Bereavement and Grief
Bereavement is the period of time during which we grieve the death of a loved one. Grief is the normal, natural and inevitable response to loss and can affect every part of our life. We may experience intense feelings such as sadness, anger, anxiety, disbelief and even panic. Sometimes, grief can cause difficulty in sleeping and can lead to other physical symptoms. It can also affect our thinking, so that we may think “we will never get over this,” or that “our life has been turned upside down.” There is no right or wrong way to grieve and no limit on how long it may take. We each must find our own path through grief, though we need not do it alone. There are many resources and methods for managing grief, and it is important to recognize when you need help and to know who to ask.
The Memory Lives
It is not unusual for people to have extraordinary and intense dreams of their loved one or to have a sense of their presence. These experiences are comforting and can help us feel close to the person we have lost.
How Do We Grieve?
Everyone grieves in his or her own way. It is a unique and very personal expression of emotion. Some people do not openly show their grief, but express it only in private. It may be hard to recognize that someone is grieving. Some people may express grief openly by crying and wanting to talk, while some may turn to working longer hours or putting more energy into a hobby. It is important to realize that children grieve differently than adults. For example, children often prefer activities over talking when dealing with grief. It is fair to say that grieving is not a “one size fits all” process.
As difficult and painful as grieving can be, there are healthy ways to deal with it. Grief support is offered to all families receiving hospice care. However, you don’t need to be under hospice care to reach out for help. The Coalition member hospices are a valuable resource for grief support services. Qualified professionals who encourage healthy grieving will work to identify resources to assist you and your loved ones during the grieving process. Because grieving is unique from person to person, the kind of support and resources one needs will vary. Some find support groups helpful while others respond best to one-on-one support. Others may find that talking to a friend or family member can help them cope. The important thing to know is that it’s normal and healthy for both men and women to ask for help when grief becomes overwhelming.
A Journey through Grief
When we experience the loss of a loved one, we all experience some form of grief. Although there are many stages and levels of grief, there are also many similarities and common responses that we all share. Grieving individuals don’t return to the person they were before the loss; rather, they usually describe their lives after loss as “different.” For the Idaho Quality of Life Coalition, healthy grieving is an important part of healthy living. Helping you find a meaningful pathway through the pain of grief and loss is important to us. We can be an advocate for you in finding the resources you need as you journey through your grief.
A Grieving Child
Though we all wish it weren’t so, children experience many losses that can cause them grief. Some of the most common losses are a cherished pet, a move to a new city and school or a best friend moving away. But the death of a parent, sibling, grandparent or other close loved one can be devastating to a child and bring grief and many difficult questions. These moments represent opportunities to teach children about grief and loss. Helping a child learn healthy and meaningful ways to deal with loss and express grief can provide important life lessons and preparation for adulthood. But how do you talk with a child that has suffered a great loss? What is appropriate to explain and how long should a child grieve? The answers are less complicated than you may imagine. It all begins with simply listening and observing.
The Truth Is Best
Children respond best when they are told the truth. This builds trust and avoids misunderstanding. Answer their questions honestly in a caring, reassuring way. Avoid phrases that relate death to sleep. Be honest. Say, “the person died” rather than something suggesting that the person “just went to sleep.” References to “sleep” can create problems with sleeping, especially in younger children. For the very young, hearing that the person “can’t talk anymore, walk anymore, or smile” or that “their heart isn’t beating anymore” is easier to understand. It’s important to realize that each child will grieve in his or her unique way.
Allow Them to Be Involved
Children also appreciate being involved, in a way that is appropriate for their age, in funeral and memorial services because it gives them a sense of control in a situation where they had no control. A three year old could be asked, “What was Grandma’s favorite color?” When she says, “pink,” you can respond with, “then we can have pink flowers because Grandma would like that.” An older child might want to give input on what to include in the service or where to hold it. A teenager could offer to write and read a poem or share a memory about the loved one. Involvement, according to research, helps with grief both now and later in life. When children are included, they know that their feelings are respected, and they are not as isolated. By allowing a child to make choices and participate, you give them a greater sense of control and help them stabilize after a loss.
Keep Them Active
Children often prefer activities over talking when dealing with grief. When a death occurs, anger, frustration, guilt, sadness, fear and anxiety can be overwhelming, but physical activity can help them manage their pain. Rituals that celebrate the loved one can also be created. Children are good at creating meaningful ways to remember the individual and express grief. Sharing stories about the loved one, for example, is a helpful way to mourn.
A Balanced Approach
Children strive to maintain balance and equilibrium. They seek those things that are familiar. Structure helps with stability and security. That’s why, following a significant loss, many children wish to return to school where the routine is known and familiar. Try to maintain consistent patterns—bedtime stories, foods, activities, rules in the family, etc. These patterns will reinforce a sense of balance and normalcy.
Reach Out to Others for Help
There are many resources available to help children deal with death, dying, grief and loss, including camps where children learn to cope with grief. Coalition member hospices are a valuable resource in identifying options for grief support.