• Victoria Clancy

A Note on Grief

Feeling the acute loss of someone or something we love is not something we would choose to think about. Yet, when we are grief stricken, it becomes all-consuming. In the depths of grief even simple tasks become burdensome as our brains are focused on dealing with shock. Denial and shock are often the first stages of loss, these phases may be shorter lived as the severity and finality of grief sinks in, or it may take time with some feelings of shock still present many months later.


Grief isn’t something we tend to move through in a linear way, rather it comes and goes like a tide, with strong waves that sweep in without warning. Due to grief having such a strong impact, continuing with daily routines can be helpful. Familiar faces and activities can offer an anchor, something to lean on; supporting us physically, but also providing emotional structure and dependability - which are shaken during bereavement. Grief may be exhausting and limit our energy for the things we used to love:- the minds way of trying to come to terms with who or what has been lost can be tiring as the brain needs time evaluate and restructure.


Exploring all of the complex emotions of grief is an important part of the process of not only letting go, but allowing the body to heal.


Studies of the various kinds of tears have found that emotional tears contain higher levels of stress hormones than do basal (aka lubricating) or reflex tears (the ones that form when you get something in your eye). Emotional tears also contain more mood-regulating manganese than the other types. Researchers have established that crying releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins. These feel-good chemicals help ease both physical and emotional pain.


The severity of emotions a bereavement can bring and the uncertainty around when grief will be triggered is particularly unsettling for young people. During childhood and adolescence the brain is still developing, their capacity to manage strong emotions is yet to be fully formed and the extra challenge of processing loss can be an especially stressful time for the child and those around them.


It is important that young people are provided space to talk through their experience and it can be helpful to have help from those who are not going through the loss as an external container and source support.


The NSPCC offers advice on talking to children about difficult topics such as death and Winston’s Wish is a charity specialising in children who have been bereaved.


Child Bereavement UK helps families going through loss, they have a helpline 0800 02 888 40


There are also some excellent books that tackle loss for children, these can be a way of starting a conversation, such as Gentle Willow by Joyce C. Mills and Badgers Parting Gift by Susan Valley.


If you wish to find out more, please feel free to get in touch.


I am a child psychotherapist (UKCP Registered); a counsellor; arts and play therapist, covering Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. You can contact me here.

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