‘Bereavement’ is normally regarded as the process of dealing with the loss of a near and dear one. Terms like, “getting over it” and “moving on” are frequently used to describe elements of the process we “go through” following this significant loss.
Indeed, it is often held that there are different stages that the Bereaved needs to pass through, in sequence, to complete their Bereaving.
In 2016 the NHS published a presentation by Shirley Thompson, looking at various aspects of the Behaviour and Psychology of Bereavement and Grief. In this she visited some of the prominent theorists that contributed to this field of Psychology, in the latter half of the 20th Century. She also broached the question, “Is mourning necessary?” Though she appeared to accept it is, she didn’t show much to support that. She then looked at the area she described as. “complicated mourning” or “abnormal grief reactions”. Sadly, this seemed to leave hanging the implication that there should, wherever possible be just ‘normal grief reactions.’
In 2019 she reprised the presentation for the NHS and in doing so looked back to Freud’s theories of Loss and Bereavement. But again, she also leant heavily on Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, to interpret elements of grief and mourning.
One thing that is paramount to this topic, and that Shirley did seem to recognise, is that Grief, Bereavement and Mourning are both separately and simultaneously Individual and Societal Processes!
In my Practice I have always taken a very individual approach to the extent that even when working with family groups I stress that it is for each individual to take their own course through the processes and that no two individuals go through them at the same rate.
Possibly the most effective type of technique that I have found, to offer a client, is the individual Rite of Passage. Part of my degree was Sociology, and the main emphasis of the taught modules was Social Structures and Processes. Because of this I am very aware of how the more cohesive societies are permeated by rites of passage for every landmark life event.
One RoP that I use, is quick and can be done as a group, is to ask the grieving parties to imagine the departed to be stood in front of them. They are then asked to imagine that person telling the most awful joke of all time. It is so terrible that they find it impossible to stop themselves laughing at it and get them to laugh out loud! Then I tell them that as they are laughing the departed smiles, turns and walks off to wherever it is they are moving on to.
Another RoP that is useful, especially if the bereaved feel there are unsaid things that may be blocking the grieving, is to take them to a special place in their imagination. One that I like is a pleasant woodland clearing and in that clearing there is a log cabin in which they may meet up with the departed. They enter through a door at one end of the cabin, meet their lost one, say all the unsaid things and their final goodbyes. Then the departed leaves through one door, that leads to where they are moving on to and the bereaved person leaves through another door, back into the clearing. I then direct them out of the clearing along a foot path that will lead them to the rest of their life.
One metaphor for grief and grieving, that I have recently found, represents grief as a set of marks on a card, similar to the six on a dice and almost filling the card. Then it is sometimes suggested that the work done through the grieving process diminishes those marks reducing the effect they have on the individual.
The problem there is that many have the experience that grief does not go away and frequently if revisited is just as great as ever. So, a better explanation can be that as we go through the grieving process and on to the rest of our lives we grow, and the cards get larger till the grief no longer occupies a significant space on them!
This explains how we respond when we have a moment of grief. It always seems just as powerful, but as time passes it tends to get easier to recommence life and move forward again, giving the impression it is getting easier to deal with.
One thing that is paramount is the understanding that grief is dependent on attachment and love. In recognising that and accepting that separation produces the natural response, grief, then by celebrating the experience of attachment and love the good memories really can carry you forward through the process of Grieving. As our perceptions of love and attachment are unique to the Individual so also will be the Grieving Process.