Making space and time for both grieving and finding our 'new normal'
Once the intensity of the Christmas period has subsided, January and February can produce a real slump in many people’s moods. New Year can feel particularly difficult for bereaved families, when the focus is often on fresh starts and the future—but if that is a future without a loved one, it can feel very hollow. Our families have told us they sometimes feel as if they are ‘leaving a loved one behind’ in the previous year, when a new calendar year passes following a bereavement.
Both parents and children may hear friends and family talk about their ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. Our families and young people tell us of the frustration and irritation they sometimes feel when surrounded by what can feel like trivial problems or concerns in the face of their grief.
But what if this time of year can be reframed for the grieving person as a prompt to make time and space to check in with themselves and their loved ones? Setting clear intentions to better understand your family’s different needs and grief responses will help to lay the foundations for some positive actions to help the whole family move forward and start creating your ‘new normal’.
There are 2 main groups of ‘tasks’ people undergo when processing a bereavement; the Dual Process bereavement model helps explain what ‘normal’ – or ‘healthy’ – grief looks like:
We talk about ‘healthy’ grief with the acknowledgement that, for many of us, intense emotional pain can feel anything but healthy. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that the range of grief emotions – anger, sadness, distress, anxiety etc – is actually a very normal and valid response to an extremely sad and/or traumatic event. Conversely, we wouldn’t see extreme joy and disbelief, physical excitement, or emotional outbursts as ‘problematic’ responses to, say, winning the lottery. Grief itself is not a ‘disorder’ or mental illness and, with the right support and education, most people learn, in time, to adapt to and live with their loss. For more information about typical grief responses, click here.
Broadly speaking, ‘healthy’ grief should allow a person to spend time in each side of the diagram above—the pace at which a person might move between tasks is individual and influenced by many factors. One factor is age; it’s very common to see younger children jump very quickly from moment to moment, whereas older young people and adults might take longer to shift between emotional states.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is getting ‘stuck’ too much on one side or the other (i.e. unable to experience ‘lighter’ moments, or completely avoiding any connection to the ‘harder’ work of emotional processing), it may be time to talk to your GP or a bereavement support specialist such as SeeSaw, Winston’s Wish, or CBUK (for children and young people), or Cruse (for adults).
Having read this blog and looked at the Dual Process Model, why not take some time to think about the ways in which you intend to make space and time within the family in the coming weeks to attend to each person’s bereavement needs?
For more information about grief in isolation, making use of support networks, parenting bereaved children, and maintaining routines when grieving follow the hyperlinks to our other blogs on these topics.