Coping with Loss and Bereavement

Jody and Alan Fanagan (Fanagan’s Funeral Directors); Niamh Fizpatrick; Sharon Foley (CEO, the Irish Hospice Foundation); Orla Keegan; Bryan Nolan and Breffni McGuinness (all Irish Hospice Foundation)

By Eoin Meegan

The Irish Hospice Foundation held their annual evening of remembrance and reflection in November. It was a chance for people to meet with and find out more about bereavement support services that are available to them. The venue this year was the Alex hotel and the theme was Living with Loss.

Addressing the gathering, Breffni McGuinness of the Irish Hospice Foundation described grief like a ball in a jar. You are the jar and the ball is your grief. But instead of seeing the ball as getting smaller and smaller, symbolising the gradual diminishment of grief with the passing years, Breffni turns the analogy on its head.

“The grief (or ball) remains the same size,” he says, “but the jar (you) grows and expands, a symbol that we grow until we are able to integrate it into ourselves.”

But he emphasises that this doesn’t mean grief ever goes away completely. Indeed, getting rid of grief is not the objective as many may think, rather it is facing it and gaining an acceptance of it. “There will always be trigger moments like anniversaries or Christmas when we are reminded of our grief, and at these times we shrink again.” He describes these moments as a “grief burst”, timely reminders that the grief, in some part, will always be there.

The keynote speaker of the night was Niamh Fitzpatrick. Niamh is a psychologist and sister of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, who died along with three of her colleagues in the Rescue 116 helicopter tragedy off the coast of Mayo in March 2017. Her talk was ‘Living with Loss: Observations on Grief from the Inside Out.’

Niamh described herself as having been “broken” after the event. She compared the journey through grief to the Thai football team who were trapped in a cave last year. There was only one way out and they had to take it.

Grief can be a little bit like that, you simply find the courage to go through it. And this in itself can be therapeutic. She summed it up by saying grief has “no manners”. A very apt description, which touched a chord with many in the audience.

There was a poignant moment when the Living with Loss candle was lit by Kate Burke of Anam Cara (a support group for child bereavement), creating a central focus for the many disparate strands of grief in the room.    

If you are experiencing grief of any kind, remember you do not have to go through it alone. Seek the support that works for you, remember it’s not a one fits all, what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Be kind to yourself.

If you had a physical injury, everyone would sympathise with you but people cannot see grief, so you have to tell them. Nurture yourself, allow yourself time to heal, find one person you can truly be yourself with.

Above all, go gently with your own grief. And remember that grieving is hard work and takes a lot out of you, so you need to take good care of your body during this time; stay healthy.

As well as the Irish Hospice Foundation, other leading bereavement groups attended. These were: A little Lifetime Foundation, Féileacáin, Miscarriage Association of Ireland, Anam Cara, FirstLight, Barnardos, Irish Childhood Bereavement Network, Rainbows Ireland, Beginning Experience, Bethany Bereavement Support Group,, AdVIC, SAH (Support After Homicide), Living Links (outreach support for suicide bereaved), Pieta House, Turas le Cheile, Citizens Information Service, Embrace FARM, Purple House Cancer Support, PCI Counselling, Village Counselling Services, and the Samaritans.

If you need to, please feel free to contact any of these support organisations. The event was supported by Fanagans Funeral Directors.