How grieving suffers if you can’t go to a funeral

Columnist and counsellor Fiona Caine tells a grieving woman that it’s never too late to seek bereavement support.

The problem
“During the height of the pandemic, my sister died. She had been unwell for some time, and although her death was expected it still shocked me. We had always been very close. She was my only sibling and was definitely a very protective older sister – the one person I went to with all my problems.

“When she died, funeral restrictions were in place so I couldn’t attend. Thankfully her husband and children were able to go and say their goodbyes, which gave me some comfort, and I made the decision to go back to work just two days after her death.

Read: What stage of grief are you in?

“Because I couldn’t go to the funeral, and the surreal-ness of living through a pandemic, I don’t think I have ever processed my grief properly. It’s starting to hit me now, as I find myself thinking about her a lot and getting really upset that she isn’t there for me to phone when I need some advice.

“I have been back at work for a while now and everyone assumes I’m okay, but I’m really struggling and don’t know how to tell people, or even my boss. I find I have a serious lack of concentration and motivation to do my job and part of me doesn’t really care about it all, if I’m honest. I often find myself going outside to have a little cry or staring at my screen but thinking of my sister.

“No-one at work has never spoken to me about the policies in place for colleagues going through a bereavement. Can I approach my boss for some support and, if so, how do I have that conversation? Please help.”

Read: Coping with the sudden death of a partner

Fiona says
“Coping with bereavement at any time is hard enough. But having to cope with it during a pandemic has had a hugely traumatic effect on many people. Whilst it may feel like it, you are not alone in your grief – so many people have experienced grief in a very different and difficult way over the past two years. And so many people – like you – have not had the opportunity to express their grief as they might normally do.

“A funeral is a hugely important opportunity for people to get together to comfort and support one another, so to have been denied that must have been devastating. I am sure your decision to return to work right away was a means of helping yourself cope. And I’m equally sure that whilst doing so felt right at the time, you didn’t have a chance to grieve. That pain is catching up with you, and you need to find ways to let it out.

“Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through would, I feel sure, give you a chance to express the pain you’re feeling.

On average each death leaves in its wake five bereaved people. Some bereaved people, with the support of family, friends and their community, cope with this loss. However, for around 6 per cent of the bereaved their grief is chronic and disabling. Research indicates that these individuals benefit from more specialist bereavement care.

The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement (ACGB) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that provides grief and bereavement support in Australia.

Read: The five stages of grief

They provide online, telephone and face-to-face bereavement counselling to individuals, children and families who need assistance following the death of someone close to them.

“As to how you approach your boss, I would suggest you ask for an appointment to talk to them privately, and tell them you’re struggling to cope and need help. The death of a loved one is one of the hardest things any of us will go through – that’s why it’s so important to ask for the help you need. Ask if there are any resources available – there may be a bereavement policy in place for a start.

“Also, you didn’t take any time off at the time of your sister’s death, but perhaps you need some time now – even if you have to take it as sick leave – and a bereavement policy should cover this. If you feel you need it, ask if there might be opportunities for flexible working for a while too.

“The hardest thing you have to do is start this conversation – I’d like to hope that, once you’ve done so, your boss will be only too willing to be supportive. It may well be that you’ve hidden your grief so thoroughly up to now, that no-one has noticed that you’re struggling.”

Have you ever had to get through a similar situation? Please share any advice you have to offer in the comments section below.

– With PA

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YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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