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Bereavement and society

Bereavement in the UK

Just over 484,000 people died in 2011 in the UK. For each of these deaths it is likely that 3 to 4 close family members will be significantly affected (husband/wife, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister). It is also likely that some 1.5 to 2 million people suffer a close bereavement each year.

Bereavement and society

There have been significant changes in the way bereavement is dealt with by the community during the 20th century. One hundred years ago, death was considered much more as an inevitable part of life. Death rates were higher, and families and communities were much closer, so death, the rituals surrounding it, and the grief of the bereaved were much more “public” than they are nowadays. Because of this, support and understanding was much more available.

During the 20th century various things have happened that have changed the way bereavement is perceived:

  • Health care provision has improved life expectancy so much that an illusion that death should not be a normal part of life has begun to develop for many people.
  • Community life has changed beyond recognition. Today’s mobile, digital age means that community involvement, compassion and support can be in short supply.
  • The realities of death do not affect our communities as much and are not as visible. Death now frequently takes place in hospital. The body is usually “taken away” quickly by a funeral director who deals with all the necessary arrangements.
  • The move to a largely secular society means that few have any concepts of spiritual aspects of mortality or receive any meaningful hope from a belief system.

All the above factors have conspired to mean that death is rarely talked about in society nowadays. It is something that people consider “happens to someone else”. Because of this, society in general struggles with understanding the needs of bereaved people, and in its embarrassment of not knowing what to do or say, tends to hope that people will “get over it” quickly.

Yet for anyone suffering a close bereavement, grief is a journey that takes time and involves heartache, pain, and sometimes complex emotions and difficult practicalities to deal with. Where there is silence or lack of understanding from the society around them, the bereaved person can easily feel isolated and confused – and therefore find it difficult to grieve effectively and rebuild their lives.