Showing support for National Grief Awareness Week
As a proud partner of this year’s National Grief Awareness Week, we’ve spoken to our Bereavement Service team about what grief looks like, why we should be talking about it and how we can navigate our way through it. It’s important to know, there’s no right way to grieve, as each person’s experience is unique. Grief is like a rollercoaster – with many ups and downs.
Grief can be a very isolating experience and it’s particularly hard during these isolated times of the pandemic. We hope that the answers our experienced counsellors have provided to some common questions about coping with grief, help bereaved people feel seen and heard and that people gain some understanding about how to help others cope with their loss.
National Grief Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of the impact of grief, as well as breaking the taboo some may feel when expressing their feelings after losing a loved one.
How long does grief last? Will it ever go away?
This is a very common question, that people ask when they have experienced a loss.
Grief is a very unique and personal experience, and will vary from one person to the next. How one person may feel about the loss of a loved one or friend, will be different to how another person experiences a loss of a loved one or friend. Grief is made up of a complex range of emotions, including shock, loneliness, sadness, numbness, pain, anger, guilt, and anxiety.
A lot of how you may feel may depend on your life experiences, the type of loss/ the relationship you had with the person you’ve lost. How close you were with that person. How they impacted your life. How the person died, weather it was sudden, or anticipated.
It’s important not to put a timeframe on grief, give yourself the permission, the time you need to heal. We will grieve as long as we need to. It is likely that you will always have feelings of grief for the person you have lost, but the intensity of how you feel, may lessen over time. If you notice feelings of depression or hopelessness, it’s important to reach out and ask for help. Support may can include friends, family, support groups GP’s and Bereavement services.
Remember to look after yourself. When we lose a loved one, or friend. We often forget to put our needs first. Look after yourself in positive ways. Eating healthy foods, exercising, drinking plenty, and getting enough sleep, can help your overall wellbeing, and ability to manage.
What should I say (or not say) to someone who is grieving?
When supporting someone, after a loved one dies, it can be extremely hard to know what to say, and to know how to support them. While each bereaved person’s experience will be individual, these tips may give you ideas for how to help them feel heard and supported.
When supporting someone who is grieving, it’s important to acknowledge what has happened. We are often scared of upsetting the person, or saying the wrong thing. Often, there isn’t a right thing to say. But by the fact you are there, and trying is better than finding the perfect words.
Acknowledge the news of the death of their loved one, and remind them that you are there.
“I am sorry for your loss – you are in my thoughts”
“I am so sorry to hear this news”
“I was sad to learn this – I am here for you”
“This is heart breaking, I wish I was there to give you a hug”
You can send a text, write and email letter or card, make a phone call, or see them face to face. It can mean a lot to someone isolated in their grief that you are reaching out. Generally, its felt that being present with someone in their grief, unafraid to sit quietly can be most helpful.
Share a memory, or say what the person meant to you can be really powerful, and allows the person experience of grief know they are being remembered, and you may share something with them that they didn’t know.
Offer a space to talk, don’t be afraid to reach out ask “How are you?”, or “Would you like to talk about it?”. This allows the other person a chance to talk if they want to. Try not to assume how someone feels. You may have experienced a loss in the past and feel you understand what someone is going through, but everyone experiences grief differently. Avoid saying things such as, “You must be feeling…” or “I know exactly how you feel”. Instead invite them to share how they are feeling.
Know that there is no right way to feel, and it’s ok to feel the way they are feeling. People who are grieving can experience a huge range of emotions, including shock, loneliness, sadness, numbness, pain, anger, guilt, and anxiety.
Be patient, it takes time to heal over Grief. By setting a timeframe, for example, sharing how long it took ‘you’ to get over grief can make the person feel that they are failing. This is a personal experience and the grieving process is different for everyone.
When someone we know is first bereaved, we often find ourselves wanting to help trying to “fix” the situation and make things better. They may not be able to imagine a future without that person, they might worry about their memories fading, and find the idea of ‘moving on without them’ or ‘that they have gone to a better place’ very upsetting. The bereaved person might not feel the same way.
How can we best navigate our way through grief or loss?
Any type of change, or loss can cause us to grieve, and feelings of grief. It’s important to know, there’s no right way to grieve, as each person’s experience is unique.
Be kind to yourself; Try not to judge how you are feeling. All feelings are valid and can change from moment to moment. It’s ok not to be ok.
Do something you enjoy; be kind and gentle with yourself. You may find you may not be able to accomplish the same things when coping with grief. It’s ok to adjust your daily routine to allow time for this. Find activities that you find meaningful and bring you purpose.
Talk about it; Grief may be difficult to talk about, to know what to say. There are still people still want to help. Source out people you can talk to, this can include friends, family, support groups and professional helplines and services. @stmaryshospice
Stay healthy; look after yourself in positive ways. Eating healthy foods, exercising, drinking plenty, and getting enough sleep, can help your overall wellbeing, and ability to manage.
Know when to ask for help; Grief and sadness are normal feelings to have when you’re experiencing a change or loss. If you notice changes in your mood, wellbeing or mental health, a sense of hopelessness or depression, reach out to loved ones. Your GP, Bereavement counsellors and other health care professionals are also here to support you, and can offer support advice, and guidance. Know when to ask for help.
How can I handle feelings of guilt?
The longer term: Feelings of guilt and moving forward in life
When a loved one dies, guilt can be a painful companion of grief, which may appear more complicated depending on the relationship. An aspect of guilt can be all the questions we ask ourselves are the ‘what ifs’, the ‘if only’s’ the ‘should have’s’ or the ‘I don’t deserve to’s’.
They may feel that there are no more opportunities to say the things or do the things they need to following the death of a loved one, and as a result of this can leave individuals feeling numb, sad, anger, pain and anxious. Preventing us from healing through this guilt.
People who care for us will tell us not to feel guilty, but this doesn’t necessarily help, similarly telling some to calm down, often doesn’t instantly make us calm.
It’s important to remember that its human nature to want to do everything we can, to want to fix things. So it’s understandable why we would question that we have done everything right.
Allow yourself to really feel all of the emotions you are experiencing. Its human instinct to want to avoid the discomfort and push these negative emotions away. Embrace and acknowledge how you feel and why you may feel that way and that’s it ok. It’s a normal part of healing.
Look after yourself. It’s important to care for self specifically when working through guilt and grief. Be kind and patient with yourself. Showing yourself the same kindness you would show a friend. Letting go of that self-judgement and Criticism. Reach out to someone, a friend, a loved one, support services. Do something you enjoy. Forgive yourself. It’s ok to laugh, to have fun, to move forward in life.
Grief may come in waves, some days may feel more difficult than others. Nothing can replace the person who has died, but over time you may find it feels easier to cope, and you may start to feel happier whilst remembering those that have died.
A personal experience of grief…
As part of this year’s campaign, Alison, one of our volunteers, has written a number of poems which represent her experiences of grief.
Alison said: “Having worked at the hospice with people who are bereaved and grieving from 2013 – either a volunteer or member of staff – I wanted to share with you some poems which I have written since that time. The offering of someone’s grief is for me a privilege and a sacred space. Each of these poems express something of my experience of being alongside someone in their grief.”
Elvis has entered the building –
Echoes of him through
passages of time,
hers and mine
submerging the ward
in Blue Hawaiian seas,
GI Blues, Blue Suede Shoes
Rock-a –Hula-Baby, Maybe,
Can’t Help Falling in Love – Letters Straight to…
the lunch trays, and tangled conduits
of blessed analgesia.
We caught a shimmering moment,
she laughed it into words,
“ Not good – is he!”
sang strong, down distant by-ways
once kissed by shafts of sunlight.
Her young, jewel-stone eyes –
scour an ice-hard landscape
endless in its bleakness –
How can I kindle
a fireside glow- warming her way
to her precious self?
She was always out there helping people –
so funny – up she popped, visiting in the rain
even when she was ill.
He got his own way
but so gently – a lovely man –
he really was, behind the scenes,
it was us against the world… these blossoms, those summers.
She was there
whenever I needed her
but she hasn’t come to me –where is she? How is she?
I need to see her – when the candles flicker with no wind,
I talk every day and sometimes – an answer comes,
but then – it goes cold and dark and lonely
and I am haunted in a raging storm
She was my reason, rock, respite – he was my lamp, lodestar, life.
They will always be our loves – and in our lives,
a dawning ,when it comes, will not dazzle with sunlight
but will enfold, so that grief
becomes a valley, shelter,
for retelling, with tears and laughter,
whatever the weather.
You took your poor love and your broken heart.
but you did not bury them
instead you held them to the light
opening like a flower, petals spreading.
Grounded in loving-kindness
you do no harm
such compassion can only seed
and flower in myriad colours.
Support when you need it most…
Losing someone dear to you is one of the hardest things you’ll ever experience, but it isn’t something that you have to tackle on your own. At Birmingham St Mary’s, we provide a range of bereavement support to help people cope with the loss of a loved one.
To find out more, please visit our Bereavement Support page. We also offer free confidential, emotional support to children and young people when a loved one is living with a life-limiting illness or they have sadly died. To find out more about this service, please visit our Children’s Services page.
If you or anyone you know would like more information about the support on offer, please call 0121 752 8748 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to a member of our support team.