Loss & Bereavement


If you’re here because you’ve recently lost someone – or something you value deeply, you’re probably searching for relief from the world changing, gut wrenching misery and pain that goes with that loss. You may also be here in search of  help for someone else who is suffering that pain. In either case, please read on.

Whether it’s the loss of the partner you’ve loved and lived with for 40 years, or the end of working life, nothing prepares you for the fundamental changes those events wreck on your life.

What’s strange is it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of loss you sustain, as you can see from the chart below (Fig.1) the effects are broadly similar – in losing someone or something that’s important to you, you also sustain a loss of purpose or role, loss of a predictable future, a change in your own perception of your identity. All that adds up to a lot of pain.

Fig.1 – The Effects of Loss

Event Loss Sustained Meaning of Loss
Death Partner/Spouse

Child

Parent

Sibling

Other family member/friend

Pet

Loss of attachment figure

Loss of purpose/function/role

Change in family structure or friendship group

Loss of/change in material security & stability

Unable to take future for granted

Separation Divorce

Relationship breakdown (romantic & non-romantic)

Children leaving home

Loss of access to attachment
figure

Loss of purpose/function/role/identity

Reduced sense of self-worth

Loss of material security & stability

Unable to take future for granted

Termination Redundancy

Retirement

Dismissal

Business failure

Loss of home

Menopause/Hysterectomy/Infertility

Loss of
purpose/function/role/identity

Reduced sense of self-worth

Loss of material/physical security & stability

Loss of sense of belonging

Long-term iIllness & Disability Good health

Physical capacity

Loss of independence

Loss of purpose/function/role/identity

Loss of material/physical security & stability

Unable to take future for granted

The Cycle of Grief

Not only are there similarities in the types of feelings we experience in response to loss, there are also distinct similarities in the pattern we all go through as we gradually come to terms with that loss. Although there’s some variation in their order and duration, most of us go through up to five different “stages” as we get to grips with our grief.

Described as the “grief cycle” (Fig 2. below), the stages of  grief as described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist are as follows;

  • Shock & Denial – A time when we go into emotional paralysis in order to protect ourselves. Characterised by the stance, “He’s looking better, isn’t he?”; “You can’t leave me if I won’t give you a divorce”; “Maybe I can appeal this redundancy”.

  • Anger – The blame and projected anger characteristic of this stage is our way of trying to understand how such a random event could occur. Typified by statements such as “That evil woman just couldn’t keep her hands off him”; “That useless manager is sacrificing me in order to protect himself”; “I’m going to sue – they should have tried harder to stop him drinking”. “You can’t help me – no-one can!”

  • Bargaining & Dialogue– As the reality of the situation begins to dawn, we try to negotiate our way out of the inevitable – “I realise I’m dying, but let me live until Christmas”; “I’ll take a lesser job – I was want to stay here”; “Stay for the sake of the children”. We also try to give meaning to our loss – “I’m setting up this charity so that his life won’t have been in vain”; I don’t want anyone else to have to experience this”; “I want them to understand the impact of their action”.

  • Depression – As an emotional connection with the meaning behind the loss is made, we alternate between experiencing that loss intensely and seeking to distance ourselves from it – “I miss her so much it hurts”; “I just don’t want to carry on living”; “I’m too old to start again – no-one will want me”.

  • Acceptance – The realisation that we do not have ultimate control over our fate allows us to find an acceptance of the previously unacceptable – “I’ve stopped fighting and I feel better for doing so”; “Things may never be the same again, but I don’t need them to be anymore”; “I can see other possibilities and opportunities I never had time or space for before”.

As mentioned above, it’s vital to understand that there is not necessarily a neat order to the stages in which we experience these emotions. For example, depression can alternate with anger on a daily or even hourly basis during the early and mid-phases stages of loss, while the dialogue phase may continue months or even years later, as individuals fill the emotional void with charitable or educational work designed to alleviate or eliminate future instances of the catastrophic event.

Fig.2 – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Cycle of Grief

As difficult as it is, the grieving process associated with loss is entirely normal and should not not be regarded as needing treatment in the first few weeks. However, although you shouldn’t expect to feel completely back to normal, if after about 2 months, you are still finding your day-to-day functioning significantly affected by your grief (poor sleeping habits, poor concentration, poor appetite, anxiety, tiredness, poor motivation, frequent tearfulness etc.), it could be that you are experiencing the beginnings of a depressive episode which may need treatment via medication, counselling, social prescription (exercise) or a combination of these therapies.

It’s very easy to reduce the pain of loss to a few hundred words and a couple of diagrams. It’s much more difficult to live with that pain hour to hour, day to day.

If you’re finding the pain unmanageable, we’re here to help. Whether it’s a death, a betrayal, a rejection or an ending, we can provide a lifeline as you find your way back to meaningful life. Contact us or complete our assessment form to get the support you need at this difficult time. Alternatively, use the links to the right of this page to find resources to support you or to find help in supporting others.