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What is Bereavment?
Bereavement sometimes also referred to as grief, is a term used to describe the sense of loss felt when a loved one passes away. This sense of loss may contain a host of emotions, such as sadness, anger, guilt and/or frustration and anxiety, and the period immediately following the death is often referred to as the mourning period. People who are acutely bereaved or grieving may also be described as in mourning for the deceased.
Coping with Bereavement
Coping with the loss of a loved one and the resulting mix of emotions can be overwhelming. Allowing yourself time to grieve and come to terms with your own feelings is imperative to finding peace. Though it may seem impossible, you must remember to be patient with yourself and give yourself time to cycle through different emotions and come to a natural feeling of calm and/or acceptance. While you wait, try not to make any major decisions such as moving, changing careers, having a child or getting married that might be made due to overriding emotion rather than logical consideration. Most people find some support a source of comfort when they are bereaved, and seeking out caring friends and relatives, an organised support group or professional help may help you work through your emotions. They will likely also remind you that it is important to express your emotions rather than bottle them up inside, and help you remember that though you have suffered a loss, you are still alive and must live your own life.
Maintaining Physical Health
While you look after your mental health, it is important that you also look after your physical health when you are bereaved. It can be very easy to put off eating, or to overeat, as an emotional response to your loss. Maintaining a healthy diet of fresh, natural foods at this time is imperative. Staying fit and active with at least 30 minutes of exercise three times per week is also important for maintaining your physical health. You will also want to avoid becoming dependent on alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs to help you cope with your emotions. If at any time you feel that you are becoming physically ill or addicted to a substance, see your GP or a mental health professional immediately to discuss your concerns and create a plan for looking after yourself. After all, becoming ill is not what your loved one would have wanted for you.
Children and Bereavement
Children who experience a sudden and/or profound loss often display and work through their grief in a different manner than do adults. Very often children do not have the vocabulary to express what they are feeling, so it is their behaviour that may become representative of their emotions. Changes in sleeping patterns, bedwetting, eating patterns, thumb sucking and socialising, such as becoming shy or bossy, or avoiding social situations altogether, can all be signs of a child trying to cope with bereavement following the loss of a loved one. Children themselves may not even realise that this is what they are doing, for example, children will likely not want to bed-wet, and may not have any idea why they have started or how to stop it, so adults must be vigilant in observing changes in children s behaviour and what these changes may ultimately be communicating.
Bereavement, or the sense of loss experienced by the death of a loved one, will be felt in a different way by each individual. Regardless of what is experienced, time should be taken to work through the emotional aspects of bereavement while care is taken to maintain physical health throughout this time. Children may experience bereavement differently than adults, so their behaviour should be observed as clues to what they may be feeling. Professional help always should be sought if needed to support an individual through bereavement.
When an individual has lost a loved one (s)he is said to be bereaved. This is an emotional time, and often one that can be surprising and even frightening to both the bereaved and his or her family and friends. It is during bereavement that most people require additional support, whether it be emotional, practical or financial, from family, friends, professionals or the government – or some combination of them all.
Understanding Bereavement and Grief
Bereavement is often equated to grief, and grief has been described as the emotional response to the death of a loved one. Most often grief is equated simply with sadness, though this is not exactly the case. Grief often involves a progression of different emotions. The Kubler-Ross model of grief, which developed after Elizabeth Kubler-Ross investigated this cycle in many grieving individuals, describes grief as a five-stage process. Denial, anger, bargaining depression and acceptance are all stages identified by Kubler-Ross.
However, this does not mean that all bereaved individuals will experience all stages, that all stages will be experienced in the same way, or that all stages will be experienced in the same order. There is no set itinerary for grief, though if there is a distinct lack of emotional response, or an emotional response so overwhelming that it begins to affect a person s employment, education or personal relationships then some support may be needed.
Whether it comes from relatives, friends or a trained professional, most bereaved people need emotional support following the death of a loved one. Very often bereavement counselling is recommended, as it allows the bereaved to explore and describe his or her thoughts and feelings to an objective audience – the counsellor or support group. During bereavement counselling, it is acceptable to cry in anguish or rage in anger if those are valid emotions, and there will be no one who will attempt to censure what is being felt. Family and friends may also be able to provide this emotional support, though since their main concern is likely to be to look after the bereaved, or guard the memory of the deceased, and not always to assist with emotional exploration, they may not be able to remain as objective as a bereavement counsellor or members of a bereavement support group.
Particularly in the days and weeks immediately following the death of a loved one, many individuals appreciate a degree of practical support from family and friends. Cooked meals, child care, assistance with errands, and of course help with organising the funeral and possibly even the estate of the deceased are all things that can be offered to help lighten the load of the bereaved. Professionals such as solicitors and/or accountants who can help explain legal rights and responsibilities following the death may also be able to lend practical support at this time. A Citizen s Advice Bureau may be able to offer practical information and advice as well.
The death of a loved one can leave the bereaved in need of financial assistance, whether it be to cover the cost of the funeral, to settle the deceased s estate, from losing a second income or something else entirely. There are some benefits and payments available to help financially support the bereaved, though all will have certain qualifying conditions attached. Just a few of these supports include Bereavement Payment and Allowance, Widowed Parent s Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and/or Guardian s Allowance. A Citizen s Advice Bureau will be able to offer more information on these and other financial supports.
Bereavement is a complex state, one in which many individuals find that they need emotional, practical and/or financial support to pass through successfully. Family, friends, trained professionals and even the government may all be able to offer certain types of support at this time, though it may require the bereaved asking for help before it can be offered.
Coping with Loss
Everyone copes with loss differently and there is no right or wrong method for dealing with the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. People will experience many different emotions while they are bereaved, they will experience these emotions in different orders and for different lengths of time, and no doubt they will all find different methods by which to deal with these emotions and work through their grief. No one in a state of bereavement should be expected to act in a certain way or measure up to certain standards of grief. Instead, all individuals should be allowed to cope with their loss as best they can, and support should be sought if they can not cope effectively.
The Cycle of Grief
As a general rule, there may be certain phases of grief that individuals experience, though the actual experiences will vary widely. These phases are sometimes referred to as a cycle of grief made up of stages such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Throughout these stages, the bereaved may feel sad, angry, guilty, frustrated and more. Crying, changes in eating, sleeping and/or socialising patterns, feeling angry, a loss of memory, and a lack of concentration may all be experienced. Again, the specific responses will likely be unique to the individual.
Many bereaved individuals cope with their loss by formally saying goodbye to the deceased. Some family and friends find that organising and attending the funeral is enough, while others may also organise a memorial service or associated event to honour the dead. Annual events such as fundraisers in the deceased s names are a popular way of raising funds for a cause that the deceased cared about, of allowing surviving family and friends to come together and celebrate the deceased s life, and allowing loved ones of the deceased a specific time to come together to support each other. Professional planners are available to help with any funeral, memorial service or another event that the family is considering.
Sometimes more support is required to help an individual through his or her grief than other family and friends can provide. Emotional support can be sought through bereavement counselling, as it allows the bereaved to explore and describe his or her thoughts and feelings to an objective audience. Practical support can be sought from professionals such as solicitors and/or accountants who can help explain legal rights and responsibilities following the death may also be able to lend practical support at this time. A Citizen s Advice Bureau may be able to offer practical information and advice as well. Financial support also may be required following the loss of a loved one to pay for the funeral, to pay outstanding debts, and/or to settle the deceased s estate. Sometimes benefits are available to assist family and friends following the loss of a loved one. Just a few of these supports include Bereavement Payment and Allowance, Widowed Parent s Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and/or Guardian s Allowance. A Citizen s Advice Bureau will be able to offer more information on these and other financial supports.
Unfortunately, not everyone realises that they need extra support for coping with loss when they are bereaved, so family and friends must remain vigilant of each other and discuss their concerns if they feel that further emotional or practical support may be needed.
The Bereavement Register (www.thebereavementregister.org.uk) was originally launched in the United Kingdom in 2000 as a centralised means of registering a death so that direct mail will no longer be sent in his or her name. The Register has become so successful that it has since been begun in Canada and France as well. With more than 75% of direct mail companies checking the Bereavement Register the amount of direct mail delivered to a deceased individual should be greatly reduced.
Registering the Deceased
Both family members and representatives, such as funeral directors or executors/administrators of the estate, may register the deceased s details on The Bereavement Register. Details required for registration include full name, dates of birth and death, full address including postcode, telephone number and death certificate number. Details of the person registering this information will also be needed, such as name, postcode, year of birth and relationship to the deceased. Registering an email address will result in a confirmation email being sent when the deceased s information has been added to the Register. Registration is free of charge.
TBR Call Guardian
Call Guardian is a related service provided by The Bereavement Register which allows the registration of the deceased s telephone numbers so that telemarketing calls may be screened and stopped. This service is provided for six months beginning on the date on which the telephone number is registered. Personal calls will not be screened by Call Guardian, however telesales calls will be blocked at the telephone exchange and thus will not get through and possibly upset anyone at the deceased s telephone number.
Contacting the Bereavement Register
Contacting The Bereavement Register has never been easier. The Bereavement Register can be found online or it may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail may be sent to The Bereavement Register at The Bereavement Register, FREEPOST SEA8240, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 1YR. The Bereavement Register may be reached by phone at 01732 460000 or 0870 600 7222. Individuals hoping to registered a deceased individual may contact The Bereavement Register for more information and registration requirements, while individuals or organisations supporting the bereaved may contact The Register for further information and to request literature/leaflets to distribute to others.
History of the Bereavement Register
The REaD Group (UK) Ltd. began The Bereavement Register in 2000 as a means to stop unnecessary direct mailings to deceased individuals as these mails could greatly upset the bereaved family and friends who must cope with them. At the time it was estimated that 80 pieces of direct mail would be sent to deceased individuals in the year following their deaths. Instead, The Bereavement Register helped to remove the deceased s names from databases and mailing files. Today, more than 75% of companies involved in direct mailings cross-reference with The Bereavement Register to avoid sending mail to deceased individuals. The Bereavement Register s Call Guardian service now acts in a related manner to screen telesales calls to deceased individuals’ telephone numbers. Between the two services, the families of nearly 600,000 deceased individuals are spared further grief and interruption following the death of a loved one.
Talking to Children About Death
Talking to children about death can be uncomfortable and very often parents don t think about talking to their children about this subject until a close relative, friend or even pet dies. This may be because parents do not want to speak about the subject themselves, or because they are attempting to spare their children the pain and grief that accompanies a loss. Unfortunately, waiting until the exact moment of grief means that parents are not in the best frame of mind to discuss death, and children only have confusion and frustration to compound their natural emotions regarding their loss. Instead, speaking with children about death as a natural part of life long before they are ever faced with it may spare everyone a further ordeal when a loved one does die.
Age Appropriate Information
As with most things, discussions about life and death should always be age-appropriate for the child involved. This means using vocabulary that the child understands, examples to which the child can relate, and resources that the child will find interesting. For example, children who like to help in the garden may respond well to a discussion of plants or flowers that live and die. Children who enjoy animals may understand better if the example is based on a goldfish that stopped swimming. Books and certain children s television shows may well tackle the subject of death and provide an opportunity for parents and children to discuss the topic. Very often these discussions will be short as children have a naturally limited attention span. This is fine. The important thing is that a short discussion takes place, and further discussions continue when the next opportunity presents itself.
Questions and Answers
Children are curious creatures and it is only smart to assume that their curiosity will extend to the topic of death. Parents should be prepared for some questions and try to answer them honestly. For example, a child may wonder if it is lonely to be dead or if they will ever see their friends again if they die. Such questions should not upset parents. If children talk about their own deaths it is usually because they are attempting to understand the topic in relation to themselves, not because they are expecting to die soon. In fact, many children may discuss this topic without truly understanding the concept of death. Serious questions should be met with serious answers, and this holds true for any question that the child has asked seriously (whether or not it seems amusing to an adult).
Children and Funerals
When a death does occur, many parents are uncertain of if they should bring their child to the funeral. Parents should remember that funerals are events at which many individuals find closure and have a chance to say goodbye to the deceased. If the child is at an age where they may take advantage of these opportunities then they should be included. However, parents should be ready for questions at the funeral and/or burial. For example, when watching a coffin lowered a child may ask if it is cold in the ground, or if it is really necessary to leave the deceased alone. Parents should answer these questions honestly, though they may want to do so in private as other attendees may feel that they have the right to answer the question as well. If children are too young to sit through a funeral, it may be better to leave them at home with a babysitter.
Memorials & Keepsakes
A common way some parents and families choose to help children understand and cope with grief or the sense of loss is to come up with memorials as a family. This can take many forms, from creating scrapbooks that can be looked back on at significant times or times of reflection/sadness to sentimental gifts or objects that might have held some meaning or fond memories of the deceased. Bringing the conversation around to cherishing memories can help not only children but also adults cope with death. For some inspiration, we continue to update our bereavement gift ideas catalogue that might help with some ideas to keep a memory alive and treasured.