The Cost of Loving and Losing
Bereavement can be overwhelming with many decisions to make when we feel least like doing so. We hope that the following information will be helpful to you.
Loss is a part of the cost of living and loving, indeed of simply being alive and giving of ourselves to others. It has been said that only the unloving and the unloved escape from the pain of grief. The opposite side of this is that the more deeply we love the more severe can be the pain of loss. It is helpful to know a little of the process of healing which we go through. This will reassure us that the intense grief which we feel at first is natural and not a sign that we are falling apart or going mad. Of course much of what is said is helpful not only for those suffering bereavement but any kind of loss. This may include divorce or estrangement from those we love.
We could mention three aspects of life which are affected by grief:
- Our relationships with other people We are all affected when somebody else suffers, a grieving person affects those around and some people feel embarrassed. To reduce the discomfort, other people may avoid us or try to reduce contact as much as possible. This is sometimes done for sincere and kind motives even if it is very unhelpful! Folk may cross the road when they see somebody coming who has been through bereavement, so that they do not have to talk about it. When they do meet, the subjects spoken of may include anything but the bereavement, because they think that you would not want to mention it and it would cause upset. Some people speak of feeling a sense of isolation and loneliness. Grief overshadows all normal relationships as we adjust to the change in condition brought about by loss. To an extent we become different people and life is never the same again.
- Our bodies Our bodies react to bereavement in many physical ways. Headaches, stomach pains, back pains, arthritis, or many other complaints can suddenly become apparent and make us feel as though we are falling apart. Some people speak of intense tiredness and exhaustion. All of our reserves of energy can be used up simply in order to cope. This is a natural reaction to loss. The body passes through a crucial stage in the first 6-9 months and some folk can die of a broken heart if they ‘bottle up’ their feelings and are unable to express and come to terms with their grief openly. It is important to look after ourselves, to eat and sleep properly. There is nothing wrong with spoiling ourselves a little either.
- Our feelings and state of mind There are emotional stages through which most people pass. These stages are not neat and tidy and one may feel several of them going on at once. We are all different people and so we all have unique feelings. It is possible to swing from one stage to another, or indeed hardly experience one stage at all. This does not mean that the grief of one person is deeper than another, simply that we have different ways of experiencing and coping with loss. We will now look at what these stages are.
Stages of Grief
It is worth understanding the stages of grief. This should not mean that we treat grief lightly, as if it were just a phase that somebody was going through. . We are all different and can experience different things at different times. Progress is not automatic and somebody may still be grieving deeply after 20 years if they have not been helped through the process of bereavement. We never ‘recover’ from bereavement, and yet there should come a time when we are able to learn to live with our loss. If you have felt the pain of bereavement then eventually you may be able to help somebody who is going through the same pain. Often what we need most is simply somebody to listen and love.
Stage 1 Denial and Shock The bereaved person is often in a state of shock and unable to accept what has happened, everything seems so unreal. This is a necessary defence mechanism. Think of how, when we receive a hard blow to the head, we become unconscious. It is the natural way that our body shuts down to protect itself. Bereaved people often refer to somebody who has died in the present tense as though they are still alive. A common remark may be; ‘It’s not really sunk in. I can’t believe it. I think he’s going to walk in the door as usual. Maybe after the funeral it will seem as though it has really happened’. We may feel tightness in the throat or emptiness in the stomach. There may be tiredness or inability to breathe.
When we are with people in this stage of grief there is no need to say something clever; it is enough simply to be there. The bereaved person may simply want to talk about the one who has died, to reminisce. They need to know that it is alright to be upset and express their grief. Some other faiths and cultures are much better at this than ‘Christian England’. One day reality hits home and, despite the pain which it brings, this is progress.
Stage 2 Anger The question which may overshadow everything is ‘Why me’? Expressions come such as, “It makes you wonder sometimes, she was so young and never did anybody any harm. Then you see all those rapists and murderers and nothing happens to them. I can never believe in God when he lets that sort of thing happen.”. There may be anger at God for having allowed this to happen. There may be anger at the doctors or the hospital, indeed anybody who can act as a scapegoat. This is natural outrage. There is no need for anybody to try to make excuses or give rational explanations or theological argument. Neither is there any reason for those who are upset to feel guilty about their anger! This is a natural part of the grief process. All that is required is assurance and the understanding that grief brings a genuine burden which can be very painful. It may be that the person we are most angry with is ourselves, as we think of things in the past, missed opportunities, or things we wished had never happened.
Stage 3 Bargaining Sometimes people will try to look for a way out of the situation. ‘I cried all last night and prayed that God would take me too’ There can be a movement between fantasy and guilt, ‘I think that he may come back’. Some people are sure that they have seen their loved one on a bus or in a crowd; even that they have seen a ghost. Others never touch a room or refuse to throw anything out, in the hope that somehow they may be able to preserve things the way that they once were.
Stage 4 Depression There can be a deep sense of regret over lost opportunities in life, or there could also be a sense of guilt, ‘perhaps if we had tried a different doctor’ Guilt in many different varieties is a normal part of grief and can cause depression. It may be that it makes us feel that we do not want to go on. It is important to realize that this is something we all feel and sometimes for a considerable time. It is important to find people to talk to; grief needs an outlet and we must be able to cry and express our emotion. Of course we also need to be reminded that we can talk to God.
Stage 5 Acceptance/learning to live again The time comes when we are able to ‘let go’ of our loved one, leave them in peace and to experience new life again. It is the time when memories can be treasured without a terrible sense of pain. Of course this may be a long time away. Learning to live again means adjusting to being a different person in one sense. Losing somebody is like having a part of oneself cut off. It takes time to reaffirm life and invest in new relationships and responsibilities. It is like learning to live all over again.
A Prayer of Hope
“O God, who holdest all souls in life
And calls them unto thee as seemeth best:
We give them back, dear God, to thee
Who gavest them to us.
Yet as thou didst not lose them in the giving,
So we do not lose them by their return;
What Thou givest, Thou takest not away.
For what is Thine is ours also if we are Thine.
For life is eternal, and love is immortal,
And death is only an horizon;
And an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.
Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further;
Cleanse our eyes that we may know ourselves
To be nearer to our loved ones who art with Thee.”
William Penn 1644-1718