Family caregivers who care lovingly for senior loved ones will eventually face their end of life.
They will enter into a period of grief which will take time to process and heal.
We will never forget those that we lose but instead remember their influences and impact on our own lives. Our senior loved ones have shaped us in one way or another.
As we cared for our loved ones, we had the opportunity to form an even stronger bond with them. Unfortunately this often makes their loss more difficult to accept.
One way our healing can be supported is through bereavement counseling.
What is Bereavement?
Bereavement is the term used to describe the period of grief and mourning after a death. A bereaved person has suffered a loss. The time following a loss when we are adjusting to our loss is referred to as bereavement. Grief describes the physical and emotional aspects of bereavement.
Many people experience their grief in different ways including mental, physical, emotional and even social with emotions that run the gamut of sadness, anger, despair and even guilt.
Grief can take on physical symptoms for many such as loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.
Each person experiences grief and bereavement in a different way and in a different time.
Bereavement Steps Toward Healing
Even though each person takes their own time to cope with the loss of a loved one, the process of bereavement generally undergoes a progression of steps. Each person can go through the steps consecutively, experience more than one at a time or experience them in no particular order.
How we each handle our loss is going to be dependent on the circumstances around the loss. Was it expected, sudden, seen as a relief from suffering or as a result of violence?
- Acceptance – we will come to terms with the fact that we indeed did lose a loved one, someone we cared about and for whom we cared over our lifetime. Even when we anticipate their passing, we are never fully prepared emotionally for their loss. We need time to grasp the fact that they won’t be there when we call, they won’t be sitting in their favorite chair or need you to cook their dinner. Acceptance is a necessary step to fully grieve.
- Experience the pain – you need to give yourself permission to feel the loss, grieve for your loved one. This pain could take many forms and your experience will be different than others. When you don’t allow yourself the physical and mental grief experience, it will be hard for you to process it fully and move on with your own life. Your emotions must be released, how you do that depends on you.
- Adjust to a life without your loved one – if you were the daily caregiver, your day to day life and tasks will change. How will you adapt to the change? You will need to fill your time with other activities. In the beginning it may be cleaning out their clothes or other possessions and eventually you will need to focus on new activities for yourself. Perhaps seeing friends, volunteering, learning something new or getting a job. Things that will fulfill you, filling the gap left behind by your loved one will help you heal.
- Transfer the energy of grieving into new things, your new life – you will never forget your loved one but each day will come and you will participate in new things. You will have found a way to cope with your emotions and have begun to live your life again. This is not a bad thing or one to avoid. Your loved one would want you to remember them but move on and live your life.
It is important to seek help when you are having difficulty coping with your bereavement. If you are having difficulty after the death of a loved one, seek out the guidance and support of a bereavement counselor.
Bereavement counselling can help you find ways to cope with your loss and offer you support as you heal.
A bereavement counselor will help you express your emotions and acknowledge the loss of a loved one so that you can move forward toward acceptance.
It is important to realize that we don’t actually recover from a death because that person has changed us but instead heal.
We shouldn’t expect to be the same as we were before the death but instead changed from the experience. We don’t forget the person because we are healed but actually find ways to remember them and honor them as we continue with our lives healed from the pain of their loss.
Bereavement Counselors Can Help
A counselor can help you resolve any conflicts surrounding your loved one or their passing.
Some people may experience depression after losing someone they spent so much time caring for and it can be expressed in your actions, personal care and thoughts including suicidal ideations.
A bereavement counselor can help you deal with depression or thoughts of suicide following a loss.
Despite the time you might need to fully process your loved one’s loss, a counselor can help you heal and begin to function more normally, moving on with your life while preserving their memory.
Because there is no one cookie cutter way to mourn a loved one, how you handle your grieving process will be different than everyone else so a bereavement counselor working with you individually will help you on your personal healing journey.
End of Life Care and Bereavement
When your senior loved one has opted to participate in either palliative or hospice care at the end of life, or this is their wish that you have honored on their behalf, bereavement is part of the treatment plan for you and other family members.
Hospice programs generally provide bereavement counseling to help you locate resources and find your way to healing for approximately one year after your loved one’s death. Each hospice provider is different but all provide bereavement services.
Many people who are involved with hospice care agree that comfort care for the person at the end of life is not the only focus, but caring for the family in after care with bereavement is an important part of the program too.
Many people who face the loss of a loved one know that there are many people to support them through their bereavement and grieving process including family members, friends, clergy, hospice program personnel, grief counselors, healthcare professionals and many others.
There are many who will be in your corner supporting you as you heal.
“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
― Leo Tolstoy