We’ve been a death-denying culture, I now realise, for many years. With death invariably happening in hospices or hospitals, we’ve pushed death away and pretended it doesn’t happen. Consequently, we’ve lost knowledge of bereavement and the art of support. We’ve tended only to think about preparing for funerals and then counselling if the person isn’t doing well. But what about all the other help that’s needed? Understanding and support is necessary in all manner of ways. Bereavement is one of the most stressful times of life, affecting everyone sooner or later and every part of their life. Grief is a journey of adjustment of who we are to a new existence – one that takes a long time and never comes at a convenient time.
At first most of us are shocked or emotionally numb; we run on adrenaline and we’re in survival mode. At the funeral others can think we’re doing well, and we can too. But it’s after, when the real sadness tends to hit, when the future must be faced and by then support has dropped away.
Many of us experience a roller coaster of changing reactions and responses which we don’t recognise as us or don’t associate with grief.
There are the physical reactions, for instance. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I was cold and I shook for months, I had a heavy ‘weight’ in my gut and was taken to hospital three times with suspected heart problems - our bodies are always in tune with our emotions.
And there are the psychological reactions. We can experience anxiety, anger and guilt; we can’t concentrate or remember, or function to do the most basic of tasks. I kept thinking I was seeing Simon and had a psychosis which made me feel separated from the world. We can think we’re going mad.