A Special Scar: The Experiences of People Bereaved by Suicide

By Alison Wertheimer | Go to book overview
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Chapter 13

Facing the feelings

There are lots of aspects that are exactly the same [as other bereavements], but there are also aspects that are different. (Ursula)

I thought he loved us too much to actually do that to us, because it's such a cruel thing to do… So you get all these dreadful mixed-up feelings, and it's a different sort of bitterness from somebody who dies of other types of disease. (Susan)

It's a relief because somebody like that, they're an emotional burden on you, you can't run away from it…she was a worry…I'd give anything to have her back, have her here, but that's not really the choice. (Dick)

'Grief', writes Parkes, 'is a process and not a state' (1998:7), a psychological process which is characterised by phases: 'numbness, the first phase, gives place to pining and pining to disorganization and despair, and it is only after the stage of disorganization that recovery occurs' (1998:7). Parkes' concept of phases or stages provides a useful framework for understanding the process of grieving, and it is unfortunate that it has been widely misunderstood. It is not a fixed sequence through which everyone who is bereaved must pass before they can recover. Neither is it a linear process: people may move back and forth. As Parkes makes clear, 'there are considerable differences from one person to another as regards both the duration and the form of each phase' (1998:7). There are rarely distinct phases, and one may overlap with another. In the words of one survivor: 'Patterns they may have been, yet they were experienced as an onslaught of strange, extreme contradictory feelings' (Toop 1996).

The structure of this chapter, which describes emotions under discrete sub-headings, may assist the reader, but may also mask the reality of the survivors' experiences, which are often associated with the phase of 'dis-organisation and despair'. Grieving is often chaotic; sometimes a single feeling will predominate, while at other times it can feel, as one survivor

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