Bereavement is the state of being individuals experience when they are deprived of someone they loved, cherished, valued. It is a deeply personal and emotionally demanding time, that affects every person in a different way. The consensus on the stages of bereavement are based on the widely-accepted model by Kübler-Ross that include:
- Denial; including shock, pain and guilt
- Depression, isolation and reflection
- Acceptance, recovery and hope
Whilst this is the universal framework of grief, studies have shown that there are overlaps, omissions and inconsistencies between every stage that is experienced by a grieving individual. For example, individuals may experience some stages, or skip all but one, or start with acceptance and then move on to feeling isolated, or even speed through some stages and then stagnate in others. Infact, this path that is the grieving process feels a lot like a bumpy roller-coaster ride of uncontrollable emotions and chaotic experiences, unique to every individual. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in the days following the death of a close relative of friend, most people feel stunned followed by a period of emotional numbness, which is replaced by a sense of agitation and yearning for the deceased that is experienced in intermittent phases with overwhelming sadness, anger, guilt and bargaining, isolating oneself and constant reflection. These stages show themselves in different ways until finally the individual can let go of the person who has died and fully move on – recovery. So, if you are going through this roller-coaster, don’t think that there is something wrong with you and don’t lose hope, because it is very common to experience anxiety and fearfulness. It is normal to feel that this sadness is insurmountable, that you are going crazy and want to escape. However, it is also natural to stay on this painful bumpy road and heal. It is possible to move on and attain closure.
Studies have shown multiple factors that can affect how you approach this period in your life and create your path to peace; such as culture, religion, contextual factors (such as the cause of death) and individual differences (including your personality and emotional intelligence). This in-turn can help pull you through this most difficult time. For example, cultural traditions and rituals acknowledge the great pain that comes with loss and allows you to say goodbye to your loved one in a respectable and dignified way as well as take the time to grieve and recover. Your religion also shapes the way you cope during this time, and offer social support and a reaffirmation of life – where death is just seen as a stepping stone into the next life. For instance, in Islam there is a 7-day period after the death where the bereaved family is constantly visited by their friends, extended family and members of the community, who provide food (ensuring that they do not have to worry about their sustenance), comfort and socioemotional support.
Do not underestimate the power of connecting with Allah (SWT) for continuous strength, patience and positivity for yourself, and immense mercy and blessings for the departed soul. Remember that He is always there for us, unconditionally, and that there is a goodness and reward that comes out of every single experience in life – especially the difficult times. Reflecting on this can give us a different, and ultimately healthier perspective and a better opportunity to reaffirm your faith and trust in Him.
“…It may happen that you dislike a thing while it is good for you; and it may happen that you love a thing while it is evil for you; surely Allah (SWT) knows, and you know not.”
~ Qur’an 2:216
When the shock of the loss fades, it is common for the pain and sadness to intensify. This is when your personality and emotional control can shape the way you cope with your feelings. Your mind also needs a rest during this time, so you should take some time to distract yourself and discover the things that can help you work through this experience – your personal style. These activities can give your strength and help in you heal, for example reading, writing or keeping a journal, giving charity, exercising and eating healthy, good foods, spending time at the masjid (mosque), and taking the time to relax and de-stress.
The important thing is to be patient with yourself and don’t rush this process to get over it because this may introduce more pressure for your body and mind than you are already experiencing. Try out new ways of coping and let yourself feel the grief, as letting it build up inside of you is not only unhealthy, but can lead you to destructive behaviours, like isolating yourself or resorting to abusing substances. Remember that the grief you feel will always find a way to be released in its own time. Sharing what you are feeling with someone else, whether in a private setting or at a support circle, can also be very beneficial to this process – this could be a family member, friend, counsellor, your GP or the national Cruse Helpline (0808 808 1677). This enables you to vent out and unburden yourself of intense emotions, as well as seek comfort and reassurance that you are not alone in this experience, and identify new ways to cope.
Sometimes, when you start feeling better and have a particularly good day, you may begin to feel guilty – don’t. This does not mean you love them any less. Rather, slowly getting back to your usual routine is a natural and integral part of recovering and moving towards achieving your goals, worldly and spiritual.
There are several organisations, including faith-based ones, that exist here in the UK for providing support and advice to you during and even after this period of bereavement, and help you take steps to recovery and social reintegration. The NHS Choices website also has a lot of useful information about how to cope with bereavement, useful links for more information and available support services, and the important things to consider when building your support network. Some of these include:
- Bereavement Advice Centre (https://bereavementadvice.org)
- The Compassionate Friends: Supporting bereaved parents and families (https://www.tcf.org.uk)
- Muslim Bereavement Support Service (http://mbss.org.uk)
- Samaritans (https://www.samaritans.org)
- Muslim Youth Helpline (https://www.myh.org.uk)
The benefits of these services are enormous, and when combined with embracing your individuality, and practicing your cultural and religious tradition – you will be well on your way to a healthy recovery.