Bereavement: What Happens When a Loved One Dies?

Everyone in this life faces difficult challenges that can affect their daily routines. Almost everyone will also have to confront the death of a loved one at some point in their lives. What happens when someone faces a challenge as big as this? This is something no one wants to experience, but the reality is that many mental health providers are working with clients who face these circumstances quite often.

The death of a loved one can be an event that can have consequences for an individual for a lifetime. Even losing a pet is very painful for many people, and feelings of sadness and grief can continue for months. The death of someone close is overwhelming and very difficult for both children and adults. In some children, the intense feelings associated with death can be interrupted temporarily by a normal emotional state, only to be replaced again by sadness a few hours, days, weeks, or months later.

While most adults understand that death is inevitable and part of a cycle, young children usually do not have the same level of understanding. At such times, they will need an adult to talk to them, and guidance is crucial. It is also important to realize that not all children are alike, so communication should be addressed taking into account the child’s emotional, cognitive, and developmental stage.

A couple of months ago, while I was talking to a mental health professional who works with loss and grief cases, she mentioned that it is very common to hear children ask questions like: “What time is my dad coming back?” or to make statements such as “I will show this toy to my mom when she comes back.” Often, the person taking care of the child may answer “she is sleeping and will not come back to us” or “we lost her.” The intention is to use soft phrases, but these can be confusing for the child. The child will think that if the parent wakes up or if they search often enough, he or she will return home.

Adolescents and adults also experience a variety of emotions, even when death is expected due to a long illness. Some of the emotions that a person may feel are denial, disbelief, confusion, sadness, anger, humiliation, despair, and guilt. These feelings are normal when people lose a loved one. It takes time to fully assimilate the impact of a loss of this magnitude. However, if the person continues to feel sadness and hopelessness after several weeks and even months have passed, professional help is probably needed. Counseling may help prevent the person experiencing clinical depression.

After a while, it is expected that the person will be able to remember the deceased without too much pain. The individual will learn to live without that relative or close friend and will eventually live a normal life with family, colleagues, and friends. To achieve this state, the person has to accept the loss and slowly begin to learn how to live with other people in the absence of the loved one. Their objectives in life will change, and to recover and gain interest in life will take some time. However, eventually, the person will remember the deceased without pain, and sadness will not overwhelm the individual. Death is a natural process that begins at birth, but undoubtedly affects us immensely when we experience it firsthand.

Seek support and help if you are having difficulties coping with the loss of a loved one; and if bereavement is interfering with your ability to live a healthy and productive life.

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