Bereavement

The logistical brouhaha that surrounds a death - from the bureaucratic nightmare of registering it to the frenzy of the funeral arrangements - can often disguise the impact of the death itself. In a country not known for open-casket observances, some would say that we have lost touch with Death. More people than ever before say they have never even seen a dead body. The death of a celebrity or member of the Royal Family is treated with an hysteria that devalues the currency of the genuine grief felt for the death of a friend or loved one.

It is only a few steps back to the Victorian Age, with all that era's mawkish and restrictive customs around the final ritual. These days we are spared such a prohibitive - and expensive - code; but in stripping death of its ceremonial vestments, many of us still seem at a loss as to how to address the subject or how to treat our bereaved friends or loved ones. In the immediate aftermath of the death, it is often easier; the bereaved is either concealing grief with activity or is so steeped in misery that your presence alone is enough. Children should not be excluded from the process or they will feel confused and worried that the death is somehow their fault; they don't need elaborate explanations but merely a simple talk about beginnings and endings, with life eternal in the form of memories.

Later on, avoid the temptation to wrap death in euphemism: when writing a letter of condolence, using terms like 'passed away' or 'moved over' merely grates. Instead aim for a frank and confiding tone, dwelling nostalgically and fondly on past happier days. The tough part of death - and grieving - is that it doesn't stop at the funeral. The best thing you can do as a friend to one who is grieving is to realise this. Support in the early days of death is a given - but maintaining those levels of support one, two, three years on is where true friendship counts.

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