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Coping with Bereavement in later life

Thursday, 12 January 2012.

Coping with bereavement at any time of life can be very difficult - when we are older we are suppose to be more resilient at managing death but that is not the case. Grief and loss can be overwhelming. At Clinical Partners we will recommend a qualified and empathetic therapist with experience and expertise who can help you through this difficult time.

Bereavement in later life

Understanding the process of bereavement

Bereavement is an overwhelming and long-lasting emotional event. In this modern age, we have grown unaccustomed to grief. Childhood death and death due to war, accident or non-geriatric illnesses are now very rare. As a result, even elderly people may have little idea of what ‘normal’ grief is like.

A typical pattern of bereavement

The truth is that everyone will grieve differently, but here is a fairly typical pattern:

A stunned sensation is usually the first reaction, characterised by an emotional numbness. The reality of the bereavement often sinks in when seeing the body or at the funeral – an extremely important event in the emotional journey of bereavement.

This is followed typically by a period of intense agitation, pining and yearning for their loved one. Sleep is difficult. The bereaved person will ‘see’ the dead person everywhere they go.

Deep anger may be felt – blaming friends, relatives, doctors and nurses… even the person who died. Guilt is also felt – what could or should have been done or said? Or perhaps you feel guilty about the relief you feel that your loved one’s pain or illness is finally over.

The period of agitation usually peaks a couple of weeks after the death, and is followed by feelings of quiet sadness, depression, withdrawal and silence. Confusing to others, these feelings and behaviours are perfectly normal.

The most intense period of grief usually comes between four and six weeks later, with spasms of grief sparked off by people, places or objects that remind one of the deceased. At the same time, you’ll probably just spend a lot of time quietly reflecting about your time with your loved one, both good and bad.

The severe pain of bereavement now starts to fade and it’s possible to look towards the future. Within a year or two, the final letting-go will take place and you’ll move on to a new phase of life. The depression clears, and energy, sleep and sexual feelings return to normal.

If you think you may need treatment,
call us to arrange a private consultation.

0203 326 9160

Bereavement following a suicide

A suicide of a loved one is particularly upsetting, leaving you with all sorts of conflicting emotions, including anger, rejection, confusion, relief (depending on the circumstances) – and guilt. You may also feel ashamed – about what they did, and about what others may think. You may be worried that you may have your own suicidal thoughts. And finally, you probably feel a growing isolation from friends who you feel cannot possibly understand.

How you can help a bereaved friend or relative

Spending time with them is most important, letting them cry and talk as they need to. Talking about the deceased person shouldn’t be avoided – the bereaved need to know that their loved one isn’t forgotten.

Make a special attempt to be around on anniversaries and other special days. Practical help is also important: with cleaning, shopping, and with financial and other administrative chores.

Finally, don’t expect the bereaved person to move on too quickly, time is essential.

When grief is unresolved

Some bereaved people may not follow a typical grieving process – maybe they feel pressured to continue their normal life too soon or perhaps the usual feelings simply don’t emerge.

For some, no harm will result, but others may suffer other physical symptoms or suffer from depressive episodes instead. Others may ‘get stuck’ in a particular phase of grief. The ‘numb’ phase may linger on and on or the grief may become an obsession. Lingering grief may turn to a refusal to eat or drink, or to suicidal thoughts.

When should you seek professional help?

Bereavement is extremely painful, but it can’t be ‘treated’ like a physical or psychiatric condition. However, there are cases where intervention can help:

  • Sleeplessness – if this becomes a serious problem, the doctor may prescribe a few days’ of sleeping tablets.
  • If grief stays unresolved, it will help to talk to people who have been through a similar experience, or to an experienced counsellor.
  • If bereavement turns into depression, treatment should be sought. If a course of antidepressants is not effective, an appointment with a psychiatrist may be helpful.

How Clinical Partners can help

Simply call our clinical team in confidence on 0203 326 9160 and we will recommend the most suitable therapist or support group for your individual situation.

Read more about how we can offer you support.


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