When you are dealing with the death of a loved one you are going through a period of overwhelming grief. The time frame immediately following the death is known as ‘bereavement’ and the person who is experiencing the grief is known as ‘the bereaved’. In this article we outline what support is available for someone dealing with bereavement - from work entitlements, to government support, and ways you can support someone who is going through the process.
Trigger warning: This article discusses depression and suicide. If you need support please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.
Bereavement is a specific form of grief which relates to the mourning period after a significant loss. In most cases bereavement is used to refer to someone’s emotional response to death. It usually encompasses a series of intense emotions and can last for weeks, months or even years depending on the circumstances. Someone who is going through bereavement may experience anger, frustration, denial, depression, or isolation. Dealing with these emotions can be even more difficult when you’re juggling funeral logistics and other legal and financial responsibilities associated with someone’s death. Most people can find solace in friends or family to support them through the bereavement process, while others may benefit from seeking out professional support. If you are uncertain about how to help someone who is struggling with bereavement Sydney psychotherapist Dan Auberbach has offered some tips on our blog post about ‘how to support someone who is grieving’.
Bereavement does not always describe the emotional response to death. Many other significant events can trigger the same intensity of feelings associated with loss - whether it is losing a person, a sense of self, or the mental or physical ability to perform your responsibilities, hobbies or passions. Someone going through bereavement may be grieving over:
The death of a loved one;
The death or loss of a pet;
A family estrangement;
Miscarriage, or infertility;
The diagnosis of a terminal illness;
Physical or mental illness resulting from an accident;
The onset of a disability;
Divorce or separation;
Work changes - e.g becoming unemployed, retiring or changing jobs;
Moving away from home.
There are a number of support packages available for people who have lost a partner, but they are typically only available if you were already receiving some form of government assistance.
Bereavement payments - If you are in a relationship and your partner dies, you may be able to get a lump sum bereavement payment. To be eligible, you both needed to be getting a pension or income support payment for 12 months or more. A bereavement payment is usually equal to the total you and your partner would’ve got as a couple, minus your new single rate. You can get it for up to 14 weeks after your partner’s death.
Pension Bonus Bereavement Payment - If your partner was a registered for the Pension Bonus Scheme with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and died before making a successful claim for the Age Pension and Pension Bonus you may be eligible for this payment. The payment is based on the amount of Pension Bonus your partner would have received. You must submit a claim within 26 weeks of your partner's death.
Carer’s Allowance - If you receive a Centrelink Carer’s Payment you will continue to receive this payment for up to 14 weeks after they die. You may also get a lump sum bereavement payment.
Age Pension - If you are an Australian resident aged 67 and pass the asset and income test you may be eligible for the Age Pension.
Job Seeker - if you’re between 22 and Age Pension age and looking for work or you’re sick or injured and can’t do your usual work or study you may be eligible for the Job Seeker payment.
In addition to the payments mentioned above Centrelink will also offer support if your spouse dies and you were both recipients of the ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Farm Household Allowance, JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance.
As Centrelink payments and entitlements change regularly you should contact Centrelink directly on 132 300 to see if you are eligible.
When someone in your immediate family or household dies you are eligible to take two days off work. In Australia this is known as ‘compassionate leave’ rather than ‘bereavement leave’.
You can apply for compassionate leave to deal with:
The death of an immediate family member;
The death of a household member;
A miscarriage or stillbirth of a child;
To provide support when someone in your immediate family or household is suffering from a life-threatening illness or injury.
It is a legal requirement to give employees compassionate leave under the Fair Work Act of Australia (2009). However, only full-time and part-time employees are entitled to paid time off. Casual employees may take compassionate leave but will not be paid during the leave period. To find out how to qualify for compassionate leave read our blog post all about it.
If you are applying for compassionate leave during a time of bereavement your employer may require you to provide evidence. This could be a death certificate, a death notice or obituary, or a medical certificate showing that an immediate family member or household member has contracted a life-threatening illness of injury. If you do not supply evidence your employer may refuse your leave request or make you take unpaid leave.
There are so many different ways you can support someone who is grieving. Some people may choose to send flowers and a card while others may provide a home-cooked meal or baked goods. Supporting someone through the bereavement process does not have to be done with an expensive gift, but more often than not one of the more thoughtful things you can do is simply offer to help out with the person’s responsibilities like cooking or cleaning.
Dan Auerbach, Director of Associated Counsellors and Psychologists Sydney told Safewill one of the best ways to support someone through the grief process is by being present. However, many people may still want to give the bereaved a physical gift in lieu of your own time or presence. We have compiled a short guide to highlight some potential bereavement gifts for every occasion:
Flowers or a potted plant;
Candles or soap;
A gift hamper;
Home cooked meals or a meal delivery service;
A beauty treatment;
A massage or spa day;
A home-cleaning service;
When someone is going through the bereavement period you may want to give them reassurance through a short message to show you are thinking of them. This may take the form of a condolence message, or you may wish to send them through a specific quote about bereavement written by a famous author, thinker, academic or artist. If you want your message to come from the heart you should consider your audience. A personalised message will always resonate more strongly than one which has no meaning to the person receiving the message or no relevance to the deceased. If the deceased was a reader, perhaps consider using a quote from one of their favourite authors. If they were a film buff, try a quote from a movie or if they were a history lover, consider a quote from a famous historical figure.
We have compiled a short list of bereavement quotes below which may help you to construct a heartfelt message to send to your loved one during their period of mourning.
"Some people come in your life as blessings. Some come in your life as lessons." ― Mother Teresa
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” ― Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler
“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in the world—those who have known suffering.” — Helen Keller
“Well, every one can master a grief but he that has it.” ― William Shakespeare
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break." ― William Shakespeare
“The life given us by nature is short, but the memory of a life well spent is eternal.” ― Cicero
“Depression is a feeling without a cause. Mourning has a cause.” — Edward Hirsch, poet
“You don't know who is important to you until you actually lose them.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ― C.S Lewis
“I will not say: Do not weep; For not all tears are evil.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.” ― Helen Keller
“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” ― Edgar Allan Poe