Dealing with Bereavement

Bereavement is a very distressing but common experience. Sooner or later most of us will suffer the death of someone we love, yet in our everyday life we think and talk about death rarely. When we have to face someone’s death (especially for the first time), we can feel inexperienced in coping with this traumatic event and its aftermath. If you have recently lost a loved one or a close friend, then you will know what it feels like to suffer a bereavement.

It is common in our grief to feel our experience is unlike anyone else’s – to feel abnormal, silly, overemotional or as though we are losing our grip on life. When we lose someone we dearly love, our minds can react and respond in so many unexpected and disturbing ways.  You need to know that these responses/reactions are temporary and they will pass in time.  You may experience:-

  • Disbelief
  • Pre-occupation
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Sensing the presence of the deceased

These reactions are quite natural and you need not worry about having them, no matter how disturbing the may make you feel.  They are all part of the grieving process and recognizing them for what they are can help you gradually come to terms with your loss. There are stages that you must go through when you are grieving a loss what is important to understand is that this is you need to do allow yourself to go though this process to reconcile yourself to the loss. There is no set time that you will experience all or any one of theses stages it can happen quickly or it can take months or in some cases years to move through these stages.


The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain. This can also manifest it self in keeping yourself busy organizing things and helping everyone else around you so that you don’t have to face the reality of your loss.


As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us.


The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–

  • If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
  • If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
  • If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
  • Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone or change what has happened what


Two main types of depression are associated with mourning.

  • The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.
  • The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.


The experience of “depression” is what leads to “acceptance”. Many people mistakenly believe that “acceptance” means we are “cured” or “all right” with the loss. But this isn’t the case at all. The loss will forever be a part of us, though we will feel it more sometimes than others. Acceptance simply means we are ready to try and move on—to accommodate ourselves to this world without our loved one. This process can actually bring us closer to the one we loved as we make sense of how life was and process how we want life now to be.

How do you cope?

Taking one day at a time 

Focusing on one day at a time can help you cope with your feelings and get through the simple everyday tasks that you need to do.

 Keeping busy or taking time out

You may find that keeping busy and throwing yourself into different activities helps.  If this works for you, try to do things even if you don’t feel up to it.  Alternatively, you may find you need to take things more slowly and take time out of your day-to-day life and activities.  You need to do whichever works best for you.

 Recognising your emotions 

Lots of the emotions you might feel when you are grieving have physical symptoms.  If you are feeling stressed, your heart beat may be faster.  If you are angry, you might clench your jaw.  Sometimes those physical symptoms might be a way of helping you to recognise your own emotions.  When you notice them, you just need to make space at that time to feel those emotions, which can help you to cope with them.

 Getting out of the house 

Not only does getting out of the house give you some physical exercise, but it can help you to think differently.  Sometimes, particularly if you are feeling lonely, it can be good to see other people out and about, even if you’re not ready to engage with them.

 Looking after your physical health 

Getting enough sleep and eating properly can help you deal with the different emotions you are feeling.

 Get support from family and friends

It helps if you’ve got support within your own family and friends, as well as from others such as a support group.  This is because friends and family are the people who will be there for you in the long term.

 Talking through your feelings 

It may be enough to talk with family or close friends. Or you may find it helpful to get dedicated bereavement support, either one-to-one or in a group.

Letting others grieve in their own way 

Sometimes different family members may have different ways of grieving.  Perhaps one person wants to talk about and share their feelings, but another person prefers to busy themselves with activities.

You may find that people’s different ways of coping can create tensions and strains within the family.  You need to try to find a way to be sensitive to each other’s needs, while coping with your feelings in your own way.

 Coping with your home

Living in a home you shared together can be particularly hard.  All around you are likely to be reminders of the person, which may trigger your feelings of grief. The home you shared together may feel like a sanctuary.  Or you may find you prefer to spend as little time as possible at home, because that it feels empty.  You may like to keep your home exactly the same, or you may prefer to rearrange it.

It is quite common that when a parent dies grown-up children no longer want to visit. The house often brings back so many memories and feelings of grief for them.  These are all normal feelings, and you need to do what works best for you.

Getting support

Getting help when you need it is sensible, not a sign you have failed.  You may feel that you can’t cope, but you may surprise yourself with what you can actually handle.  However, if you feel you are not coping, or you know that the way you are coping is not good for you – for example if you are drinking alcohol heavily – you should try to think about what help you might need.

Working with an effective counselling professional one-on-one can often be helpful


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Depression Cycle


Throughout my life I have had many ups and downs as most of us have.  When it comes to the downs we can often feel low and sometimes depressed. In the case of bereavement depression is one of the stages we have to go through to come to terms with our loss. The problem comes when we become stuck or unable to come through the other side of the feelings and thinking we inevitably have when in a depressed state.

If we become stuck in this state then we get into a ‘cycle of depression’ that can be difficult to break free of.  The latest studies have shown that depression is not a disease. The physical symptoms are just that, symptoms, and not causes. Being depressed can feel like a physical disorder because you often feel exhausted, experience pain or have changes in appetite. To understand depression we need look at how the exhaustion and the physical effects of depression are caused by the link between emotionally arousing thoughts, dreaming and exhaustion.

If you are, or have been depressed, you may have noticed that your mind gets fixed on negative issues, or worry during those periods. Typically, these thoughts are emotionally-arousing as they are carried out using ‘All or Nothing thinking’ and a negative bias. That is, you have a thought and you feel unpleasant after it – anxious, angry or helpless. The thought creates the emotional reaction (usually anxiety or anger) and that’s it.  What this does is leave an uncompleted ‘loop’ in the brain. Normally, the emotion would be ‘played through’ by action being taken. For example: You think you are threatened you feel anxious, then run away. The cycle has been completed.

When these emotionally arousing thoughts remain incomplete at the onset of sleep then the brain needs to ‘do something’ with the emotional ‘loops’ that have been started.  The brain create scenarios that allow those loops to complete, dreams, dream acts out a situation that will allow the emotional loop to be completed and therefore ‘flushed’ from the brain. In other words, an imaginary experience whose pattern resembles the ‘real life’ one enough to create the same emotional reaction. Normally, this does its job, and everything stays in balance. However, because you do so much more worrying or stress full thinking, when depressed, the brain has to increase the amount of dreaming you do. And before long you are:

  • Spending too much time in dream sleep and missing out on physically-rejuvenating Slow Wave Sleep.
  • Depleting your hormonal system with extended night-time emotional arousal.
  • Exhausting your ‘orientation response’ – a crucial brain activity that allows you to change your focus of attention and so motivate yourself. It is also a key part of concentration.

As far as much of your brain is concerned, your dream is real. So adrenaline and other stress hormones in your system will be active in the body.  This is a double edged sword, because over-dreaming, as well as using up these hormones and energy, is actually making it harder for the body to make more. As you try to flush out the incomplete emotions, you spend more time in REM sleep, and therefore less time in deep sleep, when your body should be recuperating in preparation for producing these hormones for the next day.

Because of the increased tiredness then you increase your all or nothing thinking or depressive thinking style which will tend to cause more negative emotional arousal, and therefore more dreaming. most events are not ‘completely disastrous’ or ‘absolutely wonderful’ but somewhere in between, depression makes people think in absolutes this thought pattern that allows us to generate a “flight or fight” response to danger because all or nothing thinking is emotionally arousing, it causes over-dreaming and maintains depression.  This extra dreaming is to try to ‘clear the brain’ for the next day, but because our negative arousals are excessive when depressed, our natural rhythms find it hard to cope with this “over-dreaming” and then we are in the cycle of depression.

depression cycle

Getting Help with Depression

Antidepressants are shown to be effective in controlling depression in around one third of cases with partial success in another third, but are ineffective in the remaining third.

But where drugs as a treatment for depression really fall down is on the prevention of relapse.  Other, alternative treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy, have been shown to have 70% better success rate at beating depression for good. In other words, they have been shown to prevent relapse in 70% more cases than drugs. But this is obvious! Unless, of course, you consider the cause of depression to be a chemical imbalance. Which is widely accepted is not in the majority of cases

Help for depression varies wildly in terms of what it considers depression to be, how it treats it and therefore ultimately how effective it is.  The idea that depression can simply be treated as a chemical imbalance is rapidly losing ground. Therefore, the first incredibly important stage of getting help for depression is to understand what depression is.   Effective therapy needs to incorporate everything that works in lifting depression. You may be able to help yourself effectively, although often it is useful to get the help of a professional.



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