Bereavement is, in General, a Difficult Subject to Write About in a Few Lines and Not Sound Like I’m Making It Simpler than We All Know It Is.
But Here Goes, Anyway!
Few of my clients actually knew that we experience bereavement thoughout our life cycles. The causes are quite commonplace: loss of a thing cherished, loss of a pet, loss of one’s job, loss of a friendship, loss of a loved one, and the list can go on. Bereavment is simply the loss of anything we value.
After bereavement, we grieve. Grief is not a single emotion but a whole complex of emotions that can include anger, confusion, depression, rage, numbness, withdrawal, and a number of other very painful but very normal emotions that follow the bereavement, the loss experience. We must grieve and we must give ourselves permission to grieve. Grieving is part of the healing and transformation process through which we all must go after experiencing a loss.
And then there is mourning. We think of mourning as the process of moving through the grieving process into reintegration into a new normal. Grieving is complex and so is mourning but we can generally say that mourning involves several distinct phases, including: acknowledging the reality of the loss; expressing the emotions of grief; commemorating the loss in ritual; acknowledging the ambivalence that accompanies loss; resolution of the ambivalence; letting go of the lost one but making a place for him or her in one’s life; moving on, transformed and healed, into the new normal.
Rather than try to explain each of these phases–a really difficult task because each client experiences them differently depending on age, culture and ethnicity, family system, nature of the relationship that is broken–my first advice is to become aware of the resources available to you and the, time permitting, to explore them before you find yourself in a grief situation.
I say that for a very practical reason. We in the field of pastoral care to the sick, the dying, and the bereaved have spent years studying and countless hours in clinical and real-life situations simply to get a handle on our own reactions and then to attempt to support our clients. It’s almost impossible to give tried and true advice that would apply to each individual situation because life and death does not come with a user’s manual. We pastoral care providers accompany the client individually on his or her or their journey through bereavement, into and out of grief, and through mourning to healing and transformation. Every single patient, client, family, individual is just that–individual.
The soundest advise anyone can give would sound like this: You’ll have many “Why?” questions and almost every one of them is unanswerable; the question we need to ask is “How?” How do I go on from here, now? How do I feel about what I’m feeling? How do I find the Ultimate Power in all of this? How do I concentrate on this moment without being distracted by the past or the future?
It’s also very important to talk about your loss. The more you talk about it the more real it becomes, the sooner you will deal with it as real, the sooner you will be able to re-integrate it into reality. Bereavement is a wound and the wound needs treatment, gentle treatment. It needs to be cleaned, protected, and allowed to take its time healing. In bereavement support we don’t try to speed up healing, only facilitate it. Healing takes time but we can minimize the scarring.
Most people seem to think that grieving and emotions are inappropriate, that one has to put on a good front, stiff upper lip, be strong. Horse apples! You need to give yourself permission to grieve, you need to be able to grieve without guilt or shame. So just do it.
You also need to forgive people who say stupid things. Stupid things like: “He’s in a better place now.” “She’s no longer in pain.” “Be strong.” “I know how you feel.” And so many other dumb expressions in the well-meant but awkward attempt to just say something! Better to say nothing and just hold a hand or just be there, present!
Accept well-meant offers of help. You are wounded and you need some nursing care. If someone offers to bring some food or do the shopping or collect the mail, let them. If someone offers to call you or visit after a reasonable time, accept graciously, welcome the visit or the call and tell them so.
I could go on and on but by now it should be very clear that in a bereavement situation, you are wounded and need support. In fact, most persons I’d like to address are those who may be the very one lost. Seriously. We make a big deal about planning our own funerals, prepaying the funeral expenses, getting everything ready for our own disposal. But we forget that the very ones we’re trying to make life easier for are going to be facing some of the hardest moments after the funeral!
When making arrangements for ourselves or for a loved one, real planning includes bereavement care and support for the survivors. The best way to ensure this is to find a mortuary services provider (fancy words for funeral home) who can provide bereavement support not only before the death, during the funeral, but who has a pastoral care provider or house chaplain who is able to provide the aftercare necessary to facilitate grieving and mourning.
If the funeral home you are dealing with can’t provide professional pastoral care and grief support, keep on looking. When they find they’re losing customers because they can’t provide a complete service, they’ll wake up.
One final point I’d like to make is this: Don’t rely on clergy for competent bereavement support. First of all, most are too busy to do it right. Secondly, most are not trained to provide competent bereavement support. And short of praying, even if your clergy person does make bereavement visitations, they’re usually very short and awkward, filled with small talk and clichés. Spare yourself the formality and ask your hospital, nursing home, funeral director for a referral to competent bereavement care.
We’re here to support you and your healthcare, nursing, and funeral services provider.
Contact us or leave a comment. I’ll be more than happy to help.
Compassion is our Ministry!
Please Contact Us or Have Your
Care Provider or Funeral Director Contact Us:
Harold W. Vadney III, M.Div.
Telephone: (518) 479-0525 /
(518) 466-4482 (Urgent)