Dr Katie Koehler, C. Psychol. Child Bereavement UK, says, “You can survive bereavement” and offers 7 steps to help you on your journey.
Living with bereavement is hard. And for families facing the death of a child or baby it can be especially unbearable. They tell us it’s messy, exhausting and can feel like it’s happening to someone else. In the midst of this life-changing moment, it’s easy to wonder how you’re supposed to come to terms with the weight of what’s happened and rebuild your life. That’s where we can help. Every day, Child Bereavement UK supports children, young people and families facing the death of a baby or child. You can turn to us for support and we’ll tell you… this grief, however unbearable now, IS survivable.
Here are a few steps that you, a friend, or family member, can take on the journey to heal:
- Talking helps. It really does. Giving voice to your pain may help you make sense of what’s happened. But sometimes the people you’re closest to can be the hardest to talk to. Help your family support you by being clear about what you’d like from them. And remember, the right words can be hard to find. People, even family, can say the wrong things… but their hearts are usually in the right place.
- Avoid isolation. Grief can make you feel alone, but you’re not the only one feeling this way. Support groups can help you realize that everything you’re feeling is normal: the tiredness, poor memory, difficulty concentrating or that feeling that nothing is important anymore. We grieve with our hearts and minds so a gentle walk or massage can help release some tension, or a movie can be a welcome distraction for just a few hours. And it may seem like common sense, but don’t forget to ask your friends for support.
- Wait before you act. It might hurt to see photographs, clothes and objects of the person who’s died, or to even be in the same house where you lived together. But give it time. Don’t make any decisions or throw anything away until the grief has lessened. You’ll feel extremes in emotions, such as fear, rage, jealousy and confusion. When you feel rage building, find a way to let it out. Try hitting a pillow, kickboxing, or shouting somewhere private where you can’t be overheard. And remember, tears are there for a reason; they release chemicals that calm you but importantly let others know you need support. When you’re done letting out the pain, find someone to comfort you.
- Set your memory to work. At first it may feel too raw to look through albums or remember the things you did together. But in time, this can help you focus your grief when you’re hurting too much. Planting a tree or shrub, painting, writing a journal to capture the things that you worry you’ll forget, or even making a memory box, can all be lovely tributes and create a lasting memory of the person who has died.
- Condolences express care. People will write to you or visit to show how much they care about you and the person who’s died. Replying to these letters or welcoming these people into your home can be cathartic, but only if that’s what you really want to do. People won’t always find the right words; sometimes the things they say are so fantastically unhelpful the only thing to do is laugh! When that humour breaks through, don’t worry… it could be just what you needed.
- Returning to work. This might need to happen gradually, just mornings or a few days a week, with regular breaks throughout the day. You might actually find that work’s a useful distraction, but don’t expect to go straight back in to where you left off. Again, it’s about manageable, short-term tasks—one or two each day. That first day will feel daunting, so why not ask a work colleague to accompany you into the office? As for everyone else, remember this is your story. Tell people only as much as you want them to know and be clear about whether you’re comfortable talking about what’s happened.
- Looking after yourself. Managing daily life and your own grief at the same time as supporting others, especially children who may also be grieving, is exhausting. Try to find a way of making some time for yourself to recharge your batteries. This may feel ‘selfish’, but it will ultimately help you be better placed to support your child/others in the family. Accept any offers of help. Keep a list of jobs that need doing to help you answer when people ask, “What can I do for you?” Try not to expect too much of yourself—you can only manage a day at a time.
Our team at Child Bereavement UK deals with a subject many people find too hard to contemplate—the untimely deaths of children and parents. But every year thousands of families in the UK face bereavement. Grief is utterly individual and each person will react and cope differently. There are no rules in grief. The hard truth is that you’ll never be the same person … but the grief will lighten and you’ll eventually move forward. How you carry that grief is something we can help you with. Whatever happens, go gently with yourself. You have it in you to heal. Just remember, you don’t have to find your way alone. Child Bereavement UK is here to offer a listening ear, guidance and support.
What would you say if you had one more minute?
Click here to see short videos of families supported by Child Bereavement UK, and bereaved celebrities, talking about their experiences: www.onemoreminute.org