Few us will escape the experience of losing a loved one through death at some time in our lives. As a young teenager my own mother’s sudden death from a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 47 years has had a profound effect on my life. It caused me great distress and the trauma of discovering my dear mother dead in the bathroom of our home still haunts me today. The moment I saw her my childhood ended abruptly and overnight I was forced to grow up and take on family responsibilities. Although young and distraught I the future to look forward to. But coming to terms with the loss of a husband, partner or friend at a later stage of life can create added problems to the grief already being experienced. There may be a very real fear of a future lived alone, and the possibility of having to cope with disability or ill health. This worry may be may be compounded by the fact that supportive family and friends live a long distance away.
Grief is difficult to bear at such times and all of us react differently to the death of a loved one and the individual circumstances that surrounded the death. It may be totally unexpected, as it was in my mother’s case, or be anticipated or prolonged. But whatever the circumstances are, the death of someone close to us is likely to be a highly personal and traumatic event. Historically in the UK, and still by tradition in many other countries today, a period of time was observed for people to openly express their grief. At this time of mourning emotions were quite literally worn on the sleeve, a black band or black clothing depicting the outward sign that they were in mourning. The time of mourning allowed others to openly show their respect and offer their support. Today in the fast hurly burly of modern life this tradition has all but disappeared, but nevertheless the stages of grief that those left will go through are the same, and all too real. Such people will need support, but all too often other people today are too busy with their own lives to give it.
Immediately following the death there is a feeling of shock and disbelief which is followed by a time when the grief is openly expressed. Sadly this can be followed by a period of depression accompanied by apathy. This can make it difficult for the person concerned to remain optimistic of their future in order to get on with their life. These emotions are predictable but their timing will vary from one person to the next. For some who are left on their own, family members, close friends and their religion will be of immense support during their grieving. This encouragement can help people to move on and should be continued until the bereaved show signs of recovery, which will signify the final stage of the grieving process. But grieving is unpredictable and people can find their emotions swinging between periods of anger, misery and depression as they attempt to come to terms with their loss and re-adjust to life on their own without their loved one. It is essential for people to express feelings throughout this time because bottling them up causes further emotional problems which will delay the healing process.
Sometimes there are feelings of guilt after the death of someone very dear to us. How many of us regret not having been nicer, or more understanding to somebody when we saw them last, who subsequently died suddenly? A lot of us feel there were things we should have said or done for our loved ones, and now it is too late. This “unfinished business” is difficult to live with. Getting on with life, but continuing to live where you and your partner shared your life together can be tough too. Some people are comforted by their familiar surroundings, but others find the constant reminders of their departed, painful to come to terms with. Gradually with time there is an acceptance that the loved one cannot and will not return, only then can these reminders of happier times turn into objects of comfort and consolation.
Death of someone close to us is a confusing and often frightening experience but eventually the pain and grief does grow less and the depression lifts. As life becomes more bearable people who have suffered the loss of a loved one begin to pick up the threads of their former life, but it may take months or even years before this happens. For some people the depression may persist. These people should be encouraged to seek to seek professional help. People with clinical depression need to talk their emotions through with a professional Some bereaved may be prescribed medication to get them through their difficult period, but others may need professional counselling.