Grief and Bereavement:
Before we begin this month, please be aware we’re focusing on grief and bereavement. The nature of these experiences is that they can sometimes take us unaware or create moments for us which are difficult to quantify or explain. This isn’t a trigger warning, but rather an awareness notification! You may get upset or have cause to remember painful memories. If you need to check in with someone during or afterwards, please do.
Benjamin Franklin famously said ‘In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes’, unless you live in Monaco (or one of the other 15 tax-free countries in the world)! But what does it really mean?
And that was it… an opening sentence that sat on the page for 10 days… until..
What is death? The end of something? A Valley in California, a Sea bordering Jordan and Israel or a type of beetle that eats wood? An absence of being?
This aren’t deep philosophical questions or attempts to be whimsical or droll, but rather an effort to understand what death means to each person.
To understand death, first we need to understand life, as ultimately without one, the other can’t exist. It feels a little paradoxical to think that we’re looking at grief and bereavement this month as part of the 12 Months of Mental Health and we’re thinking about life? But stay with me…!
The vast majority of us will have experienced grief and bereavement, whether this be related to death, or the loss of a relationship, job or cherished possession. We may be aware of, and/or experienced Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance (which was originally based on research carried out with terminally ill patients), however the truth is, our experience of death is uniquely personal, because we are unique persons, and no two experiences are the same. They impact and affect us in different ways depending on the circumstances and scenarios that surround them.
And the same is true of life – how we’ve interacted or engaged with the person or things that we’ve lost can have a significant impact in how we feel and respond. As someone who has lost a sibling and 3 of 4 grandparents, the feelings are both similar and different. My sibling lived with a life-limiting illness meaning the family experienced a living grief for nearly 20 years – knowing the inevitable just not the timing. My Granddad passed away suddenly from a heart attack and was a shock, whilst my Nan battled cancer, dementia and a host of other illnesses. Her passing was a blessed relief. More recently, my Grandfather eventually passed away in his 90s, peacefully slipping into glory in his sleep.
All these experiences have been deeply affecting, yet different in how they have caused me to think, respond and outwork my loss.
For me, it’s the word ‘glory’ that changes my experience of losing one grandparent to another. As Christian’s we know where followers of Christ are going – to spend eternity in the Kingdom of God. Death has been defeated and eternal life is promised for the believer.
And it gives me cause to wonder about whether having confidence in where someone is going or what is going to happen next can positively (or negatively) impact our mental health. If I believe that my Grandfather has gone to heaven (which the Bible tells us he has), is my grief tinged with hope, more than sadness? Does this impact the relationship between the living and the dead?
It's safe to say that grief and bereavement impact us all in different ways, but the truth remains that we are rarely unaffected. As we think about our mental health and look at the links to grief and bereavement, we need to give ourselves time and space to ‘feel’ whatever emotions are part of this experience. They aren’t always pretty or show us in our best light, but there is a truth and honesty about them which are important. But as we do, we also need to be aware of what we’re modeling and expressing to those around us. If we revert to sackcloth and ash, or lash out and scream and shout, we model that these are always the acceptable ways of responding. If we are going to do this, we need to ensure we do it in a safe space where we don’t hurt others in our own pain. Our mental health should never be used as a justification for damaging someone else’s… whatever truth we wish to express.
As I’ve sat and reflected on these notes (which I always do prior to posting), I’m struck by the way writing about this topic has mimicked the grief experience. We can sit here expecting it to all come out… anticipating this outpouring of emotions and experiences and it doesn’t come. We ‘will’ ourselves to respond, to feel, to weep, to just… grieve.
And when you’re least expecting it, it suddenly comes in overwhelming waves. It pours out of us in a jumble of responses which we can barely contain until we’re spent… and then… we breathe!
We feel (a little?) better, even if for the briefest moment, and the weight of our experiences feels a little lighter and the horizon looks a little brighter.
I’m reminded of a biblical promise, which may be equally helpful for our mental health experience as our journey through grief and bereavement – ‘this too shall pass’ (2 Corinthians 4). For those of us with faith – this should be a massive encouragement… I hope it is.
Next month – April: Exam Sessions – How to manage stress, anxiety and expectation.
If you want to hear more or have topics/themes you’d like us to discuss, please don’t hesitate to get in contact at firstname.lastname@example.org