Exploring different causes of bereavement
Updated 24 November 2014
by Sarah Graham
Tuesday 11 November 20141161 2564
We all know that bereavement is caused by the death of a loved one, but different types of bereavement will naturally affect you differently. We asked eight RSCPP therapists to explore the different deaths that can cause bereavement, and what impact they may have on the way you mourn.
Death of a parent
The loss of a parent can be life changing, and may be one of the most significant deaths that any of us have to face, especially if a close attachment exists. The grief may feel primal and your loss may feel like 'abandonment' or being 'orphaned'. This can impact you, leaving you feeling 'alone' in the world, especially where no siblings exist or, conversely, where sibling rivalries or other issues exist. The death of a parent can unite a family, but can often lead to family members going 'their own way' and losing contact with each other. Bereavement may also remind you of your own mortality, especially when you step into the role of family elder and there is no longer anyone to consult with or to offer you wise advise.
Death of a child
When we hear the words 'death of a child', we often think of young children or babies. But any parent who outlives a child, even into old age, naturally feels the death of their children acutely. Your young child may have died through an accident, illness, an unexpected death such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS, previously called 'cot deaths') or, in rare cases, through murder. However, it is important to recognise that parents lose their children in other ways too - you may have lost an adult son or daughter in the line of duty, through suicide or even old age. Whatever the cause of death, it goes against the order of how you, as a parent, think life should flow. It is an agony to lose a child of any age; it can feel like a physical amputation. You may feel a future has been lost - a future of dreams, of hope and potential, and life as you know it is irrevocably changed for ever. Importantly, the memory of your child will be with you until the day you die yourself; there is no getting over it, just learning to live with the loss slowly, over a very long period of time.
Miscarriage or stillbirth
The loss of a life is one of the loneliest and most personal bereavements there is. The fact that the life never existed outside the womb may mean that the loss was hugely personal in a biological sense, but also much harder for friends and family to understand. People may find it hard to resist talking to you too soon about trying for another child, as if the dead one can be replaced. It's important to make space for the lost child - a place in the world, if you like - as a reassurance that they will never be forgotten. For the woman, you may also feel an overwhelming sense of failure, in a world which seems to be filled with healthy children. Miscarriage is not something that is easy to talk about, so it often happens secretly.
Death of a partner
The death of a partner can leave you feeling as though you are completely alone in the world, and it is important that the other people in the your social network can be called upon to provide support. Adequate levels of social support can help to protect you from experiencing complex grief reactions. It is important to remember that grief is a normal process, and that the most difficult emotions will, over time, reduce, allowing you to feel that you can go on with you life. Occasionally, grief can become a chronic state, and the death of a loved one may lead to attachment difficulties in the way you relate to significant people in your life.
Death of a friend
Perhaps more than any other loss, the death of a friend impacts on us differently depending on where we have got to in our own lives. For children, the death of a friend can sometimes be overwhelming, and it is hard for a child to know how to respond to such a loss. For young adults, the death may be the first, shocking confrontation with the possibility of your own death, and with the uncertainties and unfairness of life. Later in life, the death of a friend may signal the dwindling away of those who knew you as you were, and with whom you share memories and experiences. Whatever point in your life you are at, whether it comes as a first loss or the latest of many, the death of a friend brings you face to face with your own feelings about loss and mortality. These feelings can be difficult to look at or give voice to, and yet it represents one of your most important emotional tasks.
Death of a sibling
Losing a sibling is very difficult for children and young people, and for adults. It is someone you have grown up with, and the relationship can be complicated as you may have had great times but also occasionally felt jealous of them, or they of you. This can cause feelings of guilt when they die, or even anger. It is also a very real reminder of your own mortality. Following a sibling's death, it is also important to be allowed to still remember and talk about the times you had with that brother or sister. In the case of children losing a sibling to illness, preparing your child in some way for the thought of losing their loved one is important, and including young people in arrangements for their sibling's funeral can be helpful. Don't be surprised if your child feels angry at you or the sibling. It is a natural part of the grieving process. Your child may also feel they may be to blame in some way, so allowing them to talk through their feelings is very important.
Death of a pet
The relationship with a pet can be very different to any other relationship. It may be the only truly unconditional relationship you experience. If you have difficulty trusting another human because of life experience, you may find a special connection with a pet that you may have never felt before. Therefore, the loss of a pet can be felt so deeply, and sometimes more so than previous losses of family members, where the relationships may have been more complicated. People often feel they are not justified in grieving as much for a lost pet and may feel pressure to cover up their grief as others may not understand.
Death through suicide
One of the most difficult losses for the bereaved to come to terms with is that of suicide. For those left behind there are so many difficulties around their grief. When a loved one has committed suicide you may feel shame that someone close to you has done this - almost guilt by association, asking yourself time and time again if you could have prevented it. You may experience feelings of helplessness that you may have been able to do more to help them, constantly wondering how things could have been different. Unlike other deaths, suicide is often accompanied by official enquiries, time delays between the death and the discovery, and many unanswered questions, that unfortunately are never or rarely satisfied. There is also a stigma attached to the loss, which means you may find people are less likely to offer you the type of comfort that may be shown after a loss due to age, illness, or a sudden death due to an accident. The shock of a suicide is so hard to come to terms with and those who are grieving are often left alone to grieve privately.
You can find out more about Bereavement
, including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.