There is a lot of research about grief. This is a good thing on the whole, because those of us working in the talking therapies want to help those of you who are struggling with grief and we can look to the research to help us find ways that are effective.
The problem is sometimes what I read makes me really cross. This week I read that complicated grief can start from as little as six months after a death. I just cannot understand how that could be. Six months, really?
Everybody’s grief is different and unique.
How we make sense of the loss of someone depends on how deeply and passionately we have loved the person who died and who it is who died, for example a child or a partner as opposed to say a friend of a friend. It also depends on how grief is handled in the mourner’s wider circle of family and friends and importantly how much support they get in the short and longer term. Do they have one or two people who can stand by them, long term, and offer a big, warm hug, understanding and practical help to ease the burden (I call these people ‘stickers’). Then there is their belief about death, the afterlife, traditions and memorialisation to help them through the grief.
I counselled grieving family members for thirteen years in a hospice and I never once met someone who was anywhere near being through with grief at 6 months. In fact, I believe the opposite. The longer term understanding of what the death means is just starting to be absorbed and the grief goes through a transformation into something less raw but more concrete. Perhaps less tears but more yearning and longing because the death becomes more real and understood in the bones of the one left behind.
The simple facts are that it will take some people years to come to terms with their grief, and to accept the death and what it means to them. Even then it stays with you and raises its head from time to time when memories arise spontaneously.
There is no hurrying grief, it just doesn’t work, however much you want it to.
There is no finishing line, there is no good answer to ‘are you over it yet’? Each grieving person deserves support, but also to be allowed to take all the time they need to assimilate the loss, without judgement, without being hurried and without unrealistic expectations put upon them.
What is the treatment of choice for those people who suffer with longer term, more complicated grief, say for example someone who has suffered multiple deaths in a family at one time or in quick succession?
It is counselling or having the space to talk through their grief and the issues arriving from it. Having therapy can really help but so can having a good friend or minister or spiritual guide who listens. That is invaluable too.
I started a campaign with @TheGriefGeek on Twitter this week to highlight the issues above.