On the one hand, there are various professionals and volunteers who can be of immense help at the time of a significant loss in our lives. These include doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, counsellors and others who have understanding of, and expertise in, the complexities of dealing with loss and grief and related matters. For example, CRUSE is a voluntary body which provides trained counsellors who can be very helpful in supporting people as they go through the transition necessary to cope with a major loss. However, although there are many people who can offer help at times of a significant loss due to their professional experience and expertise, we should not be overoptimistic about this, as it is often the case that professionals fall into the trap of not recognising the significance or prevalence of loss in people’s lives (see Thompson, N. Grief and its Challenges, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). However, in providing help for people going through a grief process as a result of one or more losses, it is important not to assume that they will automatically need professional help. As was stated in the section on Why are loss and grief important?, it is often the case that all that people need to help them through this difficult time is a degree of recognition, sensitivity and social support. Of course, no-one can take their pain away, but acknowledging it and being there with them can be of immense benefit. However, unfortunately, one very common reaction is for people to turn away from their friends or colleagues who are grieving because they feel embarrassed or ill-equipped to deal with the sensitivities of the matter. It is as if they cannot face the harshness and intensity of the situation and the strong emotions that go with it. This is a response which is very much to be resisted, as this tendency to turn one’s back on somebody who is grieving can add to their pain and deny them the support that they are likely to need at that time. One thing that can be helpful in this respect is to have in place a workplace policy on loss and grief so that people are aware that these are important issues and must learn how to deal with them, rather than simply pretend that they are not there. This can be a discrete policy in its own right or may form part of a wider staff care or dignity at work policy. It is not necessary to treat a grieving person as if they are ill. In some circumstances, grieving can make people ill or exacerbate existing illnesses (as a result of the stress involved), but this tends to arise in only a minority of cases. However, where medical problems do arise, it is important that these are dealt with in the normal way – for example, by a visit to the GP. Of course, no doctor can ‘treat’ grief, but there is a danger that physical problems that may accompany grieving become ‘masked’ by the grief and are therefore not dealt with, perhaps leading to complications at a later date.
Neil’s website and blog are at www.neilthompson.info