When it comes to loss and grief, the rituals and traditions in society aren’t the same as they used to be. In days past, your community would look after you. Neighbours, friends and family would rally around, bring meals and regularly visit to check in and help out during that first month or year in the grieving process.
But we seem to have lost that. A lot of the people I’ve spoken to have said that after the funeral, they feel like they’re on their own. Everyone else goes back to their normal, busy lives and they’re expected to just get over it, which is never so straightforward and easy.
That sense of connection we once had has been lost. It’s tragic.
There are a multitude of reasons why. People don’t know their neighbours, family units aren’t what they used to be and people live further and further apart. Church groups and other community groups seem to be less common, and modern society just operates at such a fast, fast pace now.
Loneliness is such a huge problem now and that aloneness often makes the grieving process harder.
Sometimes I hear people saying that they don’t want to be a “burden” on their children because they’re “busy” with their own kids and work.
Sometimes I discover that people have been caring for a loved one for quite some time, and if it’s taken two or three years to go through palliative care or serious health issues, those social interactions with their friends and support groups have slowly fallen away – and then they’re left to reinvent their lives again afterwards.
There are a multitude of reasons, but one thing we do know is that maintaining healthy and caring social interactions is an important part of anyone’s life and especially so when grieving.
One thing we do know is that maintaining healthy and caring social interactions is an important part of anyone’s life and especially so when grieving.
That’s why we started the Centre for Care and Wellbeing at Springvale Botanical Cemetery, to offer companionship following the death of a loved one and assist people throughout their journey of grief, loss and mourning. It’s like a community house where anybody can come whenever they want and stay as long as they like.
It has also evolved over time to offer many different community activities and programs for the community to help enhance wellbeing along the sometimes complex journey that is grief. We offer movement and stretch classes, art therapy and music therapy. There’s a movie group, a walking group to get out in the fresh air and take in the beautiful gardens, and we even have a bit of a choir going.
And even though people will say, “I’m not musical,” they’ll just go along and listen. We’ve had a couple of music matinees in here too, which have been really well received. They’re all just little ways to make someone’s day a little brighter and happier, encourage socialisation and let people know they’re supported.
We also offer education sessions with amazing counsellors from the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, as well as group support sessions, with a dedicated men’s group, widow’s group and mother’s group where people can meet others with similar experiences.
It’s like a silver platter – you can take what you need when and if you want to. We don’t force anything. We simply encourage people to do whatever feels right for them. And it works. It’s a safe space where there is no judgement and everyone has experienced the same thing. It’s become like a big family.
One day one person might be feeling a bit teary, perhaps in the lead-up to an anniversary or birthday, and drop by. Sometimes we’ll hear them chatting about how they’ve dealt with their grief, or perhaps how they didn’t deal with it and what they might have done differently. And suddenly it’s a conversation about how to work through the grief, all helping each other.
Whatever happens, when people come here they know they’re not alone. Some even look forward to coming – it’s still difficult, of course, but certain days are better than others. It’s wonderful to see them find that sparkle again, see life in their eyes and hear a bit of laughter.
Whatever happens, when people come here they know they’re not alone. Some even look forward to coming – it’s still difficult, of course, but certain days are better than others.
The most important thing I tell people is grief is normal. Everyone has to grieve when they lose someone, and bereavement for someone you’ve loved, particularly for a long time, is confronting and daunting. There’s no manual and no right or wrong. Everyone deals with it differently and the key is to do whatever feels best for you. That’s always my biggest piece of advice. That, and take care of yourself – emotionally and physically.
We’re also telling people it’s OK to say, “Would you mind bringing me a meal every Friday night for a little while” or reach out for support after losing someone. It could be just going to talk to your neighbour, it could be talking to the lady in the milk bar down the road. It’s the small steps that lead you down the long path towards happiness and laughter again, but it does happen.
And if you know somebody who’s grieving, be proactive. Go and talk to them, ask them how they are, bake them a cake and try to remember the big anniversaries and make the effort to check in on those days especially.
Modern life may blaze by at a rapid pace, but finding some sense of normality in the midst of grief can be a long and hard road. The true value of connection should never be forgotten.