From what to expect to talking to children, how to come to terms with loss

A steadying force through tumultuous decades of change and several years of Covid chaos, the death of Queen Elizabeth II has shaken the nation.

Most of us can’t imagine a time without her or before her and despite her advanced years and declining health, it has caught us all off guard that she’s finally gone.

‘For most people, the Queen has been a constant presence in their lives since they were born,’ says therapist and best-selling author Marisa Peer. ‘We’ve grown up watching her attend to her royal duties, delivering her annual Christmas message, and been a part of her milestones, such as the Platinum Jubilee. It can feel like we’ve lost a family member.

‘This familiarity is known as a parasocial bond. Because we know so much about them, we believe we really know them.

‘As we share our thoughts and memories, it brings us together in our collective pain, just like when Princess Diana died.

‘But this is another time of uncertainty during a time when we’ve faced a seemingly never-ending state of permacrisis due to global issues.’

The first few days

During the initial aftermath of losing someone important, we often turn to doomscrolling, says Peer. ‘We look for as much information about their life and death, poring over images of them and watching footage. While this can be upsetting and overwhelming, it can actually help us come to terms with, and accept the fact they’ve died.

‘When we acknowledge the impact someone like the Queen has had on our lives, this shared sense of identity helps to lessen the grief. People flocking together in tribute at the royal palaces, leaving flowers and lighting candles, talking to strangers and friends alike and sharing thoughts is another way to process grief.

‘Just knowing that other people are experiencing the same feelings, we feel supported rather than alone.’

Talk to children about grief

Queen Elizabeth II dead: Latest updates

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‘Many children will be in shock about the Queen’s passing because this may well be the first person that they know who’s died,’ says Fiona Yassin, founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic.

‘They may experience very conflicting and confusing emotions, especially if their parents are not pro-monarchy, or take a different view to what they’re hearing and seeing at school and in the media.

‘This is not the time for imparting our own views; it’s about listening to the young person and encouraging them to talk.

‘Allow children to remember that person who’s passed in any way they wish and give them space to deal with it. Use age-appropriate ways to explain death, avoiding euphemisms or telling children things that aren’t particularly true, otherwise you risk mistrust and confusion later.

‘You can explain that the Queen has passed away or gone to heaven, why there will be a funeral, and while this is the end of a chapter, it’s not the end of our memories.’

Take it one day at a time

‘Sudden change can be hard to digest,’ says Angel Enrique, senior digital health specialist at SilverCloud Health. ‘It’s in our nature to be empathetic and when a monumental event like this happens, it’s natural to feel sad.

The past few years have been exceptionally hard for this country, with many people losing family members to Covid. Taking care of yourself step by step and focusing on small achievements can help you gradually return to normality after bereavement.’

Loss of security

The Queen was ‘a parental figure’ who represented ‘a real sense of security that went far beyond her role’, says Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of the Chelsea Psychology Clinic. ‘It’s about the security of having someone in a position of power who was very much loved and trusted.’

Senior psychotherapist Dana Moinian, of mental health clinic The Soke, says: ‘If you’re triggered to remember past grief, remember how you’ve handled it. It takes a lot of courage to stop fighting grief and accept loss.’

Missing loved ones

‘The Queen’s death may reawaken your feelings of grief and loss for a loved one,’ says Marisa Peer. ‘We find ourselves empathising with the people left behind as you’re reminded how hard the mourning process is. Don’t suppress these emotions. It’s far healthier to cry, be sad or angry, rather than to keep it inside.’

If your present grief is being fed by unresolved grief from the past, write a letter to the deceased, telling them what you miss, what you appreciate about them and what you’ve carried forward from them into your present life, says Ann Marie Lowe, manager at the Brightstone Clinic.

The stages of grief

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and no appropriate time frame, says Marisa Peer. ‘It only becomes damaging to you and others when it goes on for years at the expense of your happiness.

As we get older, the death of someone in the public eye can remind us of our own mortality and the fact that death makes no exceptions – to the rich, famous or talented.’ Dana Moinian adds: ‘The important thing to remember is grieving isn’t linear – just because you’ve gone through a particular stage doesn’t mean it’s done and dusted.

Elena Touroni points out: ‘Grief impacts the body in different ways: difficulties sleeping, headaches, fatigue, decreased immunity, sadness and detachment. Grief is like a wave that comes and goes, with certain triggers bringing back feelings of loss.’

Find a hypnosis audio for grief at marisapeer.com; The Good Grief Trust is the biggest national grief charity; read The Grief Collective by Dr Marianne Trent (£10.99, Independent)

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