Grief & bereavement

by | September 6, 2016

Losing a friend or a spouse can be a heart-wrenching experience, leaving many having a hard time getting over it.


Suffering from a loss can take a toll on anyone.

Suffering from a loss can take a toll on anyone.

Losing a spouse or a friend can be a painful experience and it can take a long time for some to get over it. Ageless Online delves into this very important subject of grief and bereavement with Dr Emily Ho, consultant, Department of Psychological Medicine, National University Hospital, Singapore (NUH), to find out more:


Can you first explain the difference between grief and bereavement?

Bereavement applies to a loss event, ranging from the loss of a loved one by death, to loss of employment, divorce or loss of a pet. Grief, on the other hand, describes the psychological and emotional processes that accompany bereavement.


Everybody grieves differently – can you explain further?

Grief typically lasts for an average of six months. However, different people would take a different duration to go through the different stages of grief. Some stay in a stage longer than the others. Some take a shorter time to go through all the different stages, while some take up to one year.


Can you share the five stages of grief introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and what it all means?

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes the stages a person goes through when faced with a life-threatening illness. Many people experiencing grief go through similar stages as well. They are in shock and denial, followed by anger and bargaining, and finally, acceptance and depression.


What are some common symptoms of grief?

The common symptoms are the initial shock and disbelief when they first get the news of the loss. This is associated with a feeling of numbness. This would usually be followed by anger and feelings of guilt, sadness and tearfulness. They might experience poor sleep and appetite, with a preoccupation with the deceased. They could even experience seeing images or hearing the voice of the deceased. Usually these symptoms gradually reduce in intensity, with acceptance of the loss.


What are some tips on coping with grief and loss?

Going through certain cultural and religious rituals during the funeral processes provide an opportunity for a person to face and accept the reality of the loss and to work through the emotions and pain of grief. It is helpful to express the feelings related to the loss so as to assist themselves in working through the stages of grief.

Talking about the good memories and associating the deceased with these good memories is helpful too. It is advisable to pack up the items belonging to the deceased and keep a few important items for memory’s sake. The family can assist in introducing a new routine or schedule, involving social activities and engagement, so as to allow the person to form new relationships and a new routine without the deceased. Religion also plays a protective role for many, and they can often find support within the religious groups.


What happens when the grief doesn’t go away and develops into a more serious problem like complicated grief or major depression? What is complicated grief?

Complicated grief involves delayed grief, prolonged grief or very intense grief. People with complicated grief might experience excess guilt and self-blame, prolonged period of not being able to function normally, or preoccupation with feelings of worthlessness or even thoughts of ending one’s life. They might also have experiences of seeing images or hearing voices other than those of the deceased. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of complicated grief should seek professional advice.


I would like to touch on the scenario where a child is caregiving their ageing parent for many years and that parent passes on. What advice can you give to the child on gaining back some normalcy in his or her life? This also could apply to others who have lost someone.

Other than accepting the reality of the loss and working through the pain of grief, the next step would be to adjust to the environment without the deceased. This might involve taking on a new role, taking up a new hobby and forming new relationship so as to aid them in emotionally relocating the deceased and thus move on in life.


Is it true that the number of deaths is expected to rise in countries with an ageing population?

The elderly population might experience more losses of their friends and loved ones. It is painful to lose their friends and partners one by one and more so if they lose a loved one younger than them.


How can others such as friends as well as family members support those who are grieving?

Normal grief does not require treatment. Friends and family members can provide support by being there for them and allowing them to express their feelings of sadness or anger associated with the loss. Assure them that this is a normal experience of grief, and assist them in finding a new role in the home and in the community without the deceased.

Some people re-experience the symptoms of grief during the death anniversary. It is important for the person experiencing a loss to recognise this and for friends and family to provide ongoing support during this period of time.




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