Work is very often the one place we can leave our troubles and personal problems at the door, when we get caught up in the buzz of the working day.
We often spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our family and experiencing the successes and failures of the working day bind us together.
In this time of pandemic our lives are under threat like we have never known and we have learned that tragedy takes many forms – not just in our personal lives but our working lives also.
Our workplace can have a comfortable predictability, even with the highs and lows of the next deal or challenging client. So, when we experience a tragedy in the workplace, how can we navigate it together, come through the other side and still keep a focus on the work that has to continue?
Be prepared …
Be in front and be prepared. Have a bereavement support policy in place which addresses legal requirements and your individual company guidance. It may help to offer employees the opportunity to have a say in the creation of the policy. Have regular discussions about the policy and ensure everyone is familiar with it, so that they are already aware of the expectation both ways and this helps tremendously by removing any unnecessary worry or misinterpretation at a time when the workplace is pre-occupied with the loss.
Whatever form the tragedy takes, whether it is a death that has been expected following a long illness or a sudden accident in the workplace, losing a colleague throws the work environment out of sync and it will take time before a sense of balance can be restored. People can benefit greatly from having an opportunity to be able to say out loud how it has made them feel.
Respect each individual reaction …
Grief and our grief reactions are incredibly personal. We each experience our losses based upon our own learnings and past experiences. Our reaction to any tragedy is unique to ourselves and even though we may share similar emotions with others, there is no ‘one size fits all’ reaction or solution.
The importance of listening…
In conversation we are generally comparing our experiences and thinking about what we are going to say next in return, instead of fully listening to the words that are being spoken to us. When we are speaking about how something has made us feel, we need others to listen without comment, comparison or interruption. We also need to honour others with the same respect. It may be helpful to all sit down together as a group to allow this or some may prefer the privacy of talking one to one.
One of the healthiest things to do is to allow each person to share their feelings about the event without any element of judgement and without someone hijacking their experience by comparing it to their own. Let people speak, thank them for sharing and move on to the next person.
Appoint a group leader who can offer a few words of reflection or prayer and can then set the scene for sharing and who will be the first to talk about how the tragedy or loss has made them feel personally. It also provides an opportunity to say what their colleague has meant to them and what they will miss about their usual routines
Have some ground rules in place ….
Take it in turns to speak and do not interrupt when someone is talking. If someone just wants to listen and reflect rather than share openly, respect this and don’t draw attention to it.
Equally, if someone cries when they are speaking, do not try and change how they are feeling. Just as smiling and laughing are a natural reaction when we are happy, tears are a normal and natural reaction to our shock and sadness.
Let the tears flow …
Although it’s hard, try not to touch someone who is crying – crying is a chemical reaction that needs to be allowed to happen. Emotional tears contain stress hormones which is why it is important for the body to get rid of them. The tears release an endorphin that immediately reduces pain and stress. Touching someone who is crying, breaks the emotion and brings the person back into the present moment, and drives the pain and sadness back down inside.
Men have tear ducts too but as they are more socially conditioned to solve problems, they are often less able to express their feelings of grief.
Remember – tears are part of the healing, not hurting. Crying helps to reduce some of the weight of grief.
When someone has finished sharing, let the group leader thank them for sharing but don’t try and analyse or make sense of their words. When someone is talking about how they feel, they aren’t looking for endorsement or even advice. They are making a statement. They are having a one way conversation and you should just be the ears they can trust.
Healing takes so many forms, and sometimes just being with people who will listen without comparison or comment and who just accept our words, can be the hugest dose of medicine.
The group leader could perhaps organise a collection of donations or flowers and a card for the family. A lovely idea is to create an office memory book to present to the family in which everyone can write down their personal message or their favourite memory. This can be something very special, especially if the career or work was very important to the person. It will also be therapeutic for those writing down their thoughts.
Also, raising funds for a charity is another great way of coming together and uniting and can give a feeling of being pro-active through our grief.
Ongoing support …
Have an appointed ‘go to’ person if someone is struggling and needs support. Watch out for any signs that someone may not be coping well – their time keeping may become poor, loss of care in personal appearance, over/under-eating, signs of alcohol/substance abuse, isolating themselves from the people they would normally interact with. If you feel that an employee is struggling, be a safe place for them to talk to without judgement or criticism. Work with them to help them though it. Offer what help you can and if you feel it necessary recommend a bereavement specialist or some counselling.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ
This article was published online at www.newbusiness.co.uk
Whether you’re grieving yourself, or supporting someone else through loss, it’s important to be gentle while experiencing the pain of bereavement.
Grief is a normal and natural reaction to the loss of someone you love or something you value, and your reaction and experience of grief will be as unique to you as your own fingerprint.
What are the stages of grief?
Grief is incredibly personal. We are unique beings and therefore each relationship we have is unique. Even though we may share similar emotions to others, there is no common order, and there are no stages or pattern to how we will experience them. If there are several of us grieving the loss of the same person, our grieving experience will be completely individual.
Misconceptions about there being stages to grieving can deny you your right to feel your pain naturally, instinctively and authentically, and can even prevent the healthy expression of your grief – the one that is right for you.
Whatever you feel when you experience your losses is right for you and it’s important to acknowledge these feelings.
How to deal with grief and loss
If you are grieving right now: grief affects us on every level: emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. We can no more control it than predict it. But it is much easier to bear your sadness if you aren’t also berating yourself for being sad. It is much easier to bear your sadness if you aren’t also berating yourself for being sad.
We live in a society that seeks easy and instant results to everything, so it’s important that we learn the benefits and beauty of patience, effort and perseverance when we experience our losses. Superglue won’t fix this. Only when we have to work hard for something do we gain a sense of moving forward and a feeling of achievement. Accepting that every area of our lives will have been impacted can take away the expectation to feel ‘normal’ again in record time. We need to take time to assimilate our losses and to feel the changes taking place within, to absorb the shock waves and, above all, to accept that whatever grief does to us, it’s our own personal journey.
Knowing that grief affects us on every level helps us to remember the impact of grief and allows us to let it be what it needs to be.
Be kind to yourself
Don’t expect too much too soon – you are not a robot. Working through grief takes time, so focus on the process – the journey rather than the destination. Allow yourself the luxury of feeling your pain and grieving. Just as we laugh when we are happy, we need to allow ourselves to hurt through our losses. It’s only through allowing it to wash over us that we come through to the other side.
Be wary of short-term relievers
…such as alcohol, junk food or drugs.
Accept your feelings and acknowledge your pain
Whatever you are feeling is normal and right for you.
Listen to your body
Rest when you need to and make sure you eat.
Talk about your loss with those you love
Find someone you can talk to and share with honesty.
Trust your instincts
Don’t let others railroad you into doing things you don’t feel ready for.
Don’t feel guilty when you have moments of happiness
There will be times when you get caught up in the act of living in the present moment. Then you will remember again and will return to grieving. This is healthy and normal.
What if you feel you’re not coping?
Painful emotions that are withheld and not put into words can have a negative impact on us emotionally as well as physically. If we try to compartmentalise our grief into stages we think we should be following, we may question our instincts and then put ourselves in conflict with them. This is just exhausting. Instead, we have to learn to grieve with confidence. This means don’t question it, just let it come.
Some signs that you maybe aren’t coping well include:
Withdrawing from your usual activities
Feelings of anger (which often stem from fear or sadness)
Crying for no apparent reason
Overreacting to a relatively small event
Having trouble sleeping
Lack of concentration
A feeling of being disconnected
Isolating from family and friends
Loss of appetite or over-eating
Drinking more than usual
Professional grief support
Sometimes, just finding someone you can talk to without judgement, analysis or comment can be the best thing you can do. As we talk without being interrupted, we can find a starting point, a way of working things out for ourselves.
If, however, you find you’re struggling with your grief and feel you would benefit from further support, the Grief Recovery Method provides an excellent action program. Painful emotions that are withheld and not put into words can have a negative impact on us emotionally and physically.
Funeral Directors are also discovering the importance of grief support, so choose your funeral home wisely. They are one of the early caregivers following a death, so they have a very important role in your grief journey. Ask before you commit – who owns the business, what credentials do they have, are they the ones you feel comfortable sharing this experience with. Please do visit a couple of funeral homes before you commit. You’ll know if something feels right… and you’ll know if it doesn’t.
How to support someone else who is grieving
If you find yourself comforting someone who has suffered a loss, don’t jump in straightaway with your own experiences. Comparing our losses can minimise the importance of the other person’s feelings. The best thing you can do is just listen with an open heart and open ears. Let them know they can speak to you safely and confidentially. Feedback words to show you understand, but don’t offer an opinion.
The best thing you can do is just listen with an open heart and open ears.
Don’t be a selfish listener, who listens purely to reply. When someone is speaking form a place of pain, they aren’t having a conversation, they are making a statement. Putting the pain into words unravels some of the emotional chaos we experience after a loss. Allow the little silences between sentences for the release of words to work their magic. Listening is one of the most important things we can do. Afterwards, thank them for sharing.
If you want to offer practical help, don’t just say it – put your words into action. Don’t say, ‘Call me if you need me,’ because they won’t. Grievers can feel they are burdening others with their sadness. Instead, offer to do some shopping, cook a meal or do some housework, and commit yourself to doing that on a particular day and time. This is a huge help.
Say anything that begins with, ‘At least …’
Say ‘I know how you feel.’ Grief is incredibly personal. We do not know how someone else feels. At most, all we can do is remember how we felt in a similar situation. Allow them the privilege of their own grief.
Offer platitudes, such as, ‘Time is a great healer’, ‘Be strong’, ‘You’ll meet someone else’ or ‘At least they aren’t suffering’. These just serve to make the griever feel misunderstood and more isolated in their pain.
Try to change how they are feeling. Grief needs attention.
Become a safe spot for the griever to share their emotions without interruption, just acceptance.
Say, ‘I wish I had the right words, but I am here for you.’
Say, ‘I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. Would you like tell me what happened?’
Mention the name of the person who has died and share a favourite memory. It shows their life mattered.
Reach out with phone calls and visits during holidays and anniversaries. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date, and the griever still needs to know you care and remember.
Continue to offer your support months after the loss.
Written by Lianna Champ, an expert in grief counselling and funeral care, as well as author of How To Grieve Like A Champ, and published in Net Doctor June 2020.
As a parent it’s natural to try and shield our children from the harsh realities of life. This can inadvertently create a mystery around death which forces children to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.
Written by Lianna Champ, published in this May’s edition of parenting magazine Ni4Kids.
Sometimes, in an attempt to protect our children, we may distort the facts of life and death to soften the truth. The way we teach our children to cope with their losses in childhood sets a pattern for the rest of their lives. We can teach them to embrace all life experiences and to process their emotional responses – good, bad, happy or sad – as they arise. Life is not an endless series of happy moments and it is always interspersed with traumas. By accepting and experiencing all life events as they occur, we can process these events practically as they arise, deal with them and move forward.
Children learn their coping mechanisms from the adults around them. They may not always hear what the adults are saying but they will always watch what they do. It is important therefore that the adults around them keep their behaviour and routines as normal and familiar as possible to ensure the child feels safe. Adults can help children feel safe by giving them their full attention and time. Let your children know that you are still there for them even though you may feel like folding. You are still a parent and have that responsibility. You are also teaching them a very important emotional tool – you are teaching them how to grieve. Create a safe space where they can talk about how they are feeling. Remember to accept whatever they feel – each loss experience is as unique to us as our own fingerprint. Don’t offer an opinion on your child’s words, but be open and accepting in your body language. Feedback words to show you understand, but don’t interrupt their flow. Try not to compare their feelings to yours. Comparisons minimise the importance of their expressions and can affect their self-esteem and confidence and create imaginary failings where there are none.
“WHEN WE ARE HAPPY, WE WANT TO SHARE OUR HAPPINESS. IT IS THE SAME WHEN WE ARE SAD – BOTH EMOTIONS NEED EQUAL EXPRESSION.”
Use simple and factual words. By telling the truth, we are teaching our children about a very important fact of life – that at some stage all life comes to an end. By using straightforward language to explain what ‘dead’ means we are teaching children a truth – that people can die when they are old, or if their bodies stop working properly through illness or if there has been an accident. In the case of suicide, it is alright to admit that we don’t always know why someone has died.
It is vital that we are honest. If the death is expected, don’t be afraid to include children in this experience. Using this time is a valuable opportunity to express their love, to say things that are important to them and to share everything that needs to be shared. Experiencing our grief together brings us closer to the people in our lives and is all part of the cycle of life.
“THE WAY WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO COPE WITH THEIR LOSSES IN CHILDHOOD SETS A PATTERN FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.”
Children have a natural curiosity and may ask lots of questions. Let them. They will ask as much or as little as they need to know. By giving simple and factual answers we give them the truth. Just listen to their words, reassure them and be ready with a hug if they need one. Don’t try to change how they feel. Encourage them to talk through their tears – the emotion is contained in the words and speaking the words helps to unravel the confusion.
All children, no matter what age, must be able to talk and share unconditionally. Programming children with incorrect information as to how to deal with loss can create negative coping mechanisms. They need to learn that it is okay to talk about the person who has died even if it does make them sad. When we are happy, we want to share our happiness. It is the same when we are sad – both emotions need equal expression. Sometimes young children don’t understand that death is permanent and creating a scrapbook can give them the opportunity to say: “We can’t see Grandma or Grandad because she/he has died, but we can look at their photographs and see them in this way.” Memory is how we hold on to the things we love. Choosing photographs together to make a scrap book, drawing pictures and sharing favourite memories can evoke lovely conversations. Choose a beautiful memory box for cherished items. Have a memory hour where they think of their favourite memories of their loved one. Our memories are the fruits on the tree of grief.
Lianna Champ is a bereavement expert with over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and is the author of the practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ.
A recent article published in welldoing.org, written by Lianna Champ
Grief is incredibly personal and each loss we experience is like our own fingerprint – unique to each of us.
But one thing that absolutely unites us all at this time is the isolation, threat and the loss of all that is familiar in this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic. It has changed everything we do. How we live and how we die.
With the Coronavirus, we already have grief coming at us from all sides as we are forced to face not only the mortality of those we love, but of ourselves too. We have also been denied the physical comfort we need from our family and friends before, during and after a funeral.
Due to Coronavirus, our capacity to cope is greatly reduced even before we have been impacted by the death of someone we love. And then when we do experience a death, we are forced to grieve alone as all our usual and expected mourning routines and rituals are denied to us.
Therefore, more than ever we need to find new ways of being emotionally present because we cannot be physically present.
Being unable to take part in a funeral with all its rites and rituals has taken away the power of ritualistic healing through this time. And even though we may withdraw into ourselves in this time of lockdown and isolation, it is even more important than ever that we push ourselves to reach out to each other.It is essential to our wellbeing to find new rituals and ways of respecting and honouring those who have died and also of giving our grief our attention. We must adapt to this new way of living and being. We have no choice.
Through this time of forced isolation, we have to accept what is out of our control. It is in this acceptance and letting go of trying to control everything, that we will find our strength. The Coronavirus cannot take away our love, our hope and self care. If we rail against the unfairness, we will block out this love, hope and self care.
We also have to find new ways of expressing our feelings of grief and of sharing our grief journey with those in our lives.
Never has social media been more needed and this will be your lifeline through lockdown.
When someone we love dies, our physical relationship with them ends, but our emotional relationships lasts as strongly until we die. And this is why our memories and sharing them with each other is such an important part of healing.
Bereavement is the ultimate experience which forces major change in our lives, so it is vital that we allow ourselves to feel the pain of our grief, to wallow in it and come through the other side. This is how we heal – by recognising and experiencing our emotional pain when it happens. The ability to experience and to share our emotions is all part of being human.
We must allow ourselves to let it be ok to survive and not to blind ourselves from finding meaningful ways to continue the bonds we have those we have lost.
Try a Zoom family and friends gathering. Make sure that the chat can be downloaded at the end. Before starting the conference, ask everyone to write down what the person who has died meant to them, their favourite memory or how they met etc. They they can read it out in the chat. The chat can then be downloaded and the memories collated.
Agree a set time with family and friends when you all light a candle at the same time next to a photograph and play a favourite song. When we light candles, we come into communion with each other spiritually and we give an energy into the spirit world of the person who has died. In her Easter speech, HM The Queen spoke of the power of light overcoming darkness. And so it is that when we gather in spiritual community and hold someone in the light, we invite a healing power. By lighting our candles we invite the power of love and grace. We invite the power of inner strength and peace. This unity means that no-one is left alone with their grief, that you can reach out to each other with your words, your videos and help comfort one another at this time.
Sign up to marcopolo.me where you can record and send your videos and it doesn’t have to be watched in real time. It feels a lot more personal and is perfect across timezones.
Her Majesty also said that self isolation presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation. So, Rather than living from the outside in, this teaches us to live from within. There is much learning to be had in meditational or prayerful silence.
We also must not forget that we need to fall into our grief, to feel the pain, let it wash over us and come through the other side. This is how we heal.
We must also be honest with ourselves – with our feelings and in the words we use when we talk to others about how we feel. When we reach out to others with honesty, we open a door to new conversations, to making it ok to put our pain into words, to listen to each other with respect and accept each others words with an open heart. Our words and feelings are our own, they don’t need to match those of anyone else. When we talk about how we feel, we aren’t having a conversation, we are making a statement. Take turns to express your feelings and thank each other for listening.
Memory is how we hold onto the things we love. Let our happy memories be our comfort in these times of need. Speak them out to each other and keep the spiritual bond shining.In the midst of brokenness and broken-heartedness, may we know the grace of love that sustains us.
When I miss those I have lost, I am always glad for the life we had together.
A recent article published in Happiful Magazine, written by Lianna Champ
More than ever we need help to grieve, to try and find an anchor in this new chaos in our lives.
In these times of lockdown it is easy to withdraw and isolate into our own private pain, but we are human and therefore have a whole host of emotions that we need to experience, that we need to feel and more importantly that we need to express. When we are happy, the first thing we want to do is to share our news with our family and friends . It should be exactly the same when we are sad. Both emotions need equal expression.
There are three key areas to focus on –
Preparation. Structure. Acceptance.
Preparation –If we haven’t yet been impacted by the death of a loved one during lockdown:
We know that Coronavirus has changed how we live, die and grieve for ever. So what lessons can we take from this to prepare ourselves to grieve in this new and unnatural of ways- in isolation and alone?
Unless our love one dies at home, we may not be able to be with them before, during or after they have died. So what can we do to prepare? If we know we can’t be there physically, we must endeavour to be there emotionally and this means that we should concentrate on the relationship whilst the person is still alive. To say everything that needs to be said and share everything that needs to be shared whilst they are still with us.
This is a time of preparation but also of doing. It is a time to finish and complete all unfinished business and it is a time for honesty.
We can’t reach out to touch, hug and soothe one another in our usual comforting, intimate and physical human way, but we can still reach out and touch each other with our words and our love. Therefore we must think carefully about what we want to say and really think about the words we use. Will they convey clearly what you want to say? We have to imagine that this conversation could be our last, therefore it really has to have an effect, not just to yourself, but to the person you are having the conversation with. Each relationship is unique therefore our conversations with one another will contain different things. We have to feel that we have really communicated our innermost feelings, given apologies and forgiveness where we think we should and to state the important and significant emotional things that we need to say . Don’t be afraid to open your heart and say ‘I love you’. If you are not used to speaking on an emotional level, please keep going– the more you say it, the easier it becomes and it will all begin to feel familiar. Take as many walks down memory lane as you can, evoking the warmth of happy times. Memory is how we hold onto the things we love.
Try not to reflect on the end that may be approaching but on a life well lived in shared love and experiences. Recall the highlights of your lives together and say what it all means to you. This will go a long way towards giving you a sense of leaving nothing unsaid between you, good and bad, and will be a giant step in leaving you emotionally complete within your relationship. Try to find some humour to bring into the conversation if you can. It is a wonderful reliever of tension. It also releases endorphins into the body, relaxing us and bringing a closeness.
Preparation – If we have already been impacted by the death of someone
It can become so hard to separate the fact of the death from the actual circumstances in which it occurred under Coronavirus lockdown. The edges become blurred and grief becomes enmeshed with the trauma of the situation. The challenge becomes two-fold – you have to cope with the distress of the death taking place alone with no loved ones present and also how the pandemic has changed our grieving process. We always want to protect the ones we love and be with them and when we can’t, we can find ourselves continually taking the blame and drowning ourselves with guilt. It is vital that we really understand the difference between guilt and regret, because guilt holds you in a place of pain.
Guilt follows a deliberate wrongdoing – an action or words that we know was not the right thing to do or say at that particular time. Regret is a wish that something could have been done or had happened in a different or better way than it had been, as with Coronavirus.
We have to allow ourselves to feel the pain of our grief and also, we must allow ourselves to let it be ok to survive and not to blind ourselves from finding meaningful ways to continue our emotional bond with our loved ones. To place our focus, not on the end but on the whole of the life shared.
We must choose love. The love that was shared in the relationship. The love that still remains, suspended but still always there.
In lockdown we don’t have the same milestones and support networks that we would have normally. Journaling is a wonderful way of identifying the areas where we are struggling and it also helps us to identify areas in the relationship thatwe really appreciate and also those areas where we wish we could have changed something – either said or not said something, or done or not done something. No-one will see your journal so you can and should be as absolutely honest as you can. Just writing down how feel can unravel so much confusion.
Go to bed each night with a plan for the following morning. Write it down. Routine in isolation can give us a focus during the long days. Having a structure means getting up at the same time, doing your usual morning routine, taking your exercise. Keep to your schedule. Factor time in each day to speak with family and friends either on the telephone or via FaceTime or Zoom. Have someone you can call when you are feeling particularly low.
Accepting that we can’t always control life or how or when we die.
Although we can’t always control how or when we die, we can control how we live. By making good and correct choices in advance, we can live in such a way that if or when our lives are impacted by a sudden and traumatic loss, we are working from a stronger position to absorb the shock and find a sense of balance. We can also learn to be more aware of what is happening around us and concentrate on the people in our lives at the time when it is most important – whilst they are still alive. We must not get stuck on the manner of how the funeral has to be during this time of Coronavirus.
I share an article published online by the BBC News yesterday regarding the difficulties faced by many families planning and attending funerals and cremations at this particularly difficult time. The article includes one families experience and current expert advice.
Coronavirus: How to grieve a loved one when you can’t say goodbye
By Lauren Turner and Alice Evans BBC News
Dealing with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult things we have to go through in life. Now, coronavirus is making it even harder for people to say goodbye.
The stark reality is that, to keep everyone safe from the virus, the very sick and dying cannot have their family around them. Funerals cannot be conducted as planned. And people cannot grieve together.
But there are still ways to celebrate and mourn those we love and bid farewell in a meaningful way.
‘The hard thing was not being together’
Nick Schindler, a paediatrician at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, knew that when his 99-year-old grandfather John Cohen went into hospital last week with a chest infection it was unlikely he would be coming back home.
“Normally one of us would go with him,” he said. “We would be there to discuss things and pass them on to the family. But we couldn’t do that so we had to do it remotely.”
He said staff at London’s Royal Free Hospital were “absolutely wonderful” but only had “limited time” to speak on the phone.
It was decided that one person could visit the hospital if they wore personal protective equipment (PPE) – including a mask – and then isolated for 14 days afterwards. Mr Schindler’s aunt, the youngest of three siblings, went.
“At that point, we knew there was going to be a funeral. And so she did that, knowing she then wouldn’t be able to attend it.”
Mr Schindler, 32, said by the time his grandfather died none of the family felt there was anything left unsaid, but “the really hard thing was not being together”.
On the day of the funeral, he was isolating at home as his two-year-old son Ben had a fever. Unable to be there in person, they live-streamed the funeral on Zoom, with a total of 12 relatives watching from three different countries.
His mother, father and sister were the only ones who attended – his sister staying two metres apart from her parents.
After the funeral, the family members had another Zoom meeting, raising a toast and sharing stories. The family invited people to sit shiva with them, in the Jewish tradition, which was also done remotely.
Mr Schindler admits “it just doesn’t seem real still”, but he takes comfort from his belief that his grandfather is now reunited with his wife, who died 10 years ago.
“He must be so happy to be spending time with her,” he says. “I don’t think any of us felt that we could regret him dying. We felt like we’d held on to him for so long.”
What does Public Health England say about funerals?
Funeral directors and faith leaders are advised to restrict the number of mourners at funerals
Only members of the household or close family members should attend
Anyone with coronavirus symptoms cannot attend
A small number of friends can go if no family or household members can attend
Mourners cannot take part in any rituals bringing them into close contact with the body
Lianna Champ, a funeral director and civil funeral celebrant with 40 years’ experience, said she found the current situation heartbreaking.
“It’s terrible seeing families sitting six feet apart, not able to reach out to each other,” she said. “And can you imagine how awful it is choosing who attends a funeral?
“Coronavirus has turned funerals into something we don’t recognise. People have rituals they expect to take place when someone dies, including being physically together.
“This trauma of coronavirus has changed how we live and die, and it has changed funerals.”
Ms Champ, who is also an author and grief specialist, said it would be kinder to have a clear government directive saying cremations or burial currently had to take place with no friends or relatives present.
“People are less aware of hygiene when they are grieving – things like touching tables and chairs, or blowing their nose. We have to be careful where the health of the bereaved, funeral staff and cemetery or crematorium staff are concerned.”
She urged people to “focus on the life that has been lived” and not “get stuck on the manner of death or the funeral”.
If you can’t attend a funeral she says people can light a candle in front of a photograph of loved ones at the same time it is taking place. “It helps to create an emotional connection. Or you could set up a memorial altar for them and offer up thoughts or prayers.
“Talking is so important as well – sharing feelings with someone. And don’t be afraid to allow silence, or tears.”
‘Loved ones know we love them’
Andy Langford, clinical director at Cruse Bereavement Care, says he would encourage mourners to stay in contact with each other by phone or online – and to support those who are grieving.
“It’s not necessarily about having the right words to say because there aren’t always the right words. But you can be there for them and say you’re thinking of them. It can feel pretty lonely right now, but if you’ve been bereaved it’s even more so.”
Sue Gill, a 26-year volunteer at Cruse, usually helps support children through grief – something she is now having to do through speaking to their parents or caregivers on the phone instead.
“I think those final moments with somebody are really, really important,” she said. “That’s when we get the chance to say our goodbyes and tell everybody we love them. And they’ve been taken away from them.
“But our loved ones know we love them. Perhaps we don’t say it enough, but that knowledge is inside everybody.”
She says memorial events can always be held in the future. “It will be a much better way of saying goodbye and having everybody come together,” she says.
“That is something to plan for as part of the grieving process, to be able to say goodbye collectively – to have a cup of tea and a bun and laugh at memories together.”
Lianna Champ, Owner Manager of Clear Cremation and Champ Funeral Services, draws on 40 years of experience in grief counselling to relay tips and advice on helping your child understand death and cope with the loss of a loved one from a recently written article published on www.netdoctor.co.uk
When someone significant in the life of a child dies, their view of the world and sense of security becomes threatened, and all that is familiar suddenly changes. It’s important to help support children through loss, by encouraging them to deal with it comfortably, confidently and in a healthy way. But how do we do this? And how do we teach them to remain true to themselves and grieve authentically, naturally and instinctively, in the way that is right for them.
The importance of honesty
Sometimes, in an attempt to protect children from the reality of death, we distort the facts of life and death to soften the truth, particularly for younger children. But by doing this, we can inadvertently create a mystery around death, which forces children to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. This only adds further confusion to their sadness. So when someone they love or someone important to them has died, it’s vital that we are honest.
We often don’t give our children enough credit for their capacity to understand, but in reality, children understand death from a young age – they see dead flies on a windowsill or little dead animals in the garden, and their heroes even die in cartoons.
As parents, it’s absolutely natural for us to want to shield them from exposure to the awful things that happen, but they do happen and are often out of our control. Life is not an endless series of happy moments; instead, it is always interspersed with traumas. When we’re happy, we show it through our laughter. When we’re sad, we show it through our tears. Both emotions need honest and equal expression. By accepting and experiencing all life events as they occur, we can live fully and meaningfully, as long as we can process the emotional events practically as they arise, deal with them, and then move on.
How to explain death to children
When a death occurs, create a safe space where you can share your feelings about it. Children learn their coping mechanisms form the adults around them. You lead – go first and be honest about how the loss has made you feel.
Use straightforward language to explain what has happened. By using simple language to explain what ‘dead’ means, we are teaching children a truth: that all life at some stage comes to an end; that people can die when they are old, or if their bodies stop working properly through illness, or if there has been an accident.
In the case of a suicide, it’s all right to admit that we don’t always know why someone has died, and we have to be honest about that too. When you have finished speaking, allow your child time to think: there is much learning to be had in silence.
To help your child understand and come to terms with the death of a loved one, try these tips:
✔️ Let your child take their time – don’t grab them in a big hug, to try to soften the blow.
✔️ Don’t just carry on speaking for the sake of it, or because you aren’t sure how to help your child.
✔️ When they start to speak, try not to interrupt.
✔️ Be accepting in your words and in your actions. There is no right or wrong way to react when we receive the news of a death. Our reactions are as unique to us as our own fingerprint.
✔️ Try not to offer an opinion, but do feedback words to show you have understood and don’t interrupt their flow.
✔️ Do not analyse what they are feeling and don’t compare how you feel. Comparisons minimise the importance of their feelings and if they don’t match yours, this can affect their self-esteem and confidence, creating imaginary failings where there are none.
It’s a fact that grief does make us feel different. Just as they would try on a new pair of trainers to see how they fit, children need to give their feelings verbal expression, in order to connect fully with what is going on inside them. Speaking their words out loud can help unravel emotional confusion and can help make sense of what is going on in their heads. Verbalising emotional pain is a powerful release and does not require any comment from others, apart from acknowledgement and acceptance.
All children, no matter what age, must be able to talk and share unconditionally. When we speak about how we are feeling, we aren’t having a conversation, we are making a statement.We can teach our children that it’s OK to cry when we are sad and that it is OK to be scared.
We can teach our children that it’s OK to cry when we are sad; to share our tears together; that it is OK to be scared. Allowing children to express their own reactions without comparisons will give them emotional confidence and will create well-balanced adults.
Where possible, continue to do things and activities, as this can help keep some structure and familiarity of routine.
Younger children and grief
The reactions of young children can be unpredictable and challenging behaviour can result. Young children do not have the vocabulary of adults, and cannot access the same stress outlets, which can create an inner explosion of emotion.
• Be honest in your language
Grief can manifest physically in both children and adults. Children may become clingy, wet the bed or want to sleep with the lights on. They may be terrified of falling asleep following a death, frightened that they or those they love won’t wake up, because they may have been told that the person who has died has ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘fallen asleep’. This is why it’s so important to be completely honest in your language – no euphemisms.
• Give love and reassurance
All these physical changes are quite natural, as they try to find an anchor in the new chaos of their lives. This is their way of trying to process what has happened and they need time to balance. Give lots of love and reassurance. Explain in simple words that what they are experiencing is OK. Above all, do not draw attention to their reactions or make them feel that there is something wrong with them.
• Answer questions honestly
Be ready to answer their questions at all times. Young children have short attention spans and may ask the same questions over and over again. Always be patient with them and answer with honesty. It’s normal for children to feel anger, fear and confusion, because they don’t understand or can’t accept that they can’t see the person who has died any more. They need to know that whatever words they use will be acceptable.
• Create a scrapbook
Sometimes, young children don’t understand that death is permanent, so creating a scrapbook gives the opportunity to say, ‘We can’t see them because she/he has died, but we can look at their photographs and see them in this way.’ Children can process information far more practically than adults if they are given the truth.
• Don’t distract them with treats
When they have an emotional meltdown, don’t try to stop their tears. Just be there with your love and offer hugs if they want one. Don’t try to distract them from their sadness by offering them sweets or chocolate in an attempt to make them feel better. This can send mixed messages, suggesting that feeling sad is wrong and should be stopped, rather than accepting and working through the emotion. Offering sweets or chocolate can inadvertently drive them to soothe themselves with food or some other substance, which can manifest in later years as comfort eating.
Teenagers and grief
Teenagers will be dealing with hormones and greater academic demands. They are in a place where need conflicts with independence. Teens can often feel misunderstood – desperately wanting to be seen as grown-up, yet still needing the security of curling up in their parent’s lap.
They may withdraw, struggling to manage the overwhelming and confusing feelings of sadness and grief following the death. Anger triggered by fear and sadness can result, changing their behaviour. This can have a knock-on effect at school, which can then create further pressures.
• Maintain a consistent routine
To help support them, try to keep routines the same, where possible. Creating support with the other adults in the teen’s life can also help to provide a cushion.
• Keep a look-out for signs of stress
It’s natural for children at any age to feel frightened following a death. They may withdraw
and attempt to carry on as normal, not sure of how they should react. Always watch for any signs of stress. Try not to tell them how they should be feeling and don’t force them to talk. They will do so when they are ready. Explain there is no set path of emotional expression following loss. Take the lead and share your feelings openly and with honesty – this will show them it’s OK to recognise when we feel sad, confused and out of sorts.
• Be ready to offer extra support
Teens will often talk to their friends about how they are feeling. Extra awareness and support is necessary if you can see they have withdrawn from their friends and usual activities. If they are able to talk about how they feel, then together you can explore their reactions. Negative and harmful behaviour needs to be explained and understood.
• Help them make informed choices
Telling a teenager not to do something can make them do it more. Gently exploring their behaviour gives them the opportunity to make an informed choice, without the feeling of being judged. Allow them to express their feelings in their own words. Teenagers are still learning and trying to find their feet when in the company of adults. As an adult, sharing your tears, fears and words can set a positive example, but don’t walk on eggshells – if something is unacceptable, you must explain why.
• Encourage them to write a journal
Writing their feelings down can be cathartic if they’re struggling to talk. A sealed letter containing photos or personal mementos placed in the coffin can be a very positive action. Also, writing a journal is a great way of continuing the emotional relationship we still have with someone who has died.
Children are involved in all the other rituals we have in life – christenings, birthdays and anniversaries. So there is no purpose served in shielding them from a funeral, and we should not be afraid to involve children. We must also remember that funerals today are not the grim and sombre occasions of the past; in fact, they are very much a life story celebration of remembrance.
The opportunity to be involved in the farewell process can be an important learning and healing experience. Experiencing loss events together brings us closer to the people in our lives and is part of the cycle of life. Involving them in the funeral arrangements can help prepare children and teenagers for the funeral itself and wishes can be expressed. Creating new rituals together can also bring a positive energy.
Talk them through the process of the day, so it isn’t completely alien, or even take them to the venue before the day of the funeral.
Let them know that being a part of the ceremony may be, for them, an opportunity to show how much they loved the person who has died.
Perhaps they may want to choose a poem to be read, select a song, light a candle, pick photographs or draw a picture to place in the casket.
Inclusion and interaction helps bring down barriers as the attention shifts from ‘I am’ to ‘I will’, and this opens the door to new conversations.
Your child may or may not want to see the person who has died. Some may need the visual reality, seeing with their own eyes that being dead is not the same as being asleep.
The importance of expressing emotion
When children ask questions, answer with honesty. When they cry, ask them what the matter is. Children cry for a reason. Let them know you are there for them. Give them your full attention. Just listen to their words and be ready with that hug if they want one. All emotion needs expression. Only then can we teach children to understand and value their feelings.
Similarly, if you feel like crying, let them see your tears. Show them it’s OK to cry when we feel sad. Don’t try to change how they feel. Encourage them to talk through their tears – the emotion is contained in the words and the words help to unravel the confusion.
Children should be encouraged to live in the present moment and say what they feel without fear of repercussion.
Children should be encouraged to live in the present moment – to be able to say what they feel when they feel it, without fear of repercussion, cleansing their emotions as they move on. This will also teach them to respect the opinions and feelings of others.
They need to know it’s OK to talk about their loss or the person who has died, even if it does make them sad. Children also need to know they can rely on the adults around them to make them feel secure when they have been affected by a loss. A little encouragement and a lot of listening go a long way.
Remembering a loved one
Memory is how we hold on to the things we love. Choosing photographs together to make a scrapbook can evoke lovely conversations and memories to share.
Choose a beautiful memory box or a lovely glass jar for cherished items. Have a memory hour, where you all think of your favourite memories of the person who has died, write them down and put them in the memory box. On the sad days of remembrance, read them together and enjoy the warmth of memory. Grief is not permanent, it ebbs and flows. This is normal.
Moving forwards from grief
If you teach your children to communicate their feelings with those they love in safety, it can give them the confidence they need to get out there, get on with life and truly live. Their lives can then be navigated so much more easily, without wasting energy on trying to be or feel differently, in order to fit in. Teach them to delight in their uniqueness.
With no inner conflict, we can actually experience life as it happens in the present moment. There should be no framework, no rule book. It is whatever we are experiencing. Children are like sponges – they will absorb all that you put near them. So let them absorb the things that will serve them well.
Our Managing Director Lianna Champ has 40 years’ experience in bereavement and grief recovery, counselling and supporting families. She is a regular contributor to magazines, newspapers and the radio. Her latest article here covers grief over the loss of a mother and is a very heartfelt piece based on her own experience. Below was published in People’s Choice, which is an online services company that works with workplaces to maximise productivity and wellbeing amongst their employees.
Everybody reacts differently when their mother dies. My mother and I were close and when I lost her, I thought that I would never feel ‘normal’ again. I sometimes couldn’t breathe and was often sick. I couldn’t sleep and had to force myself to eat. Yet somehow through all that, I accepted that this is how it was and I just let it happen. Some days were infinitely harder than others, but as long as I kept coming up for air, and facing that I was meeting my worst fear – losing someone I loved so deeply – somehow I knew that eventually I would be okay.
I felt so conspicuous in my grief – as if there were a big invisible finger pointing down at the top of my head. I felt disconnected from those around me who quite simply didn’t know what to say or what to do. I realised that I looked different: my loss had changed me and I would have to re-learn myself.
For many people, losing a mum is like losing two people – a mum and a best friend.
It’s important to remember that children learn their coping mechanisms from the adults around them. They may not always understand what you are saying but they watch what you do. Let your children know that you are still there for them even though you may feel like folding. You are still a parent and have that responsibility.
It is vital that we are emotionally honest in all our life events. If your mother’s death is expected, don’t be afraid to include children in the lead up to this event. Use this time to offer them a valuable opportunity to express their love, to say things to their grandmother that are important to them and to share everything that needs to be shared. Experiencing our grief together brings us closer and is all part of the cycle of life. Let the words and the tears flow.
You are teaching your children a very important emotional tool – how to grieve. Create a safe space so they can talk about how they are feeling. You go first and if you cry, talk through your tears. Explain that what you are feeling may be different to how they feel. Each loss experience is as unique to us as our own fingerprint. Try not to offer an opinion on your child’s words, be open and accepting in your body language. Feedback words to show you understand, but don’t interrupt their flow. Don’t try and analyse what they are feeling and don’t compare how you are feeling. Comparisons minimise the importance of their expressions and can affect their self-esteem and confidence and create imaginary failings where there are none.
On Mother’s Day, you will inevitably be thinking of your mother. It’s okay to tell your child that you miss her. Explain that on this special day, you want to share a hug and your tears, to share how losing your mother has made you feel and to openly express your memories.
Somewhere along the line we have surrendered the right to allow ourselves to grieve. We try to hide our tears and swallow the lump in our throats. When we are happy, we feel like sharing our news with everyone. Sadness must be shared too. Both emotions need equal expression. Show your child you are not afraid to be vulnerable in your grief – this is where healing begins.
Memory is how we hold on to the things we love. On Mother’s Day, why not share a special activity with your child? If they don’t want to join in, don’t force it but tell them what you are doing and why. Choose photographs together to make a scrap book or draw pictures. This can evoke lovely conversations and memories. Choose a beautiful memory box for cherished items. Have a memory hour where you think of and share your favourite memories of mum. Our memories are the fruits on the tree of grief.
Thank you to Lianna Champ for this article, previously featured in Families Magazine.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in bereavement and grief recovery. Her book How to Grieve Like a Champ is available from Amazon (£9.99).
The Parental Choice team are experts in helping working families find childcare and providing advice and strategies to help them deal with the challenges of their care responsibilities.
Funerals are sometimes viewed as a rather morbid topic of conversation. On top of this, if you’re grieving, sorting out the practicalities that surround death can sometimes feel overwhelming.
But funerals don’t have to be a taboo topic. In fact, the more we talk openly about the end of life, the easier it often becomes to handle. Knowing what happens before, during and after a funeral can also makes it a far less scary process.
In fact, it’s harder not to talk about it, because it leaves so many unanswered questions and decisions to be made at one of the most emotionally challenging times in our life. Planning in advance opens up new ways of creating something really special, without the element of grief, and can often include lots of laughter – as well as removing doubt about whether you’re doing the right thing when the time comes.
Myth: there are definite stages to grief
There aren’t. Each grief experience is as unique to you as your own fingerprint. Elisabeth Khuber-Ross identified five stages of grief following the diagnosis of a terminal illness, and these stages have incorrectly been transferred to stages of grief following a death. However, there are no stages to grief. Grief is incredibly personal; whatever you feel when you experience a loss is your own unique experience. When we try to fit ourselves into a framework, we go into conflict with our natural instincts.
Myth: you have to have a funeral
There are no legal requirements that stipulate you have to hold a funeral. You can actually do it yourself, though most people prefer the help and guidance of a professional funeral director, and you can be involved as much or as little as you like. Also, anyone can lead the service and it doesn’t have to take place in a church or crematorium. The ceremony can take place anywhere before the burial or cremation, as long as you have permission to take the coffin to the venue. You can even have the cremation or burial first, and then hold the ceremony straight afterwards or at a later date.
Myth: you have to be embalmed
In the UK, there is no legal requirement for embalming, unless the body is being sent abroad and a certificate of embalming is required. Depending on certain factors, you can view a body that hasn’t been embalmed.
Myth: funerals are grimly sad occasions
While once upon a time this was true, we now live in a society where funerals are becoming increasingly personal, and the hobbies and character of the person who has died are reflected throughout the funeral proceedings. For example, a coffin of a chocolate lover can be painted like the wrapper of a Kit-Kat, with ‘Death By Chocolate’ written along the side. This personalisation helps us to focus not on what we have lost, but what we have had.
Myth: funeral directors are miserable people
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Being a funeral director is first and foremost a people person’s job and a deeply rewarding one, too, filled with opportunities to make a significant difference in our communities and the lives of people who’ve lost a loved one.
If we’re miserable, we’d make everyone else miserable, too. We shine a light where we can. Being surrounded with loss in so many different circumstances means funeral directors really value and appreciate each day, and are always quick to see the positive in any situation.
Myth: your local funeral home is privately owned
Many independent-looking funeral directors are not independent. Most people prefer to use a local funeral home, expecting it to be a family owned and run business. However, many are actually owned by large corporations or private groups.
They take the business over, keep everything looking the same and hang their holding company plaque behind the front door of the premises, so you never see it when the door is open during office hours. Always ask who owns the business. An honourable funeral director will always tell you the truth.
Myth: you have to use a local funeral home
You don’t. If you prefer the funeral home in the next town, then by all means instruct them instead. There have been so many changes within the funeral profession over the past 10 years, that the days of using a funeral home simply because your parents and grandparents went there are over. It’s all about knowing what you want and asking before you commit.
Myth: the funeral profession is regulated
You’ve all heard the phrase, ‘There are two certainties in life – death and taxes’. First, let’s look at tax. It is stringently regulated and you’ll find regulated tax specialists everywhere, who’ll tell you how to pay it, avoid it and some, even, how to evade it. Now, let’s look at death: the funeral industry in the UK is worth £2 billion a year, and yet it’s completely unregulated. That means anyone can open a funeral service, which is why the industry gets such a bad reputation.
Purchasing a funeral isn’t like a new TV or a new car – if you shop around, you can get the same product for a lower price.
Bad publicity generated from bad practice has really tarnished our wonderful profession. Attention has been directed purely to price. The public don’t seem to realise that purchasing a funeral isn’t like purchasing a new TV or a new car – if you shop around, you can get exactly the same product for a lower price.
You may think the burial or cremation is like for like, and it is. It’s what happens in between that can make a huge difference. A visit to three different funeral homes will create a surprisingly contrasting experience. Make sure you know who you’re dealing with and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’ll know if something doesn’t feel right.
Myth: funeral directors will rip you off
If I had a pound for every time someone told me that, I’d be lying on a beach in Barbados. While this may be true of some funeral directors, if you go into a funeral home with the intention of finding an affordable and inspiring option for your loved one’s funeral, most funeral directors will be more than happy to accommodate you. Reputable funeral homes all offer low-cost options and you should see evidence of continuing professional development, re-investment in their premises and a commitment to fair practice.
Myth: coffins are re-used following cremation
In the UK, the body is not removed from the coffin during cremation. The body, together with clothing, necessary packing and any other items (combustible friendly) are cremated with the coffin, which is why all coffins that are to be used for cremation must be combustible and do not emit smoke, give off toxic gas, or leave any retardant smears or drips after final combustion.
The Code of Cremation Practice forbids the opening of the coffin once it has arrived at the crematorium, and rules stipulate it must be cremated within 72 hours of the funeral service. The laws are different in America, where casket-style coffins are generally rented for the funeral service and the body is removed from it prior to cremation.
Myth: cremations are communal
Many people believe that coffins are cremated together. This is not so. The structure of the cremator only allows one coffin at a time and has a
Myth: you don’t get your own ashes back
You do. Each set of ashes has to be collected after each cremation and placed into its own container. This is then labelled and registered, or the next cremation cannot take place, due to the structure and computerisation of the equipment. Most crematoria welcome no-holds-barred visits to their sites, to dispel myths such as these. You may even see a local crematorium tour advertised in your area.
Myth: you don’t need to make a will
Actually, you do. It’s always best to do this through a professional solicitor, as the will must be complied with for it to be legally valid. Compliance is not always included on a homemade or template will – even though the template may be compliant, your content may not be and can invalidate it. For further information, please speak with your preferred solicitor.
There are four main benefits of making a will:
In these day of blended families, it can stop family disputes.
It makes the administration of the estate easier after death.
It guarantees your wishes are upheld.
Many people assume their whole estate will automatically pass to their spouse, but if there is no will, it’s only the first £250,000. You may not be cash rich, but if you own property, it’s surprising how it all adds up.
Myth: you have to have a coffin
You don’t. In fact, the options are endless: traditional wood, willow, bamboo, cardboard, a shroud – you can even make or decorate the coffin yourself. Some people want an elaborate coffin – like wearing your best outfit for a special occasion. Other people see the coffin as a simple container for the body. We’ve worked with families who have made and decorated the coffin themselves, or decorated a plain coffin during the ceremony, as a way for people to participate.
Myth: you have to use a funeral director
You don’t. There’s no legal obligation to use a funeral director. You can take charge of some – or all – of the funeral arrangements yourself. However, the vast majority of people don’t want to do it all themselves, and this is where your funeral director is perfectly placed to help.
Knowing that you have the right to do it all yourself should give you high expectations of the person you are paying to do it on your behalf. Don’t be afraid to be involved as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. You’re only going to do this once, so make sure it’s right for you.
Myth: it takes two years to recover from a death
There are many factors that determine how well we go on to live again following our loss: the quality of the relationship we had with the person who has died; who we are as a person; and where we are in our lives.
If we were emotionally complete with the person who has died, we will naturally feel great sadness and despair when we realise we can’t see, talk to or touch them anymore, but won’t be weighed down with guilt and regret. I know people who are still living with their pain 20 years later, as if the loss happened yesterday. We need to learn to grieve at the time of our losses.
Tell the people in your life what they mean to you, regularly, so that if they are taken from you, you will know they went with your love.
It takes courage to embrace all of life’s experiences and to process our emotional responses – good, bad, happy or sad – as they arise. Life is not a series of happy moments, and is always interspersed with traumas and losses. By accepting and allowing ourselves to experience all life events as they occur, we can live fully and meaningfully. That means being honest with your feelings in all your relationships.
Tell the people in your life what they mean to you, regularly, so that if they are taken from you, you will know they went with your love. There’s no timeline for grief, but honesty with yourself and others is the best thing.
Clear Cremation grief expert Lianna Champ regularly appears on the radio and publishes articles in the mainstream press and magazines. Here she shares a recently published article in the Readers Digest which outlines 17 of the most common signs that you haven’t fully processed your grief for a loved one.
What causes delayed grief?
Grief doesn’t just affect us emotionally, it affects us physically, mentally and spiritually too. Delayed grief is how we describe grief that isn’t recognised at the time of a loss and which can then be triggered at any time, manifesting itself and taking its toll in many ways.
Loss accumulates when it has not been properly grieved, and this happens when we continually ignore or avoid our pain and pretend we are OK.
Sometimes we may feel that holding on to our grief will be a way to show the world the depth of our love for the person who has died and we continue to hold ourselves in a place of pain.
When we’re happy, we want to share our feelings. It’s the same when we are sad—both emotions need equal expression. But for whatever reason, when someone significant in our life dies, we often don’t want to burden others with those feelings of sadness. We may be afraid of being overwhelmed and appearing out of control so we bury the pain and try to carry on as normal. But if we don’t allow some release and we don’t grieve properly, we can only absorb so much before the grief begins to colour everything we do.
When we suffer a significant loss, automatic coping mechanisms kick in which enable us to function in the early days. We don’t always question these coping mechanisms and may think what we are doing is the right thing for us and so continue to use them. It might be that we think it is the correct thing to try to think ourselves over our loss and carry on as normal—especially if we have children or others in our life who rely on us.
Why is it damaging to delay grief?
We may feel that we should be the one who doesn’t fall apart or let our tears show in an attempt to make those around us feel better, to show them that we are coping and strong, all the while burying our own feelings and ignoring our own emotional pain.
If we don’t deal with our grief at the time we experience our losses, we can experience a whole host of emotional and physical symptoms and can struggle to be in the mainstream of living because we are using all our energy just trying to function-day to-day.
Physical and emotional signs that you haven’t grieved properly include:
Spending a lot more time working or exercising—keeping busy to distract you from your grief
Lack of energy
Withdrawing from family and friends
Avoiding places that you visited together, in an attempt to avoid bringing up painful memories
Keeping everything exactly the same in case it means you might forget them—creating a shrine to someone who has died can become an anchor in your grief that can keep you in a place of pain
Being afraid to form new relationships for fear of being hurt
Being disconnected from what is happening around you
Inability to function in everyday activities—work, socialising or hobbies
Loss of confidence—you may feel incomplete, especially if the person made you feel special and loved. Growth in self-confidence comes from thinking, deciding and acting, no matter what we are feeling. Even when we don’t feel good about ourselves, we can decide to act in ways that are good for us—making ourselves exercise because we know it’s good for us, eating well because we deserve to be healthy.
Depression—physical symptoms of grief can feel like depression so it is important that we can identify the difference. Grievers have a reduced sense of concentration and often have trouble focusing. It plays havoc with their sleeping and eating patterns and simple tasks become difficult. Grievers can also self-identify as being depressed. Medicating grief does nothing to resolve the pain, it just masks it. Grief is not a medical condition. It cannot be cured with medication. It can, however, be something through which we pass if we are willing to realise that it is directly related to our unfinished emotional communications with the person or relationship we have lost.
What should I do now?
If you think you are experiencing unresolved grief and are looking for a way to recover, a good place to start is to imagine if you could have just one last conversation with the person who has died, what would you say to them?
Think about the things you admired about them, what you miss most, things you need to apologise for, things you need to forgive and what you loved about them. Have your pen and paper ready and a box of tissues.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ