Any quick internet search will tell you to expect certain feelings following the death of a loved one. Most of the feelings are easy to understand from terrible longing and sadness, to anger and even guilt. There is an expectation that the death of a loved one will be painful and difficult to cope, however sometimes bereavements can be much more confusing and complicated in there emotional impact than we could ever anticipate. This is because the end of a person’s life triggers in those left behind some of the most difficult aspects of what it is to be human. The sense of loss and distress when a friend or relative dies, might not just be about the individual but also about the ending of an era in your own life, which they represent.
Take the example of an elderly grandparent’s death and a house that has not changed much since babyhood. This can suddenly become very significant, with all its connected memories, when it has to be cleared and disposed of for ever following a death. The feelings of childhood comfort that are entwined with a grandparent’s home may also for some be complicated by memories of other things that went on there. Maybe the illness itself tinges the house with negative associations. Or there may be memories of family tensions, conflicts or other frightening and overwhelming experiences from early childhood. The death may have been expected and even a relief but the feelings and memories it stirs up can be really difficult to manage and understand.
The death can also be significant in it’s affect on family relationships. Who is the supporter, who is the coper and who has to be looked after the most? Such roles within the family are often highlighted when there is a crises and family members may find this uncomfortable and resentments that may have always been there underneath can start to grow. Death often brings into sharp focus the patterns within families and also within individuals, that have been their coping strategies in the past but which following the death become problematic or constricting.
Bereavement tends to throw individuals together unexpectedly, this can create a positive and supportive environment in which to grieve and share feelings and memories of the dead person. For many families and groups of friends, negotiating the relationships surrounding the death is so difficult that it somehow it gets in the way of mourning the loved one at all. Many people report feeling ‘numb’ or ’empty’ following a death and wonder if there is something wrong with them when they see others openly crying and depressed. Such complicated responses to death are very common, even in fairly ‘straightforward’ bereavements. Not being able to talk about it because everyone you are close to is also bereaved only compounds the problem. When somebody dies, there is a lot to process for the people left behind. Each person has a unique response to death, as each person has a unique relationship with the lost loved one. Whatever your feelings following a death, you are entitled to have them, even if you have no tangible feelings at all. Seeking support to help you process your personal response to what has happened can help you to reach a deeper understanding of yourself, that could be beneficial not just in the aftermath of a bereavement but throughout your life.
First Published 24th September, 2014