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Living with Death

Delphi Ellis talks about bereavement in this helpful article.

In this article

Dealing with bereavement is tough, grief can last for a long time and you may not know how to cope, here Delphi gives us some advice on coping.

Over the last decade, as a professional counsellor, I have had the privilege of working with some of the bravest people in the world.

These people had been forced by events completely beyond their control to stare directly into the face of death, sometimes in the most horrific circumstances you could ever imagine. They witnessed, first hand, the raw and agonising pain of losing someone they love by murder or suicide.

In the case of my clients, nothing could have prepared them for the events which were about to unfold or the heartbreaking journey they then began.

When someone is bereaved by murder or suicide there is often no warning. There is no time to get ready for the idea (any more than it's really possible in any other type of bereavement). The family often receive little or no explanation for what happened, even though they may have to go through the intimate details of their lives at an inquest in Coroner's Court. They may not even get to see the body, especially if they've been advised against it. All they are left with is unfinished business, a lot of questions and an understandable belief that this just wasn't how it was supposed to be.

Loss experienced through bereavement, regardless of how it happens, leaves a remarkable hole. Even if you are given a warning, or an idea of time left, no matter how prepared you think you are for the death of a loved one the immense gap their parting leaves, can see you struggling desperately (day and night) not to fall in to the hole they've left behind.

At first you may try to fill the hole by keeping busy or through repeated "What if"s and "If only"s; questions you feel you must ask but which you know, deep down, won't change anything and can't bring them back.

You may rationalise their passing by arguing it was for the best, whilst all the while recognising that you miss them now more deeply than you ever thought possible.

You ache to see them just one more time. To tell them what it was about them that made you laugh - or made you cry. To say the sentiments or share an experience which you'd often thought of communicating but the timing was never "right". Now there is no more time. Time is the one thing you do not have with them anymore, at least in the physical sense.

In our solution focused society it is tempting to try and fix a problem, and, although science is working wonders for prolonging life, it has not yet found a way to stop the event of death as much as we feel we want this.

One of the reasons some solution focused therapists have been largely unsuccessful with bereavement is, when asked the question "what would solve this problem?", the clients responded, that would be the dead person coming back.

It is understandable that you want to ease the pain of grief and as quickly as possible. However like most situations looking for a quick fix will not achieve the long term results you really need.

So what can you do? Here are some suggestions which may help.

Knowing it's OK to miss them

Many people will try to tell you what worked for them because they want you to feel better (and the process of the other person talking about it probably helps them too). Some may ignore you all together, simply because they just don't know what to say.

Do what feels right and leave the rest. Allow yourself the space to grieve and be honest with yourself about missing a person you love.

Accepting the unknown

Acceptance is the hardest part of bereavement because it means adjusting to a new life you didn't ask to have; for this reason alone, it may not be an easy thing to do. However, it is part of this process if you are to live a healthy and balanced life. Once you have accepted that you are where you are (and what happened has happened) rebuilding your life in a healthy way can become a positive experience. This is without having to find a positive reason for the person dying or why it had to happen.

Do away with time

Lose the notion that there is a time limit to grieving. You are as unique as your experience of bereavement. Even two people who experience the same loss will grieve differently.

Talking through how you feel can be useful either with a close friend or qualified professional but don't put yourself under pressure to feel "better" quickly - just know that eventually you will be able to process what's happened in a healthy way with the right support.

Don't hide from it

You may feel guilty for bringing up the name of a deceased loved one for fear of making others uncomfortable. Don't hide from your grief and let others know that this process will take as long as it takes.

Your dreams at night will usually give you a clue as to how well you're processing what's happened. If they are becoming particularly disturbing this can sometimes suggest that you're trying to block your feelings during the day.

Respect the fact that others may not want to talk about it and remember that even if they feel that way doesn't mean you should too; talking really can help, especially if it's an impartial ear to listen, especially when you just need a good cry.

Manage your Stress

Bereavement is probably the most stressful experience you will ever have and so looking after yourself at this time will be crucial for your wellbeing. Remember you can't help those left behind, if you haven't helped yourself first.

You may find that practising meditation (focusing on an object like the breath) can help stop repetitive, unhelpful thoughts so you have the time you need to grieve. You may find my Meditation Masterclass eGuide useful.

Recognise that Death is part of life

Coping with and understanding bereavement is part of recognising that death comes to us all. Even when you lose someone you wouldn't describe as close, it can open your eyes to your own mortality and the fact that one day it will be your turn.

Control what you can - like looking after yourself - and don't be afraid to talk about the arrangements for your death when it finally happens. This isn't morbid (or unlucky); it's helping those closest to you be as prepared as they can be, knowing your final wishes when the time eventually comes. Take a look at the website for more information.

Discovering it doesn't have to be the end you think it is

Death is the end of life, not the relationship

In his book Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom recalls the time he spent with his dying coach Morrie Shwartz in the weeks leading up to his death. Morrie famously quoted many powerful and insightful phrases on the meaning of life, this being one of them.

Learning how to reconnect with someone you have loved and lost can be a healthy and positive way of processing their death. This isn't suggesting you should visit a medium, or try to bring someone back from the dead. This is about seeing them around you in the songs you hear, through the photographs you took and the memories you shared in a way which allows them back into your life, without feeling as if you have to forget them or pretend they never existed.

One way you can do this is through a memory box or book. Keep in here the things which you cherish most about your loved one and dedicate time to go through these things as and when you feel you want.

The purpose of this is to allow you that time with them whilst not becoming dependent upon it. It is a joyous time, even when it makes you cry, because you are spending positive time in their memory. You will always be connected to them because they were part of your life. You just learn to live without their physical presence and honour them in a way which is good for you.

Don't lose yourself

Being someone's wife/ husband, mother/ father or daughter/ son can define you from other people and so losing that physical pairing can make you feel redundant especially if your circle of friends change as a result.

Who am I if I'm not someone's partner anymore?

Remember that even when that person was alive you were - and still are - an individual. Take some time to think about things you like (and don't like), things you enjoy doing (like eating out, listening to music or reading) and explore new (and old) hobbies when you feel ready.

In Morrie's words “As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on—in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here” Morrie Schwartz.

Written for Greatvine for Delphi Ellis © Delphi Ellis.

You can get individual advice on grief or other life issues from Delphi via her Greatvine profile.


You can view the full list of Greatvine experts who can office advice on coping with the grieving process and building a new life.

About the author

Delphi Ellis
Soul Counsellor and Dream Analyst

Delphi is an inspirational therapist and recognised expert in the field of dreams and nightmares. She offers empowering advice to help you boost your confidence, attract success and live a stress-free life. Her media appearances include presenting The Guide to Sleep on Daybreak, BBC radio and features in popular publications like Natural Health and The Guardian.

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Click here to read Living with Death
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