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Navigating grief – the expert view

Compiled by Jo Dunbar

There is no time limit or road map for how grief is processed. High Life North spoke to some experts for their advice and tips on how to approach grief whether you are the bereaved or you are attempting to comfort someone else.

Be kind to yourself

Relate counsellor Rachel Davies outlines how to make the very difficult grief journey a tiny bit easier for yourself, recognising that no two people grieve in the same way and that your emotions will change

Treat yourself with kindness. Think of how you would treat a really good friend who was going through something really tough.  You would probably want to look after them – you should try to do this with yourself.

A whole range of different feelings is normal – you may feel very sad and teary, or angry and irritable, or maybe you won’t feel much at all and have a sense of being numb or empty.  All feelings are part of grief, including not being able to feel much.

Don’t expect too much of yourself as its likely to be a mixture of good and bad days. 

It’s very common to be surprised that normal life is still carrying on when your life has changed so dramatically. You might find laughter and everyday things difficult.  Do what feels right for you – if you need to pull back from activities you would normally enjoy then do this but also remember that sometimes a bit of normality can help.

People who love and care about you are likely to want to help but often people don’t know how to. Help them to help you by trying to ask for help or to say ‘yes’ to offers.  It keeps you connected.

If you have other family and friends that are also mourning, then share your feelings and thoughts about the person who has died.  It can be really comforting being with others who want to talk about your loved one.

When someone you love is grieving

Relationship charity Relate recognise that knowing what to do, and how to do it, when a friend or loved one is grieving can seem like an impossible task. Relate therapist Rachel Davies has these suggestions of how to make things easier when someone close to you is bereaved:

Everyone grieves differently so it’s always better to ask open questions like “how has today been?” rather than to make lots of assumptions about how they are feeling.

It can be a very isolating time for the person, but it may be hard for them to reach out for help, so if you can be the proactive one that can make it easier.  Try to make specific suggestions of things that can help rather than a general “call me if you need anything” – this puts pressure on the bereaved person.

Make it okay for the bereaved person to talk about the person who has died. If you bring their name into the conversation it can help the person know it’s okay to talk about them. The person who has died will be very much in their mind.

It’s a good idea to make a note of the date that the person died and any other significant dates you know about such as their birthday or anniversary. Just sending a text or a message on these significant dates over the coming months and years shows the bereaved person that you are thinking of them.

For more information and a video on bereavement, visit Relate’s website, here. 

Accepting reality

High Life North’s resident therapist Sian Barnard says the natural reaction to deny what has happened has the effect of increasing the pain you feel. Instead, as you move towards a feeling of acceptance about death you can slowly begin to anticipate the future.

“Acceptance is key. Denial and resistance cause pain. You need to accept that it hurts; accept that there is no reason; accept that it will get better and that you will be happy again.”

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