One of the problems we have now with grief, especially the grief from bereavement, is that there are few rituals once the funeral is over. In Victorian times the whole family would go "into mourning", wearing black bombazine and crepe (if you were female that is – black hat bands, cravats and gloves were sufficient for men) for set amounts of time according to the relationship with the deceased. If you were in mourning then you didn't go to parties or other social events: you were expected to stay quietly at home and yes, to mourn.

These days it seems that, as soon as the funeral refreshments have been cleared away, we're supposed to carry on as usual but yet, everything has changed. We don't want to bore or embarrass people by becoming emotional at inappropriate moments, yet grief can sweep us away unexpectedly for months, even years after a loss.

And it can be complicated. With my own case, my sister and I had not realised just how much we were loved and cared for by our late uncle until we started to administer his estate. Because our father had died young, our uncle was the man we relied on and looked up to. He never tried to take the place of our father yet, to all intents and purposes, that's what he was. To explain the depth of our grief to anyone outside our immediate circle has been difficult. In Victorian times you mourned an uncle for three months, but a father for a year. We have wanted that year, please.

It can be complicated when there have been unresolved issues, things left unsaid, when a deceased person's will is unexpected or perceived to be unfair, if at death someone is unforgiven or unforgiving.

We do need to talk, even the most stoic of us. For many of us, an understanding friend can be enough. When I grieved the loss of my first husband a kindly friend allowed me to weep and vent on her shoulder to an extraordinarily generous fashion. When I commented on this she explained that she had wept and vented on another friend when her own relationship broke up. It was her turn to lend the shoulder. A few years later, yes, it was my turn. I think that this is one time we cannot pay forward, but can only pay on in our turn with understanding.

Sometimes no friend is available and that is where the professionals come in. There are organisations that can provide support free of charge. The Samaritans is the most obvious one. As they say "You don't have to be suicidal to get in touch"; their volunteers are trained to listen and have the time to listen, no matter how complicated your feelings of loss and pain and grief.


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