Paradoxically, death is the one certainty of life but most of us skilfully manage to avoid thinking about it until it happens to us.Then, we have to learn to trust again. In her book (Vermillion 2005) Lindsay Nicholson describes life after a bereavement as living “on the bottom of the seabed”, beneath sea water with no light, nor the sight of the old place they used to live nor any sight of the sky. How do you get out?
Sad, Guilty, Angry
Following a bereavement, parents and carers are often feel ill-equipped to know how to manage what appears to be a bleak future. Parents tell us that they are too distressed to face their children’s distress. They feel too sad, guilty and angry. No-one wants to live in this “sad house”.
Madness of the bereaved
No-one knows what is normal any more, everything has been affected by grief. Sleep is often difficult, many troubled with nightmares or lack of deep sleep.
Alone again, unnaturally
Those left behind do not want to manage alone: the one person they want is not there and they have to carry all the responsibilities. What usually happens is that we try and “get on with it”, without troubling others. Where does the anger go?
In our experience, following a bereavement, the one conversation everyone wants to have, no-one is able to introduce – “the elephant in the room”. (see Grief Encounter Workbook Shelley Gilbert 2005)
Upward spiral of grief
In much of today’s media, we meet the misguided idea of ‘stages of bereavement’ and the idea that we have to ‘pass through’ them to ‘acceptance.’
It is our idea to replace the idea of ‘stages’ with a picture of a spiral. The ‘Upward Spiral of Grief’ allows people to accept their feelings, to accept that these feelings may come back and that grieving is long term work. For example, if 6 months after a loss, you still feel really tearful and sad one day, you may worry that there is something wrong with you.
However, you will be in a different place to that black hole in the beginning. Your feelings will be the same, but with less intensity. You will have moved around the spiral. You have moved on and made some adjustments. By using this spiral we can alleviate the pressure of having to move on through the stages of bereavement. It may become less frightening to revisit these feelings time and time again. It does not mean that you have gone back to the black hole in the beginning.
The idea of acceptance can also be misleading. We prefer to replace it with the word ‘adjustment.’ If we bereaved are really honest, we rarely accept the loss. We learn to live with it; we change our life accordingly. But, accept? Hardly.
There is little doubt that we do share similar feelings following a bereavement, such as shock, despair, pining, denial, anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, relief, sadness. It is comforting to know that these feelings are ‘normal.’ However, over the course of time the idea of stages has become misunderstood. Some people feel under enormous pressure to ‘pass through’ these stages in order to ‘move on’ and accept their loss. We argue that it is more realistic to think of grieving in an upward spiral.
At Grief Encounter we aim to dispel these myths and give people the freedom to say that life will never be the same.
10 Needs of A Bereaved Child
1. To acknowledge that death is omnipresent
2. Need for structure
3. Need to tell story
4. Make sense of confusions with adult
5. To have their pain held
6. Help to find tools for managing
7. To fill some of the empty spaces
8. To possess facts
9. To feel cared for and understood
10. To find a new kind of normal
Lizzie, Mother and Widow
Nine months ago, on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, my husband Stephen took our youngest daughter to a friend’s, and he never came home.
It was lunchtime when my daughter Sophie called up to me that there were policemen at the door. And that’s how we learned our lives had been wiped out. How many times have I seen TV dramas when the police turn up to tell a mother or a wife that it’s better they should be sitting down, and do they want a cup of tea? Now it was happening in my home, in my sitting room, but there were no cameras or film crew.
Stephen appeared to have walked into the path of a bus on Waterloo Bridge. Why on earth did he walk in front of a bus? Surely he couldn’t have done it on purpose? And what was he doing in Waterloo when we live in North London?
Over the next few months, while the police tried diligently to piece together his last few hours, I conjured up so many scenarios in my head. There was the obvious, of course: that, for some dark, unknown reason, my wonderful husband, so full of life, had decided to kill himself. But why would he do that? He was about to start making a film the following Monday; we were going to Italy with friends in a couple of weeks; and besides, he loved us and was so proud of his wife and beautiful young daughters – it was inconceivable that he would decide to leave us by design.
His Oyster card showed that he had travelled by tube, disembarked at Euston station and somehow arrived at the bridge 45 minutes later. Why did he get off the tube at Euston, of all places? And why and how did he make his way to the bridge where he met his death?
The police liaison team travelled the country, interviewing witnesses. Stephen had been staggering and clutching his head before stepping into the road. One of the statements even described his behaviour as “like a yuppie having a nervous breakdown”. He would have loved being described as a “yuppie”, but the “nervous breakdown” bit – that wasn’t Stephen.
At the inquest, six months later, the coroner quizzed me on Stephen’s state of mind during his last few days. The pathologist said he was almost certain that Stephen had suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrhage and was possibly disorientated when he stepped into the road. The coroner drew an open verdict because she said it was impossible to be sure whether it was the bus or a brain haemorrhage that ended my husband’s life.
In short, we will never know what happened to our husband and daddy that day, and we just have to accept that. There will be no more answers. The file is closed. The only thing we are absolutely sure of is that we will always love and miss him and we will spend the rest of our lives making him proud.
Don’t Forget Us
Sometimes, it is hard to accept that friends and families lives are moving on, moving forward at a pace faster than us. However, if they stop for a while to think about my son that died- an event, school assembly, a dinner party, a memory-not only do they help us, they also help us all remember how precious time is that we have together and how quickly time passes.
My other children, my husband and I find great comfort in other people remembering Jack- talking about him, recalling funny stories-even if it does make us cry sometimes.
Even when it was so very difficult in the beginning when we first lost him.
At first, we wanted to put everything in a box- his toys, the clothes that smelt of him, thoughts, words and memories- and lock them away where they couldn’t be harmed.
Now, I’m so glad we confronted our heartache and instead surrounded ourselves with everything Jack loved. As terrible as that was initially, these things are now of great comfort.
Having suffered terrible loss before Jack, I knew how painful the road ahead was going to be. That scared me and I knew we had to find a better ways of travelling along that road. I now knew that grief would damage everything and life would never be the same but I also knew we would survive and continue down the road. Grief is a journey, yet it is a journey I would not want to end. We have travelled as a family away from the desolation at the start and have glimmers of hope, despite the speed bumps and cameras that catch you by surprise.
Please don’t forget that we miss Jack every second, everyday. There’s nothing wrong in that, nor in saying we will grieve Jack until the day we die. We all feel the loss-the house is quieter, the table emptier, the holiday sad at times. Please don’t take that away from us. But, it’s not so all consuming. We do smile, we laugh, we live again….
Help us “keep his name alive”.
Breaking Down The Elephant
1. Supporting the children by breaking the “elephant into bite size pieces”
2. Young people grieve too, they may just show it in different ways.
3. Try and keep the channels of communication open between children, young people and adults.
4. Give young people permission to share in their way-everyone “does grief” differently.
5. Give them honest, clear, appropriate and open information as their fantasies are often more frightening than the truth.
6. Listen and respond appropriately.
7. Find outside professional help, hard as it may be to trust any one.
8. Look after yourself at times : put on your oxygen mask first.
9. You know your child best, so follow your instincts.
10. Aim to provide the basics of food, warmth, comfort and cuddles.
11. Try and maintain structures and routines so they feel safe again.
12. Give them choices and opportunities.
13. Try and meet others who have been bereaved.
14. Remember the best way to deal with something frightening may be to face it.
“Grief Encounter is beyond words. The messages of taking positives from negatives speaks volumes.” – Bereaved parent
“We cannot change what has happened, only the way we think and feel.” – Shelley Gilbert
“No-one can wave a magic wand, but we can help the journey” – Shelley Gilbert