Monday, 22 December 2014

Coping with the loss of a loved one

The winter holidays are a time that many of us choose to spend with family and friends. Films and media portray this period as a happy time full of fun, presents and goodness, but for many people who have lost someone dear to them, it can be a difficult time, full of painful memories.

Whatever the circumstances, if you're struggling with the loss of someone dear to you, Christmas can be an unwelcome reminder that they're not here any more. Grief is a complex emotion and it can take years to come to terms with it.

The five stages of grief
The process of mourning and grief is one that people go through no matter who they are or what they do in life. However everybody experiences grief differently. There are five stages of grief and loss, which were first proposed in 1969 by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross in her book "On Death and Dying". It can take a short or long time to work through loss and each stage may not be experienced in order, indeed you may move back and forth between the stages.
  1. Denial and isolation: this is the first reaction to finding out about the death or terminal illness of a loved one. In order to protect ourselves from the shock, we deny the reality to ourselves. This is a temporary stage.
  2. Anger: when we can no longer mask the reality and facts from ourselves, we pass into the second stage. At this point we still find it hard to process what has happened and may deal with the overwhelming pain by expressing it as anger to the outside world. We may feel angry with friends and family, our deceased or dying loved one, the medical staff, strangers or even things.
  3. Bargaining: this is the way we deal with the feeling that things are out of control. We attempt to exert control on the situation by thinking, what if. 
  4. Depression: there is much to take in when someone has died or has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. You may react to the implications of the loss, such as worrying about how you will cope financially or feel you are neglecting others. In addition you may feel a great sense of sadness as you prepare to say goodbye to your loved one. 
  5. Acceptance: the final stage of mourning is acceptance, however some people never get to this stage. It is common to go up and down through the stages of grief, but those who manage to reach the acceptance stage will feel a sense of withdrawal and calm. 
If you are experiencing grief at the moment, try to allow yourself time and space to work through your feelings as they happen upon you.

Don't worry if you don't cry or if you can't stop crying, everybody is different and everybody has their own way of grieving.

You may be surrounded by family or friends who want you to feel better and you may feel under pressure to move on. Try to schedule some time each day when you can be alone to process your feelings.

If you feel you are being constantly reminded about the person by objects all around you at home, then try to change things a little and don't be afraid to pack away some of the more upsetting objects so you can look at them when you feel ready.

Finally, take your time and look after yourself. You will feel more able to cope with things if you are well nourished and healthy.

Further information and support
If you feel you need to talk to someone your GP may have a listening service available to you, or they may be able to suggest a bereavement support service who can help.

First Psychology is also able to offer counselling and other talking therapies that you may find helpful for dealing with bereavement. For further details visit

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