We are delighted to share this guest blog from Anne Marie Tymlin.
Allow the Bereaved to Grieve
I have been fascinated by the subject of death all my life. This may be in no small part because death accompanied me through my childhood and beyond. As a society, we Irish people tend to do a great funeral but have not always been able to continue the support for bereaved people on an ongoing basis. Often the widow or widower or the bereaved mother or father will gradually find that they are no longer receiving invitations to events. This might be because others do not know how to approach the pain of the bereaved, or maybe they refused the first few invitations. What we fail to recognise is that the bereaved need to be allowed to grieve. There are many theories on grief and loss which can help us all understand what the emotional journey might be like. As a bereavement specialist and a therapist learning about them has helped me to work successfully alongside children and their families when a death occurs.
Never Make Assumptions
The circumstances surrounding a death, for example, sudden death, suicide, or violence can impact the grieving process. Death after a long-term illness, the death of a child, the loss of a parent, or a partner can also include secondary losses, i.e. change of circumstances such as moving house or financial changes. Often the extra layer of worry that accompanies these secondary losses is unrecognised by others. In addition, outsiders can make assumptions about the relationships between the bereaved and the person who has died. Perhaps someone may not have been a positive figure in the lives of the people who remain. When we assume that all bereaved people will go through the same process we miss the experience of the person in front of us. Others may foist their expectations on the bereaved about what they may be going through, however, these assumptions can compound the hurt and pain.
Respect the Natural Grieving Process
In my role as a bereavement specialist, I am regularly consulted by schools and other agencies wondering if a referral needs to be made for a child or grownup to access therapeutic interventions. Often my response is simply “not yet”. In many cases, there is a natural grieving process. However, suicide or violent deaths are exceptions and require immediate intervention. As we have explored, people's experiences of death can vary and what one person goes through can be different from how it was for us. There will of course be similar emotions and feelings to contend with but every person who is bereaved of a loved one will have to do this hard work themselves. When we remember this, it allows us to be kind and gentle with the bereaved person. It informs our attitude to become a better listener and reminds us to be wary of offering our opinions on “what you should do now is”.
There are many metaphors that are used to make death more acceptable and we use them all the time. Sometimes it can be difficult to use the word “dead” when we are talking about a loved one, so we say we have lost them, or that they have passed. The permanence of death is difficult to comprehend, that space, the gaping wound of heartbreak, the guilt of us still being alive if they died young, the guilt of us living and laughing while they are no more can often be too much for us. As a parent or partner, we often feel helpless that we could not have saved them.
A young mother or a cherished grandmother, a committed father or a supportive grandfather, a teenager, a child, a troublesome relative that has caused grief to some, all have had a relationship with us that can never be replaced. Their presence in our life will never be forgotten and we will remember them throughout the years on every occasion that they will now miss.
I often hear adults’ comment on how children are “young enough to get over it” that young people will “move on and find someone else", that older people “had a great innings”. Some people even tell you the dead person is in a better place; they are at peace now. I have experienced the overwhelming need sometimes to scream in their face and say “I do not care, I want them here with me.” Of course, politeness and society dictates that we should smile benignly and agree.
Over the years I have a list of things that bereaved people have been told me that they would love to say in response. As adults, we often feel uncomfortable and we do not know what to say so the correct response is always JUST BE THERE for the person. Nothing you can say will fix or mend or take away the pain and when the time is right, they will know they can turn to you for support if they need it. The grieving process takes time and energy.
Anne Marie Tymlin is a Bereavement Specialist and Creative Arts Therapist who holds an M.A. in both Drama and Dramatherapy and an M.Sc in Bereavement Studies. Over the years she has supported hundreds of children and families to resolve their feelings around issues such as family grief and loss. She has also worked as an eTutor facilitating teacher CPD at Anokha Learning. She regularly hosts workshops in person and online on topics such as bereavement, self-care, personal development, and mindful approaches to relaxation and stress management.