Learning to grieve - A unique journey for everyone

How do you grieve?

Based on, and including, information from the documentary ‘Learning to Grieve’ by George Shelley, currently available on BBC iPlayer.

George was in a successful boyband for three years, as part of X Factor – and then went on to feature on ‘I’m a celebrity – get me out of here’. His documentary was released this week and gives a unique insight into his journey around the death of his sister Harriet. We explore some misconceptions about grief, bereavement and the ‘expected’ behaviour and path to follow.

Funerals and Assumptions

Organising the funeral after a loved one has died can take up time. Often the bereaved person can find themselves surrounded by friends and family, eager to help and support.

Organising a funeral can also be a way to keep the recently bereaved person busy. It can allow a way for personal elements to be included in whichever way you have chosen to remember your loved one.

We feel strongly that everyone is unique, and to have a service which other people feel is more fitting to the situation, can sometimes be more traumatic in cases where family members don’t feel involved. They can feel that the deceased person is not being remembered in the way they should be. Ensuring the funeral is in a format that allows you all to celebrate the person in a way which feels fitting is important, even down to the simplest of things.

The family and friends of a person who has died find solace and togetherness in the planning the funeral. They can be direct and open in this environment about what they’d like to happen, how they would like the funeral service or remembrance to be conducted. Although George’s documentary didn’t discuss the funeral of his sister, this is an important element to touch on.

Once the funeral has happened, the general assumption is it marks closure and ‘the time to start moving on and getting on with life after it’. For many people funerals don’t provide closure but they are an important step in the transition to a new phase of our lives.

Do we know how to support someone who is grieving?

George’s documentary points to an interesting side of grief, which is that there is no limit – no linear, defined way in which to behave. There is no time limit on how long you can be affected by a loved one dying. We can’t look at someone else’s way of grieving and healing and try and to do it the same way as them. The effect of someone close to us dying is a unique experience and journey to us all.

Often, the people you’d look to for support – your community around you, be that friends or family, are also grieving. This can lead to feeling extremely lonely and lost. Being direct and open about death, dying and talking about grief and bereavement can be extremely difficult. George’s documentary shows the difficulty around how hard he found it to be open. He found it hard to share and even explain how he was feeling at any given moment, because of the emotion involved.

He found the smaller things the hardest, such as saying his sister’s name, or looking at pictures of her on his phone. He admitted he locked himself away in his bedroom and entered a period of complete darkness that he now accepts was depression.

His mum comments in the documentary,

“Strength and being strong is breaking your heart, crying – and then doing. Keep doing.”

It isn’t necessarily ‘getting on with it’ – it’s allowing yourself to accept that grief manifests itself in different ways, for various reasons, and sometimes, depends on the relationship you had with the deceased person.

Accepting it could affect everyone in the same family in different ways – and that emotions could surface all in one go suddenly, at different times – was a strong theme during the documentary. It challenged us all to tackle the taboo head on about opening up and going through the grief journey in our unique ways.

How to talk to someone who has experienced the death of loved one?

How to talk to someone who is bereaved? Who has an important person in their lives who has died – to a terminal illness, or suddenly?

We can often find it hard to ask the question, ‘how are you?’ to someone we know must not have a positive answer to that question. At least not while the pain and loss is still so fresh and raw.

On the flip side it can be scary to be asked that question, we fear it could push us to the edge of what we can handle. However, being raw, open and honest is how we mend. Sharing grief and feelings rather than keeping it deep inside is how we work through it. Together.

“How are you?”

“Fine thanks, you know – getting on with it”

“Great. Great – glad to see you are feeling better”

Are we, as a society, scared to ask the question to someone who has recently experienced the death of someone close? Are we scared because they might answer, and we might not know how to respond?

Probably? But to tackle the taboo, sometimes the simplest thing is best. We don’t have to offer a solution to someone’s pain, we don’t have to struggle over our words to comfort someone. Just asking the question and being ready to hear it can make all the difference.

“Shall we go for a quick coffee and have a catch-up?”

“I’d love to pop over sometime – when are you free?”

“How are things now after <person> funeral? Can I help with anything?”

“I remember xxx loved the cinema, shall we pop to the next showing of X?”

“My granddaughter is an absolute whizz at technology, if you’ve got any questions about your computer or your phone, make sure you give me a ring, we’d love to help you”

The Americans have it nailed. They bake pies, cakes, dinners and take them over and knock on the door, perhaps uninvited and give them the food and ask them how they are. And they want to know genuinely. Because perhaps they’ve realized that just because you can’t see grief – or someone crying as a sign of grief – doesn’t mean it isn’t there. A broken leg is much easier to deal with. It’ll be healed in a set amount of time, and then that’s that.

Unfortunately, grief doesn’t work like that.

A wise man once said:

“Once a person has died, they leave behind a unique shape which cannot be filled, because every person is unique. Keeping doing what you’re doing, but revisit the unique shape, don’t try squashing something else into it because it won’t work.”

Watch George’s documentary on BBC iPlayer

If you have recently experienced the death of someone and are struggling with dealing with the various online personal accounts of the deceased you can read our blog post on how to cope with a ‘digital legacy’. It offers support and instructions on dealing with the deceased person’s social media accounts.

Bereavement Resources

There are various organisations which can help following the death of someone close. We have listed a few below, but there are many local ones too, who offer tremendous support.

  1. Hope Again – for young people needing support following a loss: https://www.hopeagain.org.uk/
  2. Widowed and Young – for younger people who have lost a partner: https://www.widowedandyoung.org.uk/
  3. Cruse Bereavement – for support after a loss: https://www.cruse.org.uk/
  4. Macmillan – for support following a loss through cancer: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/at-the-end-of-life/coping-with-bereavement
  5. The Lullaby Trust – for support for those following an unexpected loss of a baby or young child: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/bereavement-support/
  6. Childhood Bereavement Network – a hub for anyone supporting bereaved children http://www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk/
  7. Local Childhood Bereavement Network supported Organisations: http://www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk/help-around-a-death/find-help-near-you.aspx
  8. WYG – ‘What’s your grief’ – supporting a wide variety of losses, and ways to cope: https://whatsyourgrief.com/death-of-a-sibling/
  9. Sue Ryder – Palliative, Neurological and Bereavement Support: https://www.sueryder.org/
  10. The Samaritans – help for anyone dealing with any type of loss or issue: https://www.samaritans.org/
  11. UK Care Guide – providing support on all aspects relating to elderly care, this helpful infographic details the steps to be taken immediately after a loss: https://ukcareguide.co.uk/dealing-with-bereavement/