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How to support yourself through bereavement

Bereavement support

When the worst happens and you find yourself bereaved, it can be very difficult to remember that your body and mind need support and care to get through it. We asked Julia Samuel MBE, a psychotherapist with twenty-five years' experience of working with bereaved people, how best to support yourself through grief.

"As we age, we inevitably experience bereavement more often, and this also coincides with a time in our lives when we feel the most vulnerable. Research shows that the generation in their 60s and older are the least likely to access or receive appropriate support when someone dies, and this is particularly true of men.

"Through my work as a bereavement psychotherapist, I have learned from clients what can help to manage the pain of loss at such a difficult time. Below are the 8 Pillars of Strength that I have developed to help navigate the black hole of grief."



1. Relationship with the person who has died

A central pillar in the support of our system is finding ways to externalize that relationship. It may be by:


  • Wearing something that connects to you to them, like their watch, or a scarf
  • Visiting their grave; creating a memory box in which you place special objects, assembling a photograph album; or writing to them
  • Cooking their favourite recipe


2. Relationship with oneself

As our relationship with the world and others is changed by grief, so does our relationship with ourselves change. We need to show ourselves self-compassion, listen to our own needs, to be kind and to avoid self-attack in the form of constant self-criticism.

We all need defence mechanisms, and to work out whether we need to build other mechanisms in a particular situation. For example if we tend to shut down when we are upset, we may push people away, just when we need to let them in.


3. Ways to express grief

It could be talking to family or friends, it may be writing a journal, or painting, making music or seeing a therapist. The key is to find a way of connecting to the feelings we have inside, articulating them and then expressing them.


4. Time

It is important to understand that time takes on different hues in grief. Allow more time than is often expected to make decisions. Our relationship with time feels changed, and the best we can do is to keep our outlook short, with attention focused on each day and on each week.


5. Mind and body

We need to establish a regime that helps to regulate our body, which then helps to support us emotionally, such as:


  • Cardiovascular exercise (which helps to ease the feeling of fear), such as running, walking or any sport
  • Relaxation/meditation exercise, which helps to manage our anxiety
  • Eating regularly, without great spikes of sugar, coffee or alcohol, which cause the body to peak, then crash


6. Limits

An important pillar is to recognize the power to say 'no'. Friends and family can get very bossy when we are grieving, and very keen for us to get back into the swing of life, but nobody else can know what is right for us.


7. Structure

In the chaos of grief we can feel as if our world has tilted off its axis. It can therefore help to build a  a pillar of structure. For e.g.:


  • Exercise first thing
  • Do some work or chores
  • Take time to remember the person who has died
  • Actively choose to do soothing, calming things, such as buying nice flowers, having a massage, cooking nice food, listening to music, reading
  • Sticking to regular times for sleep


8. Focusing

'Focusing' is the technique that helps me to open up and release the bodily intelligence in people.  You can do this for yourself:


  • Close your eyes
  • Breathe deeply and slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth, three times
  • Direct your attention internally
  • Move your attention around your body until you find the place where there is the most sensation.
  • Breathe into that place
  • Find a word that describes that place – does it have a shape, a colour? Is it hard, soft?
  • If the image could speak, what would it say?
  • Follow where the image takes you

For more information on coping with bereavement, visit Julia's website, www.griefworks.co.uk. Her book, Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving, is published by Penguin and is available from Amazon now.










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