Here at Dream Bear we acknowledge that for some lone parents the role has come from the devastating loss of a partner. This loss is one that has an overwhelming experience for both parent and children. Trying to get through the day and cope with your grief along with the practical side of everyday living can be almost unbearable. We are lucky enough to have on hand some guidance and support from someone who has experienced grief first hand and become a single parent to loss, Jeff Brazier. Jeff looks at outlets for grief in this section and the emotions you may feel when looking for support. We look forward to bringing you further information in this section and welcome Jeff here at Dream Bear.
The Grief Survival Guide: How to navigate loss and all that comes with it
by Jeff Brazier (Author)
Jeff Brazier has experienced bereavement in many forms: In his childhood, helping his two boys through the devastating death of their mother, Jade Goody, witnessing the anguish of his own mum when she lost both of her parents, and hearing the stories of his coaching clients who are coming to terms with loss.
No one can be an expert on grief, but within this book Jeff provides support and guidance from someone who has been there. Accessible and hands-on The Grief Survival Guide offers practical advice on everything from preparing for the eventuality of death, managing grief, how best to support family and friends, and moving forward. There is no 'one size fits all' approach so instead Jeff teaches us that the best we can do is understand, cope and survive.
What we need from others, a guide to getting and providing support.
Just what is an ‘Outlet’
‘You're only as good as the company you keep’ is a fairly accurate mantra for life but it really resonates in bereavement too. If you think you can deal with your loss quietly, privately and internally, you might find that will catch up with you at some stage. It’s better out than in, as they say.
Part of our responsibility in loss is to give ourselves the best possible support network around us so that we have ample opportunity to express, share, scream, cry and sometimes laugh too.
In an ideal world our support network is already in place, but maybe we’re a fairly quiet and insular type, maybe we’re the person everyone comes to with their problems, so we've never really shared our own? If we don't have a good group around us then we should look at the options available.
Charities such as Grief Encounter have counsellors and experts who can send you a range of help in a variety of different forms.
Coaches and counsellors like myself can give you all the space and time you need to explore your feelings and help you progressively manage your grief as you face each new challenge that loss imposes.
Support groups in the community which get a group of you together at a coffee morning allow you to adjust to loss with the support of a group of individuals experiencing something similar to you. There’s strength in numbers and just to know you're not on your own is a huge help.
So you ‘are’ the outlet or you ‘want’ an outlet?
I get so many emails from friends of people suffering a loss asking what the right thing is for them to say. We put ourselves under an amazing amount of pressure to find those magic words that will take away the pain and feel frustrated when that doesn't come to mind.
Unless you're a coach or counsellor who specifically deals with bereavement, just take the pressure away for a second, your job just became a lot simpler, all a friend needs is to be listened to and to know that you're there for them.
So many people avoid a bereaved individual so they don't have to find the right words in an awkward conversation or run the risk of saying the wrong thing, but imagine how that feels to be going through that and to be avoided!
Bereaved individuals need to express their feelings so if you're a really good friend give them the opportunity to do that, leave the judgement and opinions at home and just listen. Take it all in and if you're going to offer anything let it be a question so that your friend can continue to explore and unfold their emotions knowing that the more they talk, the better they will feel. The progress lies in their words not yours.
You could sit with them in complete silence and that night be everything they need at that particular time; togetherness, companionship, unity and solidarity, so bear that in mind when you think you need to be able to come up with all the answers to a situation that actually carries no logical explanation at times.
To those offering support
Martin Hall - I just want to be supported and not judged. Some "friends" will judge everything you do against the context of your grief, judge you, interfere and make your world a more difficult place than it already is. Six months after being widowed I started to date someone, a group of "friends" decided to shun me and my children and start rumours that I had been dating before my wife died. I guess we make friends based on the good times, how much fun we have with people. We do not make our friends based on who will be there in the dark and difficult days, when those dark days come, we have to hope we won the best friend lottery when we picked all those years ago
Grief is a unique experience shaped from personal belief, simple would it be if everyone involved in a loss were fully accepting of the fact that its ok for someone in the family to cope with it completely differently to they. Sadly this doesn't happen, people are scared of conflicting opinions that bring their own into question.
Realising that we don't control the actions and words of others, the most effective way for us to survive the disapproval our personal approach to grief generates is to simply accept that eventually we are possibly going to lose people that were connected to you through the person lost.
Some find it so difficult to accept a loss after many years that no matter how long it took you to adapt, as far as they are concerned it will have still been too soon. As long as you have been respectful of the wishes of the person your grieving for its best to please yourself instead of trying to please others. Its likely few to none will actually be able to comprehend what its like walking a mile in your shoes anyway.
Tammy Fisher - To not make me feel like I should have moved on already.its only been 5 weeks since mum and people seem surprised I'm not getting in the Christmas mood and if I say I don't feel like it then I get told that I have to for my kids. I don't need the extra guilt.
In contrast to the last, too fast, too slow people are going to share those judgements and you have to be singleminded enough to know whats right for you and if you get it wrong it'll be on account of a decision you made for yourself and not something you did to please others.
When you're a parent its quite likely that your first christmas will be a challenge for all involved, its the day of the year when your loss is most noticeably absent and its common for a parent to feel a sense of guilt for not having compensated enough for it to have been a success.
Common sense always prevails, arrange to go to someone else for Christmas, take the expectation off yourself, take care of the basics like getting the children something to open.
Real success in this case would be to recognise that after a bit of present opening when your kids wake up, the first thing you do after that is show your respects to Dad, visit the grave, release a balloon, let the kids show him they're thinking of him and then you might be able to salvage some kind of normality for the rest of the day. Avoid doing so and the day will be emotionally difficult as i found out for myself with my two children many years ago.
Victoria Louise Boxhall - From time to time i just needed a distraction, someone to take me for a day out etc. What I didn't need (which sadly my best friend did) was tell me what a nightmare I was throughout that experience. Saying how hard it was for her! Good friends should be there through good and bad times. She is no longer a friend!
I don’t think many would care for you during your time of need only to throw it back at you after the event but it clearly happens. We care for our friends because its a responsibility and a part of friendship that we are happy to provide. Grief certainly separates the good from the bad and the future from the past. Its one of those facets to grief that we don't see coming so it always stings slightly. Its the ultimate test of friendship, caring for a bereaved friend can be difficult, but not as difficult as what they're going through. Who will stand up to that test remains to be seen.
I should also represent that some do grieve in a way that goes beyond the average. Some use their loss as a justification for some unreasonable behaviour towards others, some use it to self destruct, it can be used as a weapon both against others and to be used on oneself so its possible that some friends may find that supporting us in these extreme cases would be somewhat of a challenge.
I need them to listen when I feel that I want to remember my dad.
I need them to talk about him with me.
To listen to my stories about him - even if I have told them before.
I need them to allow me to feel safe enough to cry.
I need people to understand that I can’t cope very well with stories of people having heart attacks.
I need people to understand and be aware of my fear of death.
I need people to understand that for me it’s important to know that they are safe, it’s just the way that I am.
I need people to understand that I don’t cope with arguments or fall outs very easily as I am frightened of anyone dying - and I don’t want any bad words or feelings between me and anyone in case it’s the last time I see them.
To understand that I take everything to heart and that I try not to be so hyper-sensitive, but I can’t help it.
To those needing support
This grief you're experiencing doesn't go so well if you're not expressing your rollercoaster of emotions on a regular basis. Expression takes many forms but the most effective way is to verbalise i.e. talk which unless you're going to talk to yourself in the mirror, requires you to have an outlet in the form of a partner, friend, relative, counsellor, coach, stranger, group member, teacher so on..
You don't need an army of people ready to help but a few good listeners would be sufficient.
Just to warn you, here’s the reasons you might not embrace your need for an outlet;
1 You feel so self conscious that you're constantly going on about negative, boring feelings.
Here’s the thing grief is negative, its boring and its unattractive but, its real and thats what friends are for. If you struggle with this why don't you identify your outlets and rotate them so you're giving each friend the minimum amount of bother so you don't exhaust one in particular? You should also make sure you speak to them when you feel surprisingly upbeat so that they’re getting the balance of you.
2 You're suppressing your emotions which you some how confuse for being ‘strong’.
Oh dear, its like being in the 19th century again, ‘we don't talk about it and if we ignore it it'll go away’ Who needs friends when you've got the ability to bottle things up? The irony is when your ‘internal bottle’ is full its going to spill and you'll be needing your friends to help you then only that you'll have pushed them away so much they may be less willing.
3 They'll say the wrong thing and it will make me angry or upset.
The problem with these outlets is that they not only have the ears which we fundamentally require in order to truly support us but they also have mouths and brains which means they are likely to actually put their experiences and opinions across in ways that we don't particularly want?
Some opinions are relevant, some less helpful, some tell stories that act for them as an exchange, ‘you show me your grief and ill show you mine’. In these conversations its your responsibility to set the rules for what is allowed and what isn’t, if you're speaking to someone who has recently lost someone it would be unrealistic of you to expect the to not share back with you.
Find someone who knows that all you need is their ears and their hugs and a nice cup of tea if thats your idea of comfort. Make sure you understand however that the reason certain words or phrases feel like a sore spot for you is not because that person is insensitive but because there are meanings behind the words that you have not yet dealt with.
4 But I don’t want to cry!
Crying is the ultimate exposure to the way you feel on the inside and some people are desperate not to reveal their feelings after suffering a loss. Those in denial of grief know this only too well so in order to maintain and protect that position they must avoid anyone who asks us ‘How we feel’ because a genuine question delivered with love and concern can undo months of hard work!
Ive seen grown men cry over a football result, people cry all the time at sad moments on the tv, people cry when they are at the funeral of someone they just about knew yet, when they lose someone that they have known all their life, someone that meant the world to them and was a significant influence on the person they are today?
They don't cry!! All of a sudden crying is banned but why? Because it is a threat to the control we feel we have over this transitional period of uncertainty, only we gain control when we allow ourselves to cry so if you have that friend that you're comfortable enough to cry in front of, you're in good hands.
Whats in it for them?
The most overlooked fact here is that there will always be certain friends and family members that really want to support us, in fact they may feel like they need to support us or they'll be dealing with their own sense of guilt that they're not doing enough which may be problematic for them.
Friends that really care in our moments of need are absolutely priceless and sadly rare, if we were in hospital for some reason who would visit you? These are the people we should be investing our time in and when you've lost someone, the people that come to your aid ready to listen deserve to be given the opportunity to do just that.
Ok some of you might be thinking ‘but I'm bereaved, so its all about what i want?’ Well yes it is about your needs but there are the needs you're aware of and the needs this survival guide is trying to make you aware of so just be aware you have the choice to let people in on whats going on on the inside, it will absolutely concrete the relationship which is great in the long term and it will give you what you need now.
Friendships are very much tested by the challenge of providing support when its not all dinner parties, drinks, shopping and football. Another difficult part of grief is that in losing one you might actually lose a few more than you bargained for.
I have a client who had 5 friends that she thought were always going to be in her life, after all they had so much fun when they all went out, they were her girls right? She told me how on losing her father when she called one of them briefly giving them the headline of the story only for the friend to reply, ‘well you'll have to wait I'm in Tesco doing my shopping’ it occurred to her that actually these guys (It got worse) were actually no friends at all.
After a session about the reactions of these people she soon concluded ‘you cant soar like an eagle when you're flying with turkey’s’ which confirmed to me she eventually accepted that as sore as it was, for her long term benefit it was a good thing, ‘the wheat had been separated from the chaff ‘as it were. Shame it took a death to show her but there very often no better perspective to be gained than from a loss.
We've all heard the term fair-weather friends, if were not willing to be there when its bad news why bother in the first place? I personally relish the chance to show my solidarity with the people I've shared some pretty tough times with because I'm keen to contribute to the equality of our friendships and show them that I'm more than there for them too.
I think the bigger picture to this is that the quality of our lives sometime depend upon those that we have shared the experience with and how we have selflessly helped each other along the way. The true definition of friendship is when you are willing to sit and be present and listen to anything thats thrown your way.
You may not think it now but one day you'll be very grateful that you shared your pain with someone, Its the fuel that creates the best possible friendships. Life isn't always glamorous and if you're reading this chapter you'll have learnt that yourself but loss is part of our journey and we simply need people to help us recover.