When someone you love dies you feel the loss of them. There is no right or wrong way to respond and everyone responds in their own way. Your loss is like other people’s losses, just as your fingers are like others’ fingers. However, your loss is also your unique experience just like your fingerprint is different from everyone else’s.
Grieving is a normal response to loss and although painful, it is part of adjusting to life without the person you loved. It is normal to experience a range of feelings including shock, numbness, pain, anger, guilt, depression and yearning.
It is important to allow time and space to attend to your fluctuating emotions. It is also important to have ‘time off from grief’ and enjoy yourself. Often people of faith feel far from God or find it hard to pray. Most people who are bereaved move through the emotional unpredictability of grieving and recover over time. Sometimes the grief experience is likened to a ‘roller coaster ride’ or a sense that you are ‘living in a bubble’.
Ministry work and grief
One of the key questions at a time of grief is that of ‘How long should I be off work?’. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Many people want to get back to work after a week or two and that is usually fine if you have the energy and enthusiasm for work. Clergy who are involved in pastoral care may need to take longer before returning to this aspect of their work. This is so they can be confident that they will not be overwhelmed by their own emotions when listening to someone’s story of loss or pain.
Clergy and their families may find that grieving is particularly difficult because of the public nature of their jobs and lives. They are still ‘on show’ even though they are going through a tough experience. However helpful church members intend to be they may not understand the need for privacy at such times.
Taking time off to attend a funeral and to practicalities is an important priority. This may be hard if there are pressing work demands so having cover from the Area Dean or a colleague is supportive. It is appropriate to lighten your work load as much as you can whilst you are grieving.
Don’t rush back to work if:
- You were very close to the person who died.
- If the person who died was your partner or your son or daughter.
- If the death was complicated such as a suicide or in a traffic accident.
- Your Area Dean, Bishop or GP advises against it for now.
Working through grief
The people you will most likely want to talk with will be your own family members and close friends. This is not true for everyone however, particularly if family relationships have been difficult. If you are struggling with difficult emotions after a bereavement or find it hard to talk to those around you then a short course of counselling may be supportive.
In particular circumstances unfamiliar and unexpected emotions can be evoked which makes it harder to move through the grieving process. These circumstances may be because:
- Your relationship with the person who died was problematic
- The person who died was someone who abused you
- The person who died caused divisions and problems in the family
- The death leaves you with unexpected financial demands or other responsibilities which impinge on how you live your life now
- The death was traumatic or complicated such as a murder, suicide or traffic accident
In these circumstances it is wise to seek help through one of the organisations specialising in bereavement care, or your GP or a counsellor.
- Cruse – Cruse is an organisation specialising in supporting people who are bereaved and gives information about how adults and children feel when they are grieving and helpful ways to find support. Helpline: 0844 477 9400; email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Royal College of Psychiatrists –The RCP have produced a useful bereavement leaflet which you can download for free.
St Christopher’s Bookshop
– A specialist bookshop available online with a wide range of books on bereavement and grieving, including texts about how children and adolescents grieve and how best to support them.