As I mentioned in my last article, as a counsellor I am used to talking about death particularly in relation to bereavement. There is a vast amount of literature on this topic and it would not be possible to summarise it all here but I thought it may be useful to share some of the ways that I work with bereavement.
When a person experiences a bereavement there can be all sorts of emotions – shock, anger, sadness, guilt, confusion and it may feel as though your whole life has been turned upside down. These feelings may be difficult to control and there can be a fear that you are somehow “going mad”. However these are all natural reactions to a bereavement and form part of the process that is called “grief”.
The grief process is different for everyone although as noted in the literature there are common experiences and feelings. Grief will be affected by a number of different factors such as your relationship with the person who has died, your past experience of bereavement, the circumstances of the death (for example, whether it was caused by illness, accident, murder, suicide etc) , other stressors in your life and many other variables. This is why a person can have quite different grief reactions to different bereavements. There is no set time limit for the grief process despite the fact that comments are often made such as “you should be over this by now”. There is an argument that for some people they may never fully get over their grief but that what happens with time is that their life grows around the grief.
Some of the literature around bereavement refers to different “stages” , however it is not meant that grief is a linear process whereby you neatly move from one stage to the next; it is more likely that there will be movement backwards and forwards between the “stages” . More recent thinking around bereavement talks about a “dual process” in that a person needs to spend time grieving for the loss but also getting on with life and that it is helpful to oscillate between both states so that sometimes a person may be consumed by their grief but at others they can be engaging in everyday life (going to work, meeting friends, making plans).
This leads onto the sticky question of when is the right time to return to work after bereavement, particularly in the high pressured environment of law firms. The answer is that it will be different for each person and just because a colleague returned after two weeks does not necessarily mean that it is right for you. There can be benefits to returning to work, such as:-
- Support from colleagues.
- The certainty provided by a regular routine
- Distraction from the loss which may encourage feelings of “normality”
- Increased confidence and self-esteem
However, there can also be difficulties, such as:-
- Work may be too stressful and may add to the feelings of grief.
- Lack of concentration and memory may impact on productivity which can then lead to lack of confidence and self-esteem.
- Anxiety about talking to colleagues and what to say
Check out whether your firm has a bereavement policy (ACAS and Cruse Bereavement Care
have produced guidance about this for employers) and talk to your manager about how much time you need and/or any other adjustments that could be made eg reduced work hours or workload.
Some tips that you may find helpful following bereavement:
- Accept that grief is a normal response to loss and that healing takes time.
- Be prepared for the fact that some days you may feel better than others and that certain dates may be difficult (birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations)
- Talk about your feelings with friends and family (although also be aware that sometimes others may find it difficult to deal with grief and may not always say the “right” thing).