Intensive care: Experiences of family & friends
Coping with bereavement
Everyone grieves and deals with bereavement in different ways and most people feel many different emotions at various times and stages, including anger, guilt, sadness and despair. Some people described how difficult they'd found it at the beginning, when their relative had first died, and how important it had been to have lots of support at a time when they'd felt shocked, numb or depressed. A few people explained how they'd sometimes felt guilty and wondered if there'd been anything they could have done differently.
Some days during the next few weeks she felt so depressed she didn't want to see anyone or leave...
Yeah. And how was your health? Afterwards you felt really exhausted?
Yes. I was really tired.
How was your health?
I developed eczema. I have never had eczema before in my life but it was all over me knees. My hair started coming out [laughs] and I went to the doctor and she gave me some antidepressants which I have stopped taking because I don't think I am depressed. I think I am actually grieving which is a different thing isn't it. And for about I don't know about four or five weeks I found it really, really hard going out. Really difficult going out of the door. I didn't want to speak to anybody. Everybody was ringing me up saying can we do this, come for tea, come for a drink, come out with us because you don't want to be in on your own. But all that I wanted was really to be on me own. That is it. I didn't want anybody else at all.
One woman, who'd never been close to her sister-in-law, wished she'd known her better when she'd been alive. One man regretted that his young children wouldn't get to know his father, who'd died at the age of 83. His spiritual views had helped him accept what had happened, and to deal with critical illness and death on a regular basis in his job as an ICU consultant.
Bereavement is a difficult time and some people said it had helped talking to friends and family or to people outside the family. A few people said that some of their relatives or partners had found it difficult to talk about the person's death and they'd hardly ever mentioned it. One woman said she'd benefited enormously from seeing a counsellor at the hospital, who she could talk to about her feelings and who could help her move on, even though she would never forget what had happened, or her husband. There are many organisations that help people cope with loss and bereavement. Some people recommended contacting these organisations or talking to others who'd been through something similar.
Counselling helped her accept what had happened and start moving forwards with her life again.
Yes. And what kind of things have you been able to discuss with the counsellor that's helpful for you?
Everything, everything. And the advantage is that my counsellor used to be a sister on Intensive Care. So I mean you don't have to start explaining everything to her, you don't have to say well he was given this drug but I don't know what it was for or what it was called and he had this thing in his neck but I don't know what it was there for. She knows it all. And she has been there before many, many, many times. And, I don't know, I could just discuss, I don't know the fact that I felt guilty and would he have got better if I had done this, and would he have got better if he had gone to the doctors earlier. Well she has got a medical background obviously. And she had read his files and she looked at the scans and she can tell me things that make me feel better.
And you found it really helpful. How have you changed since the sessions in terms of being able to go out and you know you wanted to be by yourself. Has that changed or is it still a very gradual thing?
Well I am back at work. And there are days that are still really, really bad. You know there are days when I think I can't be bothered, you know just go away [laughs] but I don't know, she has given me back a bit of enthusiasm. And made me sort of understand that my husband was very outgoing and he was very enthusiastic about things and he would expect better of me. Do you know what I mean? He would expect me to embrace everything that I have got. So, that is what I am trying to do.
Some people confirmed that time was indeed a great healer, describing how their emotions had changed from grief, depression or disbelief to acceptance over the months and years.
She advised people to accept their feelings, not to burden other people with their grief but try...
I do feel to keep occupied, to have a purpose in life, you know, whatever it is. A hobby is very, very, it can be anything , you know, I mean it doesn't have to be golf or tennis or swimming, I don't mean to be anything like that, but just have an interest in life because it's not doing anybody, yourself, or the person that you've lost any good by just sitting down and crying. And also you have to be careful when you're talking to other people that you make the same mistake by keep bringing the subject up because in the end you can lose friends by keep repeating yourself all the time about the person you love. They know that you've lost somebody. They know how close you were. They know that. You don't want to be in this situation but you are, so to keep permanently reminding that person all the time that, you know, 'I've lost somebody and what am I gonna do? And how am I gonna get through this? And how am I gonna cope?' Is just no good, they don't wanna hear this, the average person. And I do truly believe you'll get on in life better, you'll meet more people if you can be more positive because, even though you do meet different people through your life that don't know your tragedy, if you can just sort of skirt it and just tell them that's what's happened, they have a picture in their mind that you've had this person, you've loved them, you've lost them and by making another conversation with them you'll have a better relationship with the people.
Some of the people who had been bereaved described their feelings about having to decide what to do with the deceased person's belongings. This can be another difficult time, with painful decisions to make, and several said they hadn't reached that stage yet. One woman explained how she'd had to take care of her sister-in-laws belongings after she died.
She had to clear out and sell her sister-in-law's flat and contents, which was very difficult at...
With time, many people said they were able to focus more on the positive times they'd shared with the deceased person. Thinking about how he or she would have wanted them to live and be happy had helped them start getting on with life again. For most people, however, the anniversary of the deceased person's death or special days, such as birthdays and Christmas, were often very difficult and emotional.
Certain times of the year are especially difficult, including Christmas, New Year, Mother's Day...
So Christmas came and went. New Year was a very hard time too, but the thing we did, we were with some very close friends and we actually didn't have the television on or the radio on. It was just another day, we didn't celebrate at midnight and I truly believe that's how we got through it, with these friends. It was a lovely evening but we didn't have the necessity, I felt only in my heart that I was leaving that year that I'd lost my son behind and I was going into a fresh year. I wanted it to be a continuation so that I still now feel that he hasn't gone in a different year, he's still with us somewhere. And that really helped my husband, it actually helped our friends who were very close to my son. They were the godparents, and they thought it was really nice so that's just a tip for somebody.
Mothers Day and Fathers Day is another big hurdle and I think that will probably, will be with you. There's not a lot we can do about that. I'm not a very keen person on that I don't like, because it happens to be Mothers Day the whole world does it, why not have Mothers Day any day. Just because they say it out there and just because there's a lot of cards in the shop, I'm not very keen on that. So if you can try and get over that one, that's only how I dealt with that situation. Of course as yet I haven't had the anniversary so that's another hurdle to go but try and make it as a nice, remembering as rather than it being sad. Again try and take the selfishness out of it again. So there are hurdles, there are massive hurdles and there's no right or wrong from it at all. You have to just do whatever it, everybody again is different, but these are just some of the little tips that I could try and pass on to somebody.
And again, you know, we have Easter, everybody has Easter again, the Easter eggs, the cards, don't make a big thing about it. Just it's another day really, just another day, and if you can look on it like that and be thankful that you're just here for yet another day in your life.
Many people said that having someone die in, or after being in, ICU had been a profound, traumatic and, often, life-changing experience. As time went on, the earlier pain and emptiness had begun to fade and, very gradually, they'd been able to think about the future, while knowing they could never forget the deceased person.
With the help of a counsellor, she is moving forwards, developing new interests and being able to...
Do you think much about the future or is your main concern to kind of get through week by week?
Straight after he died it was getting through day by day but now I am starting to think of the future. Yes. I want him to be proud of me, that is what I always think, would be proud of me.