February 2024 Bereavement



This subject naturally follows from ‘overcoming heartache.’  The loss of a loved one is the common factor in both and clients often compare the two. Perhaps the most accurate description of both is a crippling psychological, physical, social, financial, and often demographic change. A change in who we are. A loss of ourselves. A foreigner in a land that looks the same but isn’t.

No one is qualified to judge the level and impact of someone else’s grief since we are unique with unique circumstances. Grief can come later rather than sooner, and appearances are often deceptive requiring skilled therapy to uncover those feelings below the depth of the bereaved person’s perception. That said, everyone might understand bereavement better if we consider the importance of ‘limbic regulation’: Most people that the body they inhabit is self-regulating – that their own physiologic balance occurs within a closed loop. Some of our somatic systems are closed, self-regulating loops. Others are not. In a closed loop design each body part would keep its system in continuous harmonious balance.

But in human physiology an open-loop arrangement, and individual does not direct all his/her own functions. A second person transmits regulatory information that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function and more – inside body of the first. The reciprocal process occurs simultaneously.

All this makes relatedness and communal living no less than the centre of human life. Healthy humans are not loners. That is one of the fundamental issues at the heart of bereavement. Counsellors, and psychotherapists and the public will have dealt with symptoms of ill health brought on by isolation during the Covid 19 epidemic. Consider the baby whose physiology is maximally open loop. Without limbic regulation he will die. I suspect that is something the bereaved can readily understand.

So, what practical steps can we offer to support the bereaved? There are many books written on the subject, but common themes are:

  1. Consciously maintaining a relationship with the deceased although in a different form. Finding ways of externalising that relationship. E.g. wearing something of theirs, creating a memory box, cooking a recipe, posting an image online.
  2. Self-compassion and looking after our health and strength. This includes writing down conflicting and confusing messages. We may be grateful that our loved one is no longer suffering. We may be grateful that we no longer have to sacrifice ourselves to the illness or disease of a loved one.
  3. Get the right support. Express grief. Tell those close to us how we are really feeling. Tell a therapist especially one skilled and knowledgeable about bereavement.
  4. Patience – know that grieving takes longer than anyone wants.
  5. Know that our body is affected as well as our mind. It can unconsciously influence how we think and the decisions we make.
  6. See a G.P. if you need to if only for a health discussion and ongoing monitoring.
  7. Recruit people onto your support team. GP, mental health nurse, friends, family etc.

The passing or death of a loved one or even a colleague can affect us because we know it is probably life’s ultimate challenge.  It reminds us of our own journey and mortality. It can even frighten us. At such times, the skill of sitting quietly and listening carefully to the person affected is the greatest gift you could give.


All book extracts are shown in italics.  This blog has extracts from: A General Theory of Love: Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, MD., Richard Lannon, M.D.   Vintage Books, 2001.

And Grief Works: Julia Samuel MBE BACP Acc.  Penguin Random House 2017.






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