Over the course of our lives most of us will experience the death of someone close to us.  It is therefore useful for us to understand the effects of this on a person and something of the often difficult process of adjusting to loss.  In doing so we not only help ourselves, but may be better at assisting others as they too move along the journey that we call bereavement. 

Losses of course may include the death of someone we love, as well as more generally things such as the loss of a job, retirement, divorce or family disruption.  As regards death: the wound created by this loss we call bereavement.  The painful emotional and physical response to that event is known as grief and the psychological process of adjustment we call mourning.  These processes may continue for weeks, months or years following the loss before the individual can be said to have ‘completed their grief work.’  While there are no set end-points to this kind of process many people desire to reach a point where they can remember their loved one without the intense pain and yearning that characterises the early part of grief process.

Professor Beverley Raphael a long-time worker in this field has said, “Grief comes in waves….” And many individuals have affirmed the reality of this description in their own experience of grief.  Immediately following a loss the individual may well be in a state of shock, experiencing things with a numbness and feeling of ‘dream-like’ unreality surrounding them.  However following the busy periods around the funeral, and when friend and family have gone, slowly the reality of their loss breaks through.  At this point  the bereaved may begin to feel the absence of their loved one intensely as well as the emptiness of their home perhaps, the separation from them and the reality of the way in which their life has been permanently changed by this loss.


Initially the bereaved person is focused intensely on the person who has gone and can experience a profound sense of yearning, longing to have that person returned to them even for a moment, to share one last word, hug or kiss.  Naturally this experience in intensely painful and often lonely and frightening because it is so intense, and we so unprepared.


The yearning that takes place in grief can be best described as a ‘wanting what you can’t have.’ A process that does not respond to logic or rational argument.  The person appears to have no choice except to want what they can’t have and may do so for an extended period in cases where a deep abiding love for the person who is lost, existed.


For many despair is the result; and life may no longer appear to be worth living as the reality of the loss permeates each successive layer of an individual’s being. A growing sense of finality of the loss begins to develop and with it intense pain.  There may be much crying although for some, other activities better express the pain that they feel.


Sometimes depending on the circumstances of the loss, a great deal of time may be spent ‘debating’ the unfairness of the loss, or resorting to “if only” scenarios in an effort to somehow change what has occurred or manage some of the regrets that one might have about the loss.   These are especially prevalent when the loss has been of a child, a young person, an accidental or preventable death which seems to go against the natural order of things or at least how we thought things ought to be perhaps.


Slowly over the weeks and months an individual begins to get used to what has occurred; some adaption to the loss commences.  While there can still be times of intense yearning, the mental anguish becomes a little easier and the person may even begin to laugh again or experience good moments when for a little while, their grief settles into the background.  A little at a time the person may begin to have some “good days” as well as bad days.  Progressively and almost imperceptibly their involvement with life may begin to return again – but their life will not and cannot be the same as it was.


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