Back to Reflections on Chapter 11

Part 1:  the nature of bereavement.

It helps to realize that each bereavement is unique. It usually brings both loss and change; loss of an individual relationship, good or bad, perhaps with a child, a parent, a spouse, a friend; and change, for example, in housing, income, work, managing monetary or relationship affairs. Further, the bereavement is affected by the nature of the death, whether it is quiet and expected, sudden and shocking, or through someone’s fault or incompetence.

Further the reaction to bereavement, i.e. grieving, is constantly changing as the individual regains strength, and as events distract from or reinforce the experience. It is usually best for grieving people sometimes to focus back onto the lost relationship, and sometimes forwards onto the process of recovery.

Part 2:  the art of supporting by listening.

You will realize from the above that, even when you know the neighbour well, it is impossible to guess the depth of the disruption or distress their bereavement has brought them. There can be no one set helpful advice. The essentially helpful thing is to listen and to involve yourself in her issues, helping her to address them within the context of her ideas, and so strengthen her confidence and resilience.  It is rarely useful to introduce ideas or faiths of your own, or to be critical of hers.

Some bereavement may not be distressing, for example the death of a distant relative who has been away for many years. But sometimes, for example with a young woman who has to cope with the death of her husband, caring for young children, moving house and finding a job, the bereaved person may need a steadying hand to help them gather their thoughts, and recover their strength.There may be a few practical ways in which you might help; visiting the grave or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau with her, or sharing some chores, but your capacity to listen and acknowledge her difficulties and to involve yourself are the greatest help. It may be that just one meeting will be enough; three or four often suffice. Some practical and some ethical issues need to be considered when offering help, especially when you have no agency support or training.  For example, you need to generate and maintain trust, and to do this, you need to promise only what you can realistically manage. Issues of confidentiality need to be managed, especially as you do not have the back-up available to agency workers.

Part 3:  topics frequently encountered in bereavement work.

There are some topics that may be of particular concern to the bereaved: loss of purpose or meaning to their life, loneliness, sexual loss, and death. It may be good to look out for these matters, and, especially with regard to death and religion, rehearse how you would react should your own views be very different.

And there are some other issues that it might also be good to consider. For instance:

  • for the bereaved neighbour to build a new kind of relationship with the dead person by reviewing the past relationship, aspects that were good, others that need reconsideration, and by encouraging detailed discussion about her with other friends;
  • the importance of discovering how the lost relationship is effecting the neighbour and how a new but more honest understanding of their own identity can be encouraged;                 
  • to encourage the neighbour to express their fears and confusions about death and judgement, and about their own death.

Occasionally people may feel suicidal.  It might shake you when you realize this so that you respond inappropriately.  It is worth giving the possibility some previous thought.

Part 4:  topics that need professional help.

Two things, traumatic death and depression can cause you to feel useless and unhelpful, and to waste  time.  They should be recognised and passed on to the medical profession.

When families are coping with a bereaved child, it is often best to help the parents {and not to introduce someone new, yourself, for the child to cope with}.  It may be that agencies might give the most considered help.

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