by Sarah Harris, Director of Bereavement Support and Education, Child Bereavement UK.

Sometimes, if I’m honest, I find it difficult to talk about my work. In my profession, I deal with bereavement, loss, and grief every day – so when someone at a party asks me, “and what do you do?”, it can be tricky to formulate an answer that won’t somber the mood.

And from one perspective, it’s not hard to see why many people wouldn’t much fancy talking about bereavement over the drinks and nibbles. People usually prefer to keep thoughts of loss and grief at arm’s length: out of sight, and out of mind. Reflecting on the loss of others can prompt reflections on their own losses, bring grief back to the forefront of their mind and there can be also a fear or an anxiety of getting upset and shedding a tear.

What I’m going to get into here is the other perspective: I’m going to talk a bit about why it should be a priority for us to create conversational spaces for loss and grief, and the special role that we all can have as ‘bereavement aware professionals’ – the people who work and support people at the most difficult times – have in opening up that space.

The other perspective

The other perspective is that by excluding grief from our conversations, we also exclude those who grieve. At Child Bereavement UK, our work is underpinned by supporting families and professionals to understanding how they grieve, sharing what can be helpful when people grieve, and most importantly, what families tell us is helpful to them.  What is key is opening up spaces and conversation for people who have experienced loss to talk, be listened to and begin the work in supporting them in rebuilding their lives.

But professionals working with people who die, or the people they leave behind, will also experience the loss, and grieve alongside them – whether that’s the GP, the surgeon, the palliative care nurse, or, indeed, the professionals who make up the National Child Mortality Database, or Child Bereavement UK. We need opportunities to talk, share our experiences and begin to process the loss too.

Hope for the future

So why don’t we talk about grief more frequently? I expect a lot of people, if pressed on why they prefer not to talk about bereavement, would simply say: because it’s sad and they don’t know what to say. But the truth is less straightforward. We may all be familiar with the various emotional thoughts and feelings relating to grief, but we are all individuals, and our grief is unique.  There is no right way to grieve, grief does not follow a liner path, we oscillate between thoughts and feelings, some people grieve on the inside, others on the outside.  Every bereavement is different, however, for many bereaved people there is a desire to ensure that the death of their loved is not just a statistic; that their death contributes to change, so that others won’t have to suffer the loss they have felt.  This is why the work of the NCMD is so very important.

Supporting people to rebuild their lives is not always to accomplish, but working alongside bereaved families, supporting them in their grief, enabling them to move forward is an absolute privilege.   One of my colleagues, Pam, makes quilts out of ripped up pieces of material, lovingly sewing them together in an abstract of colour and texture, she shares this with bereaved families showing them that even when life has been torn to pieces, with the right support, pieces can be brought back together and made into something strong, resilient, and beautiful.

Grief aware professionals

In my work, I’m often talking with people about grief and how they process it – encouraging them to find ways of acknowledging grief that feel comfortable and right for them. I remember one man who, following the loss of a child, told me that for him, grief was like a person dressed in black. Sometimes Grief would sit on his lap, would have his arms around him, would be immediate and clamouring for attention. And sometimes grief would be sat just in the corner of the room, right on periphery – occasionally throwing a ball of paper to him to catch attention, then grief was very much back in the room with him.

So, whether you’re a grief aware professional, someone who has been bereaved, or someone who is trying to be there for someone who has experienced that loss, my message for you is the same: we are not alone. Together we can find manageable ways to process and manage our grieve and to ensure that loss, grief, and bereavement are very much part of our conversations.

Loss may be sad – but talking about it can be healing. And that is joyous.

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