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Grief Awareness Week

Words of comfort and encouragement while you’re grieving may help you feel supported and not alone. Counselling can provide additional support through difficult times.

Read Pam Firth’s article on how grief can impact on all of us and the particular challenges that going through grief during the pandemic have raised.


Grieving is a family affair

National Grief Awareness Week is a time for us to reflect on our own experiences of grief and bereavement but also to reach out to others and to hear their stories.

Death occurs in families, and everybody is affected. Family therapists point out that a death in the family sends shock waves through the system and this is significant in future generations. Talking about grief and bereavement is vitally important and the previous model of “stiff upper lip” has been shown to be unhelpful.

According to the Office for National Statistics (November 2021), in 2020 there were 569,700 deaths from all causes in England. The death rate was higher than the average for the past five years. This together with the exposed health inequalities means that there is a need to support a much greater number of people and to talk about the impact of bereavement on individuals, families, and children. The UK commission on Bereavement suggests that 3 million people have faced bereavement.

What does that mean for society and in particular a society in the middle of a global pandemic? The social context of loss and grief is important and shapes the way we respond. After the tremendous loss of life due to the first world war British society moved from the Victorian expressive grief to an era of making the best of things and repressing strong emotional reactions. National memorials became the norm. Much of our early knowledge about bereavement came from psychoanalytic thinking around this time, Freud later Lindeman which saw extended grief as a pathological response and people were encouraged to leave the dead behind.

Contemporary models of bereavement research suggest the opposite, that we have a continuing bond with the dead person and this ongoing relationship can provide solace and comfort. Particularly helpful for bereaved children and young people.

We need to acknowledge that in this pandemic more men have died than women and more from diverse communities. There have been more deaths at home. Shockingly families have experienced multiple deaths at a time when lockdown has meant culturally significant rituals of mourning have been curtailed and the support of friends and family have been severely limited.

The way many people have died has been sudden and unpredictable, deaths in tragic circumstances and without goodbyes have become the norm. Many were elderly people with their partners left to grieve alone and isolated due to the pandemic.

We are facing a soaring need to provide support for those that are grieving and that includes children and young people. Many of whom will have been traumatised by the events around the death.

Last year in the UK 100 Children a day were bereaved of a parent and many more are grieving grandparents’ siblings and other significant people. 10,000 children across the UK have been bereaved of a primary caregiver.

Yet often children are excluded from family mourning rituals because adults want to shield them from the pain of loss, or they don’t know what to say. Children sometimes want to protect their families and keep quiet.

As an organisation providing counselling for adults, we know many adults come to counselling and want to talk about their childhood grief. Often, they have felt excluded and bewildered about what happened, some lost their home, school, and extended family members. In the past many were sent away to live with relatives when a parent was ill. The feeling of exclusion is so painful.

In June 2021 the UK Commission on Bereavement was launched and their published report is expected in 2022. This is independent of the government.

In the meantime, we can look to the excellent research provided by Marie Curie and Bristol University to give us some useful advice about what helps

Recommendations from researcher Dr Emily Harrop are as follows:

  • Investment in the provision of tailored bereavement support to meet the diverse needs and backgrounds of bereaved people.
  • Raising awareness of support options, information on grief and bereavement services should be provided proactively following a death and made available online and in community settings, with GPs and other primary care providers better resourced to signpost to appropriate support (Previous research supports the need for all bereaved people to receive good quality information about grief and its effect)
  • Following compassionate communities, expansion of informal community-based support and activities could help with isolation, whilst in the longer-term educational and societal initiatives are needed to improve how we communicate and support people experiencing death, dying and bereavement

Grieving is a normal and all of us will face bereavement as we go through the lifecycle. Good information helps and so does talking to people who knew the dead person. Remembering and memorialising provide opportunities to share. Mourning rituals which are culturally determined provide a framework for grieving. The pandemic has stopped some of these activities, so we need to find creative ways to help.

However, where people have been traumatised, experienced multiple deaths and have not said goodbye, seen the body, they may need help from specialist bereavement and counselling services. We are here to help.


Pam Firth for The Counselling Foundation

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