How do you get through the hardest times of all?

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A FEW days before Christmas, one of my uncles died after a short illness. He was a kind, big-hearted man with a tremendous sense of fun. He is greatly missed by his family and friends.

Those, like me, who work in caring professions by the very nature of our jobs have greater exposure to terminal illness and death than most.

You don’t become immune to the grief of others but you do develop a little personal armour around your heart as a survival mechanism which enables you to support others in their time of distress. When suffering a personal loss, however, your own grief is undimmed.

Bereavement affects us all in different ways and there is no right or wrong way to feel. I remember the first time I went home after my dad died. I felt I needed to be closer to him somehow.

I went around the house touching things he may have been the last person to touch – like the little tower of coins he saved for the parking meter that he left on his bedroom dresser every night.

A few years ago I spoke to a lady shortly after her husband had died. She told me she had tried to sleep for the first night after he had passed away holding his shirt near to her face so she could be close to the smell of him for one last time.

Grief is a natural response to loss and has been described like waves on a beach. You can be standing in water up to your knees and feel you can cope, when suddenly a big wave comes and knocks you off your feet.

This happened to me when I was driving to work about six weeks after my dad’s death. My mind had been wandering and I had been thinking of things to tell him when I next phoned home. It struck me that he wasn’t there any more and I wouldn’t be able to. I stopped the car and let the tears fall.

There are a number of stages of bereavement that many people go through: initial shock and disbelief, anger at the loss, feeling the pain of grief, and finally acceptance and becoming at peace with what has happened.

It can be a bumpy, rollercoaster ride with very intense feelings, particularly at first. There may also be a real jumble of emotions involved – shock, numbness, crushing sadness, tiredness, forgetfulness, anger and even guilt.

These are all normal feelings which in time will pass. Everyone grieves differently and you may not go through all the stages and emotions. Also there is no normal timetable for grieving.

Some people feel better in weeks or months and for some it can be years before the person who died isn’t at the front of their thoughts.

It takes time to work through a loss and difficult periods usually become less intense and shorter as time goes by.

Talking and sharing your emotions with family and friends for many people is the best way to cope with a personal loss.

However if you feel that you may need additional support your GP or Doncaster Cruse Bereavement Care will be able to find someone for you to talk to.

If you feel that you aren’t coping it might be worth seeking additional support. For example if you are unable to perform your normal daily activities, don’t feel able to look after yourself or your family, feel you can’t go on without the person you’ve lost, or feel that your grief is so overwhelming that it is ruining your life, you don’t need to face your bereavement alone.

Anniversaries and special occasions like birthdays and Christmas can be difficult, particularly at first, and it may be helpful to plan ahead for these events.

It is important just to do whatever you feel you need to do to get through the day. You might want to take a day off or do something that reminds you of your loved one.

For children who experience loss, coping with their own grief and the distress of adults around them can be tough. Sharing feelings and talking about emotions is particularly important.

If a family member has a terminal illness, children can become very stressed and pre-bereavement support is often valuable.

For someone with an incurable illness and their loved ones, practical things like talking about funeral arrangements and pre-bereavement care can help to prepare for the bereavement. The sadness you experience when a loved one dies never goes away completely, but the intensity of your feelings following your initial loss does pass. Time truly is a great healer.

More information and advice about support if you have faced bereavement can be found on the NHS website, www.nhs.uk/livewell/bereavement. For someone to talk to locally, call Doncaster Cruse Bereavement Care on 01302 814 647.