grief does not usually progress neatly from one stage to the next but follows a figure of eight, moving from good to bad days that slowly change to good and bad episodes in a day.
However, why do we grief? The most obvious answer is that we do so when we lose someone or something important to us. There is a reason for this. Long after infancy, where we need attachment figures for survival, we continue to seek persons to be close to. These are the people that support us, listen to us, share our lives with us. However research indicates that these individuals have a regulatory function in our lives (Delaney, 2016). We actually function better when we are around them. So our whole being protests when we lose them. And it is no surprise that we go through a very difficult process of adjustment when they go for good. However, after the first couple of weeks without our loved on around, resilience kicks in. We find ways how to adapt to our loss.
What do bereaved people need from us? They need our presence, a listening ear, a person to accompany them, support them. At times physical help can be very important like bringing food, taking the person out for a coffee or simply helping with housework or child-minding. Sometimes silence and presence is what the bereaved person seeks. There are really no right phrases we can use, a listening ear and an open heart are enough. And please be patient. Bereavement processes do not have an inherent time limit. Let the person grieve at their own pace. Healing comes slowly and in its own time…
Anna Catania is a counsellor with Willingness. She has had a special interest in working with clients facing intimacy and sexual difficulties and runs a service for families going through cancer and chronic illness. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org