Sarah’s Health Notes: How To Care For Grief

Sarah’s Health Notes: How To Care For Grief

Psychotherapist Julia Samuel, founder patron of the Child Bereavement Trust, has launched a new Grief Works app to help people soothe the pain and heal. 

Most of us have experienced the grief of family and friends (and I very much include animals) dying over the years. Usually, that happens more as you get older but over the pandemic the awareness of death has hit home to more and younger people, as I’ve found in my own family.

When I lost a baby and became infertile through a ruptured ectopic pregnancy over three decades ago, there seemed to be a collective chorus from older women of ‘good girl, just pick yourself up and move on’. I found then that it didn't work like that. The untended grief continued for many years. I wish then I’d known about the work of psychotherapist Julia Samuels (above), who specialises in supporting people who have been bereaved and helping them to ‘navigate their grief’.

For ‘them’, read my family and me. When my younger brother died last year (which I wrote about here), I gave his son and daughter a copy of Julia’s book Grief Works. She has written a second book, This Too Shall Pass, and now launched the Grief Works App. The blurb says ‘Soothe your pain, build your strength and heal’. And, like the books, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

As Julia says, ‘grief is profoundly personal’. There is no one size fits all pattern, in terms of feelings, stages, timing and the rest. After many bereavements, I’ve found each differs. The main variables for me are my relationship to the person (as I say, including animals – some of my greatest feelings of loss have been from those loving souls) and the way they died. When someone dies well – and it does happen – there is a sense of smoothness and even sweetness. My mother in law died at home at the age of 94 with all of us in and out over the last few days. One of my favourite memories is sitting round her bed eating a take-away Chinese supper with my husband, his sister and her husband. We were chatting and laughing and munching while she seemed in a gentle world between this life and whatever comes next.

My adopted elder brother died too young at 73 but spent his last days in the most wonderful hospice, in a room looking over the garden with sunlight streaming in. The last time I visited, he was snoozing. When he woke to find me sitting by his bed, he told me he’d been sleeping all morning and ‘it was glorious’.

Then to my blood brother, whose dying and death at home during Covid was far from peaceful. That has been far harder to come to terms with for all of us. The acute phase has passed but I still get unpredictable waves of sadness and guilt that - perhaps as the older sister and someone who knows a bit about health - I couldn't do more to make things easier for him in all ways. (It wasn't just the pain he suffered for months, the local end of life care system was pretty chaotic, which made things infinitely tougher for all of us.)

Julia’s Grief Works app has sections for different relationships including siblings and I have started looking and listening to that. It is a comfort just listening to her warm steady voice. The app gives you a course to guide you through grief but please don't feel that’s overwhelming or like school… It’s broken down into three stages in lots of little bite size pieces and you can work through it at your own pace. Yes, it is work in a way, but it is worth it.

Logging on to the morning reflection (there’s daily suggestions about things to do morning and evening) somehow slows my breathing and grounds me in the present. Today the screen says: ‘When you’re grieving, it really helps if you can hold the dark and the light together. So keep trying to notice and let in any lighter moments of hope or gratitude throughout your days.’

I wrote to Julia to tell her how glad I was of the App and told her we regularly visit my brother’s grave and chat to him about what’s happening – including taking him a copy of his favourite Racing Post when it’s a big race on. She replied, ‘So good to visit his grave and keep talking to him. As I say in the app – he’s died but the relationship doesn't die. The love never dies.’