‘I am sorry’ is often said to me by the bereaved when they get emotional or struggle to think straight. The word sorry is said to originate from an old English term meaning pained or distressed. But the bereaved have nothing to regret or be apologetic about when what they are feeling or experiencing is a natural response to a loss, heartbreak or shock.
We often do what we can in life to avoid feeling pain or discomfort. This may be experienced as part of grief and bereavement but there can be reassurance from understanding and accepting that this is a natural response to what has happened.
Responding to a trauma
In many instances families I meet when planning a funeral service because of a premature or sudden death of a loved one are still reeling with shock. This is an acute medical condition associated with trauma or an event which has caused a sudden emotional stress.
The emotional and psychological symptoms from experiencing a trauma can be disbelief, confusion, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, loss of appetite, anger, irritability, mood swings, depression, anxiety, guilt, blame, withdrawal from others and feeling detached or numb.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists people react differently and will take different amounts of time to come to terms with what has happened.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has helpful practical online advice:
Be kind to yourself
- There is no time frame to accept what has happened and learn to live with it.
- Rather than speculating or wondering what might have happened it is better to face the reality of what has actually happened.
- Sharing your loss with others for example by attending funeral or memorial services can be of comfort for some.
- Take time out for yourself when you need and want it. Sometimes relatives and friends think being with you around the clock and distracting you is a helpful strategy but it is important you can explain to them what you need and it may be to be on your own.
- Talk through at your pace and in as much or as little detail as you want about the trauma. It’s natural if you cry when you do this. Don’t bottle up your feelings.
- Try to look after yourself with a simple routine which ensures you are having a balanced diet, some gentle exercise and rest. Avoid alcohol or drugs.
- Try to do some normal activities with other people without talking about the traumatic event or experience. Avoid taking on too much and don’t make any major decisions about your life until you are on a more even keel.
- Be careful because you may be more prone to an accident during this time.
- There is no shame if you are struggling for example see if you can agree with your employer a phased return to your work place.
How to help the bereaved
Be patient, listen, be available as and when the person needs your company and offer practical help if someone is struggling to take care of themselves. Respect their wishes and don’t make assumptions about what they are feeling or needing.
Seeking professional help
If you don’t have family or friends to confide in and you find after six weeks that your symptoms to the trauma worsen or start to have an impact such as accidents, employment or relationships then you should in the first instance ask your GP for help.
Your GP can discuss a range of treatment options from therapy and counselling to medication.