Why we need to normalise grief

Our new Bereavement Volunteer Manager, Fiona Venus, explains a little bit more about our Bereavement Support Services, and the power of shared experience in supporting people to cope with their grief.
Bereavement Cafe
Published on: Tuesday 10 Aug 2021 at 17:04

“Grief is a natural reaction to loss. It is a universal experience but each of us experience it in our own way. What’s important to remember is that everyone grieves differently and for different amounts of time.”

A varied approach to bereavement support

“At St Clare Hospice, we have been broadening our bereavement service so that we can support more people in more ways through their grief. We offer open access bereavement support to anyone living in West Essex and East Hertfordshire. People don’t need to have had prior contact with the Hospice to benefit from our free services.

“We give people the chance to talk to someone immediately about how they are feeling with our Bereavement Support Helpline (now called GriefLine). Our Bereavement Cafes (both virtually and in person) give people the chance to connect with others who are experiencing bereavement so that they can begin to build their own social support networks. And we provide individualised support, lasting 6-8 weeks, through our listening ear programme.

“This is all in addition to offering 1-2-1 and group counselling sessions. The variety of our offer reflects the various needs of someone who is grieving; what might work for one person wouldn’t necessarily be effective for someone else.”

Grief is normal

“It’s important to remember that grief is not a clinical condition but a normal experience. Grief will bring about intense emotional reactions, but these reactions are healthy and a normal part of the grieving process.

“We need to normalise grief and our expectations around it, understanding that most of us will experience a bereavement at some point in our lives. It’s important to recognise that there is no magic fix. We will all react in a different way and this will be shaped by a number of factors including our age, experience, relationship’s to the deceased, how they died and our culture and beliefs.

“Sometimes people experience more complicated emotions and this is when a clinical approach is needed. When grief becomes complicated, the intense and overwhelming emotions that are common for most people in the early experience of grieving, may feel constant and for a long time. It may be difficult to figure out what to do to cope.

“As time goes on, the attempt to cope with these feelings can begin to have a permanently disruptive effect on normal day-to-day living, such as the ability to carry out daily tasks or communicate with those around us. We call this ‘complex grief’ and this is when the bereaved person needs therapeutic intervention. We have trained bereavement counsellors who carry out bereavement assessments on individuals to ascertain whether therapeutic intervention is needed.”

Helping people sooner

“By having an integrated Bereavement Support Service, we are now able to ensure that people get the help they need as quickly as possible. For example, someone with complex grief might begin their journey with us via our bereavement helpline. But our trained volunteers and bereavement councillors will be able to ascertain whether more support, or clinical intervention is needed, or whether they would benefit from growing their own personal support network.

“This is why the Bereavement Support Helpline has become such an effective resource in helping us to support more people through their grieving process and why we consider it to be a great starting point when someone needs help.

“Since the Helpline launched in June 2020, 146 people have called the Bereavement Support Helpline and more than 121 hours of support have been delivered by the Listening Ear service since it launched in September 2020.”

– Fiona

If you need support, or know someone who does, call GriefLine on 01279 945089. We have trained people on hand to help and guide them through their grief, making sure that everyone is able to get the support they need.

GriefLine is available from 8am to 5pm every week day and up to 8pm on Tuesday and Thursday*. Or you can visit the GriefLine website to read our latest blog posts on grief.

*Excluding Bank Holidays. GriefLine is free to call, though charges may apply in line with your standard network rate.

Fiona shares some of the best ways to support someone who is grieving

  • Understand that everyone grieves differently and for different amounts of time.
  • Don’t let your fears about doing or saying the wrong thing stop you from reaching out. Invite them for coffee, help around the house in practical ways or cook them a meal.  By just saying ‘I’m here   if you need me’ transfers the burden to the bereaved, they may not want to ask for help.
  • Reach out after the funeral. Offers of support tend to fade away after the funeral and a couple of months after the death and the bereaved person can feel like everyone has forgotten. Check in or send flowers. It will mean a lot .
  • Don’t be afraid to mention their loved ones name. Talk about memories if you have them. You may feel talking about their loved one will upset them, it may bring tears but it will bring them a great amount of comfort.
  • Don’t ask ‘How are you?’ as this is a greeting you would ask anyone and doesn’t acknowledge their loss. Instead try ‘How are you feeling today?’
  • Understand you cannot fix their hurt. The best thing you can do is listen without offering advice.
  • Never avoid someone who has been bereaved because you don’t know what to say. Pop round, send a card, letter or text. Even just saying ‘I have no words or I’m sorry’ is enough.
  • Sharing similar bereavement stories can be helpful to someone who is grieving. Knowing that someone else has been there and what they are feeling is normal is incredibly helpful.
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