My father passed away recently, then two days later his brother-in-law also passed away, leaving my mother and her sister both widows and the extended family dealing with the emotional impact of bereavement. The reactions, responses and recovery paths for each person have been different.
Looking for some guidance on “what’s normal” in reactions to bereavement, I turned to a summary of Clare Ayers’ session at the 2019 @BritPsychType conference, on “Understanding grief and loss”. Two points came across strongly:
- how each person responds to grief is unique
- it does have to be managed.
Life after a bereavement is never the same again, so the goal is to build a new life while still valuing the grief you feel. The SPICE model, which looks after the whole person, can help you do this. Here are the actions that are helping my mother and me to manage our grief now:
Spiritual actions: my mother found great comfort in going to Church on their wedding anniversary recently. For me, getting outside into beautiful surroundings, helps me feel connected with the world beyond myself.
Physical actions: playing tennis, going for bike rides and generally getting out provides physical relief from my emotional turmoil. Walking down the road to the shops, taking a stroll around the garden, hanging out the washing – these can all help to bring balance.
Intellectual actions: ways to occupy and engage your mind can help – my mother has taken to doing crosswords, and she watches TV quizzes. I find solace in reading books and watching sport or nature programmes on TV.
Career actions: getting back to my normal work, and my coaching clients after a 4 week break, is helping me to recover, though I am aware of the danger that I bury my emotions by being too busy.
Emotional actions: my mother has photo of my father by her side and takes solace in the eloquent letter he wrote to her. Talking about my father and having the support of family and friends has been immensely important for both of us.
Clare Ayers’ session included dos and don’ts on how to show empathy for someone grieving, and in particular:
- Allow them to grieve as they want to, not as you want them to
- Allow them to do what they can.
It’s a timely reminder that in grief, as in life, we are all different.