Thursday, 12 November 2009


The last few days have been crap days for a number of reasons for us here at ND Central but what caught our collective attention was the recent out pouring of apparent public grief in the UK.

Commentators at the annual Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Cenotaph said there were more crowds than usual. This week we watched scenes that evoked memories of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales when hearses with coffins inside this time with the bodies of fallen serviceman, were covered with flowers as they passed through a normally quiet English village of Wootton Bassett.

This got us thinking about grief and peoples’ reaction to death. One of our forebears lost 5 of their siblings and a father in one year. A few short years later more of their family were lost in the First World War albeit just within the last one hundred years. Infant mortality was high then and deaths in the First World War were in the tens of thousands in a day alone.

One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic said the “great” Soviet leader Joseph Stalin well known for his humanitarian views and influence on current Party thinking especially freedom of expression.

But perhaps there may just be a point?

When infant mortality is high then losing a child is as upsetting to parents in these times as it is today. Emotions do not change but circumstances do.

If those around you lose their children to disease and in large numbers perhaps there is a degree of desensitization that sets in as a means of evolutionary self preservation?

Similarly if you lose a loved one in war, especially if you believe it to be unnecessary, this is not good but if tens of thousands do the same does it alter one’s perception of loss?

One person’s death or a few people’s deaths versus tens of thousands? Which is the greater grief?

Which is the greater absolute “loss” versus the greater Media interest?

For any human being the death of a loved one is distressing. It takes time to come to terms with and usually involves the support of one’s friends, or family although increasingly there always seems to be the all wise watcher of the UK Soap opera called Eastenders whose perception is that you always “you need to go and see your doctor.”

It devolves any responsibility for our own disquiet with death or disease and it is free in the UK. Grief then becomes an “illness” not an uncomfortable unpleasant emotional state.

So often within 24 hours of a death we will see relatives who have been sent always by someone else as an “emergency” and usually expecting the magic grief prevention pill which they have been told we have by whoever refers them to see us.

They usually get nothing other than a bit of time spent explaining that grief is a normal but unpleasant experience and what they are experiencing is normal.

Yes, you will be crying. Yes, you cannot sleep and yes, you will be thinking of him or her all the time but this is normal. Yes you may feel disbelieve, anger, guilt or any other emotion but this is normal. You will get better but it will take time.

Time is a great healer but unfortunately works slowly. Time spent explaining usually works better than the quick fix usually expected pill based alternative.

Disasters create Media induced grief. Would the tens of thousands slaughtered on the first day of the Somme have been reported in the same way that a servicemen’s death is reported today? Would Wootton Bassett have stood still for a 20,000 long cortege in the same way that the Public honoured those fallen in the last few days?

Same loss of an individual to the individuals concerned, same emotions but different circumstances and more importantly numbers.

Grief is an immensely personal thing. It is also a highly collectively hijackable thing via the Media but still, at whatever level one thinks of it, it boils down to the relationship between the individual, those around them and the deceased. It also now boils down to how we as Society, via the Media, view death.

The support provided in the UK usually also boils down to that between the individual and those they deal with. Often that is the principly the local undertaker followed by a local GP or in the military medical officer or members of whichever faith the family subscribe to. Before free healthcare the family would shoulder a lot of this as would local ministers of religion. It is a deeply personal relationship and always takes time to resolve.

While we here at ND Central do not have any qualms about public outpourings of grief we know that behind all the pomp and ceremony there will be a few individuals working locally to help bereaved individuals in all manner of different capacities.

We are relatively lucky in this day and age that the widespread losses that even 2 or 3 generations ago wiped out huge parts of families have been reduced to the point that death is a relatively rare occurrence in most peoples' lives although one that we will all with certainty experience on a very personal basis.

Thinking back just a hundred years ago to our forebears’ experience of losing several children to disease then losing several young adults a few years later to war must have been awful.

The human emotions were the same then as they are now, the circumstances were different. Grief is grief is grief but society changes and not always for the better.

Our thoughts go out to anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one however it was caused. It is never easy whatever the circumstances.

Who knows whether one of us here at ND Central will have to break the news of a death to someone today, go out and confirm a death, or see a relative who has been bereaved. For some of us more than others it is a regular occurrence and has to be handled with sensitivity and tact.

Death always has the upper hand and always plays the game by his rules. We just follow.

It does not get any easier the more you do you just get more used to it. It is however part of the job and we will get on with it as always, however hard.

The same can be said for the military and the relatives of those killed in action for we feel war will always be with us.

Praise be to the Party for all their support for our servicemen and servicewomen.

Fortunately the Services have their own methods of support evolved over years to help those with loss. They may not be perfect but they have stood the test of time certainly longer than the NHS.

We await the centrally Party approved NICE guidelines on how to deal with grief (military personnel) but a lot of us have already learnt the hard way. We are but grunts on the ground and cope accordingly - without guidelines, on a one to one, very personal level with no cameras in sight.


GrumpyRN said...

In the last few years death in war has become very public, even as late as the the Falklands war in 1982 British soldiers were not brought home. As Rupert Brook put it "If I should die, think only this of me: that there's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England". This no longer happens and coupled with an unpopular war a lot of people want to show support for the troops and this is one of the ways they feel they can. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, no politician ever shows a face, but a lot of it is, as is usual in todays Britain, media lead.

Northern Doc said...

THanks for reading and commenting. We do read your missives too although we appreciate we do not always see eye to eye on some issues!