An image from the HSE campaign. Others can support you during grief. HSE
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'Grief is a lonely territory': Here's where to seek help if you're finding it hard to cope

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. A new HSE campaign is offering information and support to those experiencing bereavement, loss and grief.

THERE IS PERHAPS no human experience more painful, or more universal, than grief following the death of someone we care about.

Significant loss has happened since the Covid-19 pandemic began - and to make that impact even crueller, the pandemic has also removed many of the usual supports for those grieving.

“Covid has made grieving more difficult for bereaved people,” says Anne O’Connor, HSE chief operations officer. “Bereaved individuals and families may not have their usual expected supports through bereavement, this is especially important considering many people, particularly older people, were spending more time alone or unable to visit loved ones.”

The HSE has launched a new public information campaign, in partnership with Irish Hospice Foundation, to raise awareness of enhanced supports and services available for people who are experiencing grief. 

That grief may be associated with a recent death, or one from some time ago, and it may be connected to COVID, or not. The aim of the campaign is to reach people who may be struggling, and give them some comfort and support – through social media messages, information to read online that may help, suggesting they talk to family and friends about their loss and feelings, through encouraging friends, neighbours colleagues to be aware, and through the specialist supports available from Irish Hospice Foundation and other services.

Supports for those grieving

Announced in the run-up to Christmas – a time of year that can be especially difficult for those grieving – the HSE’s message is that grief is a natural process, which different people experience in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

The supports available as part of the campaign include a dedicated information page and messages to share on social media, as well as a range of personal support services for those experiencing grief.

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One such support is the National Bereavement Support Line which is a national freephone service 1800 80 70 77 available from 10am to 1pm, Monday to Friday, operated by Irish Hospice Foundation, supported by the HSE. It provides a confidential space for people to speak about their experience or to seek advice or information about bereavement.

Maria, a volunteer worker on the Bereavement Support Line, says of her experience:

I find it strikingly tangible each day I answer calls on the Bereavement Support Line that sadness and loneliness is magnified at this time of year. Everything that is all-encompassing about grief is accentuated at Christmas, with Covid adding further isolation. People struggle to find meaning amidst the festivities and expectations to be joyful and happy. The loss of their loved one and their ever-present absence can be so overwhelming at this time. A listening ear is often a soothing comfort for those bereaved.

“Grief is a lonely territory that people can find so difficult to navigate alone,” says Orla Keegan, Head of Education and Bereavement at the Irish Hospice Foundation. The support line, she says, “provides a human presence at the end of the phone; it represents dedicated time for a grieving person to be listened to with care and with compassion.”

The campaign also includes supports for those in hospital environments, including resource packs and a commitment to funding five hospital-based Bereavement Liaison Officers to help families.

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When to seek more support

“Everyone reacts differently to bereavement and some people may require extra help,” explains Sharon Cunningham, HSE Counselling in Primary Care Coordinator in the Midlands.

“There are not really ‘five stages’ of grief, as is often thought. In fact, it ebbs and flows. Some feelings might come occasionally or catch you by surprise. Others might be more persistent.

“Grief is a natural process and most people can recover from loss on their own, with support from family, friends and their community. However, anyone who feels their grief is continuous and that feelings are harder to cope with over time, is encouraged to seek professional support and advice.

“Over time, counselling can help by providing you with a confidential and supportive space to talk about your feelings and ways of coping.   

The experience of ‘loss’ has been central to the COVID-19 pandemic and it is important that people know there is support there to help us deal with loss when we need it.

Another aim of the campaign is to build support around those who are grieving – people can learn more about what a loved one, a friend or colleague who has been bereaved might be feeling and offer them understanding and support. 

You can talk with your GP about how you are feeling – especially if your feelings get harder to cope with over time or if you feel prolonged agitation, depression, guilt or despair.

For more information about grief, you can visit hse.ie/grief.

Grief is a natural process. To learn more about it – including the signs of grief, things you can try to help with your grief, and when to seek additional support – visit hse.ie/grief. If you are experiencing bereavement, you can call the National Bereavement Support Line on 1800 80 70 77 from 10am to 1pm, Monday to Friday.

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