Serious loss is something almost all people have to face at some time in their lives. Whether or not it is the first time you are confronted with bereavement – you probably will feel that you are quite unprepared for this.
Bereavement confronts us with a very difficult task: the task to strike a balance between getting on with our own lives on the one hand, and allowing time and room for grieving on the other. Some people try to overcome their loss too quickly, which often results in their grief ‘catching up’ with them in one form or another. On the other extreme, some people don’t allow themselves to get on with their own lives at all, since they feel this would be a betrayal of the person they lost.
If you have lost someone close to you, you have a lot to deal with. You will need time to grieve. In a way, you can look at grieving as a process in which you internally have to separate again from the person you have already lost. This does not mean that you will ever forget the person- but it will enable you to eventually ‘let them go’, enjoy life again and form new relationships.
Even though the person you have lost may be at the centre of your thoughts, it is very important that you look after yourself in this difficult time – even though you sometimes may not feel like it.
Here some tips how you can help yourself and others through grieving:
Help yourself through grieving:
- Allow yourself time. Don’t expect to ‘get over it’ too soon. Even if you decide to get on with things, for instance to sit your exams, allow some time and room in the day for your grief, for instance by talking to someone, by going for a walk and thinking about the deceased, by visiting the grave etc. Don’t overdo it: In your attempt to support others (for instance the surviving parent if you lost your father or mother) don’t forget that you are grieving yourself. You also might need some extra time before you can get on with your studies. Consider extension of deadlines or deferral of exams – you can discuss this openly with your tutor. If you decide to sit your exams, fill in a personal circumstances form. Your circumstances will be considered when your exams are marked. If unsure what to do about your studies, you can also contact the DIT counselling service. Your counsellor will also provide support with your personal circumstances form.
- Acknowledge your feelings. Apart from feelings of sadness and longing, bereavement can confront you with a whole range of feelings that you might not have expected and that may be conflicting with one another such as anger, relief, guilt, anxiety- phases of hopelessness and despair might alternate with feelings of numbness, even indifference, or a sense that this has not really happened. All these feelings are normal part of grieving. Try to register all feelings you have – you may find it helpful to talk about them with friends or family, or with a DIT student counsellor.
- Try not to isolate yourself. Seek support from other people whom you can talk to. If you feel there is nobody there you can turn to, contact the DIT counselling service.
- Look after your body. Even if your appetite is poor, try to eat healthily. You may prefer lighter meals like soups, salads, yoghurt or fruit. Try to get some sleep. If you don’t sleep well at night, rest during the day.
- If possible, don’t make any major decisions. In the turmoil of feelings you are going through you might feel that a radical change is necessary. For instance, you may want to drop out of your course, move house, split up with your partner. However, people often find that they regret these immediate reactions later. Allow yourself some time before you make those radical changes. If you feel you need support with any important decisions, contact the DIT counselling service.
Support others who are grieving:
- Listen to them. They will need to talk about the person they lost, about the circumstances of their loss, about the questions and doubts their loss has brought up etc. Be patient and tell them that it is okay to go through some points over and over again.
- Don’t try to hard to comfort them. Well meant phrases of reassurance like ‘You’ll be fine’, ‘there is nothing you could have done’ etc. can at times lead to feelings of not being understood or not being taken seriously.
- Be open with them, especially if you feel helpless yourself vis-à-vis the grief of the other person. Do not try to gloss over this with reassuring phrases or by avoiding the subject altogether. It can be much more helpful for yourself as well as for the bereaved to openly admit that you don’t know what to say or do. There is also nothing wrong with openly asking the bereaved what they feel would be best for them this moment, like for instance: ‘do you want to talk about your loss, or would you rather do something else?’
- Include them in social activities. Ask them out to the cinema, for dinner, to the pub etc. Don’t pressure them if they don’t feel like it, but encourage them to come along.
- Offer practical help: Support especially elderly bereaved with everyday tasks, such as cleaning up, paying bills, making phone calls etc. Help the bereaved to look after themselves: take them out for a walk, keep them company while they are having a rest or cook them a meal. If you support another student, make them aware of options of deferral, extension of deadlines and the personal circumstances form.
- Be aware that grieving takes time. Even if the bereaved seems better again, be aware that they still may be very upset without showing it. Don’t stop asking every now and then how they are now, especially around significant events like Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries etc.
Does bereavement need counselling?
Not necessarily. Grieving involves a natural process of healing, comparable to the healing of a wound. This takes time and cannot be sped up by counselling. However, counselling can offer a great deal of support whilst going through the process of mourning. It provides a safe space in which you can openly express your grief and all other feelings triggered off by your loss. Many students in the past have found a great deal of comfort in this, and it often helped them to cope better with their everyday lives and also with their studies.