Help and hope for the bereaved at Christmas

CPFT consultant Dr Nick Oliver on how to deal with loss, especially at this time of year

Help and hope for the bereaved at Christmas
23 December 2014

Christmas can be a difficult time for people who have been bereaved, but help is available…writes Dr Nick Oliver, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

Christmas is a time that many of us like to share with family and friends.

But what if the one person we want to share it with us is no longer there?

At some time in our lives we will probably all experience the death of someone close to us, whether that’s a parent, a partner or even a child.

This can lead to strong feelings including sadness, loneliness, anger or as if a part of you is “missing”.

These feelings are quite normal, but can become magnified at this time of year, and on other special events like birthdays or anniversaries.

Bereavement, the period of mourning after the death of someone, is often painful and can take time to get through.

When dealing with bereavement we may hear the phrases “moving on” or “learning to cope with the loss”, but for some people those words simply don’t ring true.

Perhaps it is more apt to say we learn to live “around” the loss.

We can think of the death of someone close to us as like a serious injury - slowly a scar will form that heals the surface.

At first it may feel very sensitive and it’s hard to do everything we used to do. And although the painful feelings fade over time and we find ways to carry on with everyday life, from time to time it can hurt as much as it did at the beginning.

Often the support of family and friends is really important, but a survey published last week revealed that perhaps that may be more challenging than it sounds.

A report released by the Dying Matters Coalition – which aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement - showed that almost half of Britons say they would feel uncomfortable talking to someone who has been recently bereaved.

The survey also told how significant numbers of bereaved people have experienced negative reactions to their grief, including people avoiding them and the loss of friendships.

Those findings are saddening and it’s clear to me that we all need to get better at helping those who have experienced a recent loss.

It’s sometimes not easy offering support; perhaps we are worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, or worried about how we will cope with the sadness. However, as difficult as it sounds, the death of people we care about and the mixture of emotions we feel is a part of normal life. Offering practical help and just being there to show we care can be supportive to the person who has been bereaved.

Occasionally, people might become preoccupied with thoughts about the person who has died or continue to feel an intense yearning for them, months or years after they have died.

The feelings may carry on for a long time and might lead to us avoiding people, places or other situations that remind us of the person we have lost. This can happen if the death was traumatic, sudden or witnessed first-hand.

Sometimes professionals call this “complicated grief”.

If that is the case, I would advise people to seek help from bereavement charities, counsellors or other mental health professionals.

Whether family, friend or professional, none of us can make all the pain and sadness go away. But by talking and showing that we care we can help with the process of learning to live around the loss.

*This column first appeared in the Cambridge News on Monday, 14 December, 2014


For more information please contact:

Andy Burrows
Communications Manager
E andy.burrows@cpft.nhs.uk 
T 01223 726767

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

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