Loss and Bereavement

in Features

We have all experienced bereavement in one way or another. Bereavement and loss are a part of life, of the human condition. Bereavement takes many forms from the loss of a parent in childhood, to the loss of a child, a sibling, a grandparent, a beloved pet.

The dictionary defines bereavement as “to be robbed” or “deprived of something valuable” and is commonly used in relation to the death of a significant person in our life.  Grieving refers to the psychological components of bereavement, referring to the feelings evoked by a significant loss, especially the suffering involved when a loved one dies.

Since Sigmund Freud, grieving and mourning have been conceived as the process through which the bereaved person adjusts to the reality of their loss, enabling them to disengage from the deceased and invest in new relationships. 

While death and dying are, for many people, the ultimate trauma, people can experience similar emotional upset when dealing with many of life’s challenges, especially if confronted with something for the first time. 

Over the recent two years we, as a people, have experienced loss in new ways. We have lost the world as we have known it all our lives. Even when things settle down and the road forward is clearer, I think we all know that we can never go back.  But the good news is that we can go forward. 

I feel that it is essential to update the understanding of loss and bereavement in the current climate.  Has it fundamentally changed or do we just need to expand the understanding of the experience? To perhaps redefine the actual meaning to encompass differing experiences of loss while retaining the core. 

In order to enable this, I think we need to have a better understanding of the theory of grief and this necessitates understanding more about yourself and others. 

As human beings we are vulnerable. Vulnerability is part of our makeup. It is a condition of our existence and the tragedies we experience are the revelations of that vulnerability. If there was no vulnerability there would be no tragedy and thus no experience of loss and bereavement. 

Child psychologist John Bowlby argued that we form attachments early in life and these offer us security and survival. So, when these attachments are broken or lost, individuals experience distress and emotional disturbances such as anxiety, rage, anger, feelings of desolation and extreme vulnerability. It was Bowlby who identified the four phases of ‘mourning’:

1. Numbing  

2. Yearning and Searching               

3. Disorganisation  

4. Reorganisation.

When tragedy strikes it can be so overwhelming that the mind can go numb. This is also known as cognitive dissonance – just impossible to comprehend the reality of what has happened. This is then followed by periods of yearning for what or who has been lost and the mind will search for ways of averting the reality. Then comes the period of disorganisation when nothing seems to fit and it is impossible to find sense or continuity.  Finally come the steps to reorganise life in a new way without the person or situation that is no longer part of it.

Looking at it this way highlights the fact that actual physical death is not always the cause of bereavement but death of a relationship or a job or a way of life can have equally devastating effects. It is important also to be clear that there can be degrees of bereavement too.  Losing one’s home and way of life may be less devastating than losing a child or way of life but that is not to deny that it is still a form of bereavement. As human beings, we tend to downplay certain traumas as ‘not as important’ as we feel it would be disrespectful to someone whose grief is of a more brutal nature than ours. But I do feel that it is important to acknowledge whatever has happened on whatever level we feel it in order to process and let go.  Only thus do we move on. 

The word ‘trauma’ is very much in vogue at the moment and, up to a point, quite rightly so.  Everyone experiences trauma in their early lives and, historically, it has not been recognised just how much damage unacknowledged trauma can do. And so, for an adult to function on a healthy level mentally and emotionally, it is essential that these dark areas are explored, addressed and put to rest. Otherwise, they will simply keep popping up to remind you of the fact that they happened and to destroy the quality of life in all sorts of subtle and not so subtle ways.  Of course, the overuse of the word ‘trauma’ must be monitored so as not to become an excuse for not taking personal responsibility. But that is another subject.  

So, what do we do and how do we apply these understanding to go forward with our lives in the current situation?

First of all, be honest with yourself about how you feel about what has happened, whatever it is, and make the decision to not allow it to interfere with your wonderful future. Writing things down and re reading as though having a conversation with the damaged part of yourself can be hugely therapeutic. Then allow your mind to bring forth the good things that can now flow through and make a pledge to respect yourself and to not judge. Yourself or others. 

Loss and bereavement can be expressed in various ways and we are each so individual.  When you promise yourself to love and acknowledgement in this way then the Universe will move in unexpected ways to help you become the best version of yourself that you can be. 

Kate Mchardy MA(Hons) PGCE MSPH Spiritual coach, teacher and healer. katemch@gmail.com / Tel: +44 7712889534. Facebook: The University of Light Group / Readings at The University of Light (@tarotangelspiritreadings). 

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