On bereavement and loss…

The Queen’s death last week has received worldwide coverage and started a period of state, national and, in some cases, international mourning.  At ACTO, we have been reflecting on loss and grief, and the effect that losing public figures can have on people.

Of course, it’s not just the death of a monarch that may affect us – we have lived through some difficult times recently, with reminders of the fragility of our existence all around us – the Covid pandemic, the Grenfell Tower disaster (the fifth anniversary having recently been remembered on 14th June this year), and further afield the events in Ukraine, flooding in Pakistan and wild fires and other natural disasters, wars and terrorist events around the world.  Sometimes, lately, it feels as though the world is full of suffering and tragedy.

Deaths, disasters, emergencies can be poignant reminders of loss and the unpredictable nature of life. 

Two days after the news of the Queen’s death a friend remarked “I am not enjoying this sombre music on the radio, even though I completely understand and support the reason.  I have relied on light, happy programmes to keep me sane since my wife’s passing.”  Another friend talked about the Queen being a contemporary of her mother, and how the news is making her more aware of the reducing amount of time they have left together.  Both have been rocked by the news, but in different ways – to one it has been a reminder of what he has lost; to the other it has given a sense of foreboding, of what is to come.

According to Mastrangelo and Wood (2016), Grief is:

“a reaction to any form of loss … [It] encompasses a range of feelings from deep sadness to anger; and the process of adapting to a significant loss can vary dramatically from one person to another, depending on his or her background, beliefs, relationship to what was lost, and other factors.”

Loss is an inescapable part of life – from the death of loved ones or pets, the ending of relationships, the loss of mobility, the loss of connection to others through disease or illness, moving away from people we love, to job losses or the changes in circumstances that move our lives from the predictable to uncertainty.  All of these, and many more, are forms of loss that we find ourselves having to adapt to, sometimes moving closer to inevitable goodbyes of one sort or another.

And so, as we recognise that change and endings are an inevitable aspect of life, we are aware that this might be a difficult time for many.  24/7 news coverage of tragic events can affect the way we see the world and, in turn, turn our focus towards our own lives and relationships.  As therapists we will encounter loss, or the fear of loss, from our clients in many forms.  We will also have our own emotions on the subject to consider.  Let’s not forget the importance of this – and perhaps to think about how we look after ourselves in periods of mass mourning, sadness or grief. 

Kiren Sweetman is a person-centred counsellor and registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Kiren is also a director of ACTO.

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