Grief and Complicated Bereavement

The death of a significant person can devastate a person’s life. Grief is one of the most common reasons people seek therapy. Everyone experiences grief differently and there is no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ way to grieve. It used to be believed that grief happened in a set order of ‘stages’. This theory has been disproved. In fact, how we react, and when we go through certain processes of emotional healing, will be influenced by many different things including our previous experiences, the loss itself, and the meaning in our lives. Grief therapy can provide help through the painful process of coping with bereavement.

How do we manage when someone close to us dies? For many of us, bereavement will be the most psychologically stressful and traumatic experience we will face.

GRIEF [...] GIVES LIFE A PERMANENTLY PROVISIONAL FEELING. IT DOESN'T SEEM WORTH STARTING ANYTHING. I CAN'T SETTLE DOWN. I YAWN, I FIDGET, I SMOKE TOO MUCH. UP TILL THIS I ALWAYS HAD TOO LITTLE TIME. NOW THERE IS NOTHING BUT TIME. ALMOST PURE TIME, EMPTY SUCCESSIVENESS.

[C.S. LEWIS, A GRIEF OBSERVED, 1961]

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The support of a bereavement therapist can help you cope with the complex and painful feelings brought on by the loss of someone you love. Bereavement therapy is a specialised type of therapy designed to assist in the grieving process.

Grieving in Western society is not easy. Western culture has evolved, for better or worse, into a highly functioning and productive society in many ways, but one that evades and avoids death, grief, and the traditions and rituals that for centuries accompanied these parts of life. This has left individuals who are grieving to often feel ashamed or out of sync with social expectations and customs.

Articulating Grief

One of the most painful aspects of coping with traumatic bereavement is the feeling of being “alone” in one’s grief. The feeling of being alone often transforms to feeling ashamed of having such heightened emotions that are not welcome in today’s world.

Modern society fosters these feelings of loneliness and shame, as individuals are expected to put their chins up, get back to work soon—often days—after the death of a loved one occurs, and not to dwell on painful emotions.

Society’s discomfort with death and dying is confounded by Western medicalisation that has changed the very language surrounding death from spiritual and personal to clinical and removed from emotions. The PBS documentary that my parents took part in during the last months of my father’s life (Being Mortal, 2015, which can be found on this site) shows how doctors often struggle with the language of mortality as patients are dying. Similarly, after death, people—including professionals—struggle with the language surrounding the death that has occurred. However, it is impossible to fit grief into a purely medical model.

Box Tree Therapists:

Being Mortal

In the spring and summer of 2014, during the director of the Box Tree Clinic’s, Comfort Shields’, father Jeff Shields’, last months, her family took part in the PBS documentary Being Mortal, which is based on the New York Times bestselling book by Atul Gawande. Doctors are often untrained and uncomfortable talking about chronic illness and death with their patients. Patients are often resistant, too, to making end of life decisions and discussing their own mortality. The book and documentary explores this and examines how we come to terms with our own mortality and the mortality of the ones that we love. The trailer is included on this page.

How individuals grieve is often related to how they—and those around them—approach death, dying, and mortality. When those who are dying are able to directly face and articulate their mortality and encourage their loved ones to speak openly to them about their dying, the “emotional horizons” of the bereaved may expand so that the anxiety that surrounds the finitude of life in general, the impermanence of relationships, and the loss of the loved individual does not become something that must be repressed.

New York Times Number One bestseller Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2014 In Being Mortal, Gawande examines his experiences as a surgeon, as he confronts the realities of aging and dying in his patients and in his family, as well as the limits of what he can do. And he emerges with story that crosses the globe and history, exploring questions that range from the curious to the profound: What happens to people’s teeth as they get old? Did human beings really commit senecide, the sacrifice of the elderly? Why do the aged so dread nursing homes and hospitals? How should someone give another person the dreadful news that they will die? This is a story told only as Atul Gawande can – penetrating people’s lives and also the systems that have evolved to govern our mortality. Those systems, he observes, routinely fail to serve – or even acknowledge – people’s needs and priorities beyond mere survival. And the consequences are devastating lives, families, and even whole economies. But, as he reveals, it doesn’t have to be this way. Atul Gawande has delivered an engrossing tale of science, history and remarkable characters in the vein of Oliver Sacks. Published in partnership with the Wellcome Collection, a free visitor destination that explores the connections between medicine, life and art. Atul Gawande will deliver this year’s BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures on the subject of The Future of Medicine. [Source: The Guardian book review]

Links to other material about Being Mortal:

  • For The Guardian review of Being Mortal click here.
  • For the New York Times review of Being Mortal click here.

Written by:

Harley Street Private Therapy Clinic

[BOX TREE CLINIC]