Death is the only certainty in life, yet it’s a subject we tend to brush under the carpet. This article helps you learn how to cope with death, which is something we all have to do, at some point. We look at stages of grief and helping children cope with death. It’s so much better to speak openly about this subject and to examine our feelings and beliefs.
STAGES OF GRIEF AT THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE
When a loved one dies there are certain recognised stages of grief we go through. Overcoming these has also been called ‘grief tasks’. This is because we need to resolve these feelings before we can move on. However, although the stages eventually complete themselves in a similar order, you will flip back and forth from one to another in the course of a week, day or even minutes. The stages are:
After the death of a loved one the first reaction may be to deny what’s happened. This can mean simply going numb, insisting it’s all been a mistake, expecting them to walk through the door any minute or simply believing you can go on as if nothing’s happened. This is part of coping with death – it’s the way the mind shields you from the loss of a loved one. Only when it persists is it a real problem.
Anger is an emotion that lots of us are very uncomfortable about. But following the loss of a loved one, anger is natural. It forms a bridge between denial and grief – often after an angry outburst, tears may flow naturally. You may be angry at medical staff, God, yourself or – if the death was an accident – with anyone remotely involved.
The death of a loved one is hugely traumatic, and it’s okay to be angry. You may even possibly have something to be angry about, but that’s not really the point. Recognising your anger, expressing it and moving through it are what matter.
When coping with death few of us are totally realistic. This is because death brings us face to face with those ultimate questions about life, the Universe and the meaning of it all. So your mind may play with bargaining – ‘If I behave really well this pain will go away/I’ll wake up and find it was only a dream’ and so forth. You may become lost in a labyrinth of ‘What ifs’ and ‘If onlys’. Often the bargaining stage of bereavement involves feelings of guilt, and attempts to negotiate your way out of the hurt.
Bargaining often takes place before the death of a loved one. You may say ‘If my dear one will only recover I’ll never be in a bad mood with them again.’ Remember, the stages don’t necessarily happen one after the other. You can flip from one to the other in moments.
These days we tend to think of depression as an illness. Medication is often prescribed and relied on, to combat this. However, ‘depression’ is a natural response to the loss of a loved one. Experiencing the sorrow of bereavement, coping with death and all its implications – this is heavy stuff. The situation you’re in is very sad and may feel hopeless.
The stage of depression, in contrast with bargaining, brings you into the present, into reality, and this may be very bleak. The death of a loved one is possibly the worst sorrow there is. It doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill. Sometimes people hang on to the pain as their last connection with the one who has died, but only if you get ‘stuck’ in this phase do you need extra attention. And although you have never felt so alone, it is a stage that brings you eventually to acceptance.
Acceptance of loss of a loved one
Some people confuse acceptance with ‘getting over it’. But the death of a loved one isn’t something you can ever get over. Instead things settle. You start to realise that you’re having more good days than bad, that you’re actually enjoying life and there are things to live for. You still miss your dear one, but the stages of grief are mostly completed. You make new connections, new relationships, roles shift, healing takes place. Life goes on.
HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH DEATH
When you are coping with bereavement, seeing your child trying to adjust to the loss of a loved one can be unbearable. Your own ‘Inner Child’ enters the picture, highlighting your vulnerability. It’s vital to remember that children often have their own ways of coping. They may be closer to the spirit world, especially if they are very young.
Each child is an individual and each family is different, but the following points are worth noting:
- Don’t lie to your child – give them the truth in a way they can make sense of
- Don’t force them to face up to things for which they do not seem ready
- Encourage them to be a part of events for which they are ready. For instance, do they want to come to the funeral, and is this a good idea? Older children may want to see the body
- Talk through the implications of any decision
- Try not to let your own wishes and reactions get in the way. You may want to shield them as a way of shielding yourself – is this a good thing?
- Accept their view of the situation. If they insist they can still ‘see Granny’ this shouldn’t be treated as a sign there’s something wrong
- Often it helps to get a sympathetic outsider to talk to your child – this prevents your own feelings getting in the way
- Broadly speaking, children go through the same stages of grief as adults, so accept this
- Children are naturally spiritual creatures. You may not agree, but who is to say they are wrong? Maybe the reaction of your child can help you find, or regain a spiritual perspective.
HOW TO COPE WITH DEATH AND MOVE ON FROM BEREAVEMENT
The loss of a loved one is a hard matter, but recognising the stages of grief can be constructive. Helping children cope with death is also important. This article has looked at the emotional components of bereavement, but often the death of a loved one can awaken you to your own spirituality, and that we all go on after physical death. Don’t be afraid to consider wider perspectives, for blessing is out there, if you are open to receiving it. Contact one of the Readers at thecircle
PUBLISHED: 14 DECEMBER 2015