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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."
A central pillar in the support of our system is finding ways to externalize that relationship. It may be by:
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.
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.
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.
We need to establish a regime that helps to regulate our body, which then helps to support us emotionally, such as:
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.
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.:
'Focusing' is the technique that helps me to open up and release the bodily intelligence in people. You can do this for yourself:
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.