Dealing with Bereavement
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Dealing with Bereavement

Health Scenario: Bereavement Adaku is approaching the end of her 'Igba Nkpe' (the ritual rites among the Ibos of Nigeria for widows). She sat in the middle of the 'parlour' (living room) clad in black attire as she is surrounded by other mourners, her sisters, in-laws and other relatives. She sat with her chin in her palm, intermittently shaking her head, expressing her sorrow. Adaku has just lost her young husband whom she married barely two years ago. As she wailed and fell into the ready hands of those surrounding her, she was immediately scolded to "stop crying, ozugo nu." Adaku is in severe shock, she is distressed from what seemingly will become a permanent loss and she is being asked to "compose herself?"

Expert's View: It is okay for Adaku to cry because if she suppresses her anger and emotions, it might lead to physical illness. Energy or anger stored in repression has to express itself. Most times it expresses itself in illnesses (Peter Shepherd, Repression and Suppression 2009).

In this post, let's briefly discuss what goes on when people suffer losses using bereavement as an example.

Stages of Bereavement: The Kobler-Ross Model

People tend to go through emotional stages when they are faced with the impending death or death of someone. These stages as formulated by Dr. Kubler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, in 1969 is popularly known by the acronym DABDA: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. It is important to note that not everyone will experience all of the stages and that if all the stages are experienced, they won't necessarily occur in this particular order.

Denial: In this stage, one is unable or unwilling to accept that a loss had taken place. It feels as though one is experiencing a bad dream, that the loss is unreal, and one is waiting to "wake up" from the dream, expecting that things will be normal.

After one has passed through denial stage and is beginning to realise the loss had occurred, one may begin to feel Anger at the loss and the unfairness of it. A feeling of abandonment may set in. Some people might even become angry at the person who has been lost. Some others feel very angry towards doctors and nurses who did not prevent the death or towards friends or relatives who they imagine did not do enough.

Next comes Bargaining: In this stage, grieving people beg their "higher power" to undo the loss. This phase involves promises of better behaviour or significant life changes which will be made in exchange for the reversal of the loss. One may say things along the line "I'll do x & y if you bring him/her back to me". Also during this phase people hallucinate the presence or see visions or hear the voices of their lost loved ones. They feel that they "see" their loved one everywhere they go, in the street, around the house, or anywhere they had spent time together.

Once it becomes clear that anger and bargaining are not going to reverse the loss, people may sink into a Depression stage, where they confront the inevitability and reality of the loss and their own helplessness to change it. During this period, grieving people may cry, experience sleep or eating habit changes or withdraw from other relationships and activities while they process the loss they have sustained. People also blame themselves for having caused or in some way contributed to their loss, whether or not this is justified.

Finally, according to the Dr. Kubler-Ross's plan, people enter a stage of Acceptance where they have processed their initial grief, emotions, and are able to accept the loss has occurred and cannot be undone, and are once again able to plan for their futures and re-engage in daily life. They become more active socially, getting out more, seeing people, and resuming their interests. However, the sense of having lost a part of oneself never goes away entirely. For bereaved partners, there are constant reminders of their new singleness, in seeing other couples together and from media images of happy families. After sometime, it is possible to feel whole again, though a part is missing. Again, years later, you may sometimes find yourself talking as though he or she is still with you.

Having said all this, there is no "standard" way of grieving. We are all individuals and have our own particular ways of grieving. In addition, people from different cultures deal with death in their own distinctive way. People seem to have worked out their own ceremonies for coping with death. In most communities death is seen as just one step in the continuous cycle of life and death rather than as a "last bus stop." Rituals and ceremonies of mourning may be very public and demonstrative as amongst the Ibos and Yorubas or private and quiet as amongst the Hausas.

Coping with Bereavement
In the Nigerian society, religious, social and cultural dimensions are usually emphasised when death strikes while the psychological dimensions of the loss on the bereaved is most often over looked. Religious inspirations are usually offered while the reality of the loss is not fully explored. Some of the bereaved do enjoy the co-operation and sympathy of others as they go through the funeral ceremonies and other rites regarding the disposal of their loved ones, but soon after they receive little or no help in planning for concrete long term strategies to cope with the loss. However, the most important aspect of death is its impact on the loved ones left behind since the dead are understood to have reached the end of their physical life but the bereaved left behind is saddled with the psychological trauma occasioned by the loss of a loved one especially when such a loss occurs suddenly. (Bereavement Trauma and the Coping Ability of Widow/Ers:The Nigerian Experience O. S. Elegbeleye and M.O. Oyedeji, 2003)

What Can You do to Help Yourself?

- Talk to your close family and friends, especially those that you feel understand.
- Don’t listen to those who say you 'should be doing better than you are’.
- Tell yourself that you are normal for feeling the way that you do.
- Find ways to continue your bond with the person, it may be engaging in things that they used to do. For example, cooking, taking up DIY projects, becoming the one within the family who organises get togethers, or carrying out an activity the deceased would have appreciated your taking part in such as a charity walk.
- Be kind to yourself -- don’t go back to work too soon.
- Talk to someone close to you.
- If you feel that you are not coping, please visit your doctor as you could be referred for grief counselling.

Sometimes it is helpful to talk to someone outside of your family and friends and it can be helpful to retell your story over and over again. This can help you to make sense of how you are feeling and it can help to normalise your feelings.

Sometimes it can be more useful to keep busy as not everyone finds it helpful to talk. This is fine providing that you are not pushing things away so that they build up to a point where you feel you are going to explode. It can be helpful to have an outlet when you feel like this -- maybe a good friend to talk to or possibly some professional help.

Where To Go for Help

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. While compiling this information, Drkay used all reasonable care but makes no warranty as to its accuracy.


Very insightful piece. this explains all i went through.

Hi there! I simply would like to give an enormous thumbs up for the nice info

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