Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsHello, welcome to Literature and Mental Health. This is week three, and it's Literature and Bereavement. Yeah, that's right. This week we're going to look at the process of grieving and how, really right through the ages, poetry has been something that people have turned to in that time of greatest stress, when you've lost a loved one. So I'll be looking at some wonderful poems by William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy. And you've interviewed a couple of other people for this week. Yes, I'll be talking to Lucy Clark and Sophie Radcliffe, who are both people who've experienced bereavement. And in both cases, they turned to literature, poetry in particular, to help them through their loss.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 secondsSo we'll be looking at Hamlet, and we'll be looking at some John Donne and some Emily Dickinson. Yeah. Grieving, everybody always says, is a process. And back in 1969, a Swiss psychiatrist called Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a very influential argument that grieving goes through five stages-- the five stages of grieving. And I was intrigued by this as an argument, and actually thought it might be worth turning it into a poem. So if it's not too cheeky to put my own work up among Emily Dickinson and William Wordsworth,

Skip to 1 minute and 30 secondsthis is my poem called Processing: It doesn't really matter what you've lost, whether it's the flat line on the bedside monitor, the single hair upon the empty pillow, or the absence of an incoming text, you will have to learn that the book of memory can still be read, but there is nothing more to write. Whatever It is you've lost, it will always be the same. Deny. Perhaps I'll wake and find it all a dream. We'll meet again in heaven. He's still in love with me. Rage. Life is so unfair. God does not care. Why me? I hate her for leaving me so soon. I hate myself because it must have been my fault. Bargain.

Skip to 2 minutes and 17 secondsO God, if I am good, can I have him back? Dear love, I will do anything if you give me one more chance. Wallow. Nothing matters anymore. Today I will not rise from bed. In my heart I howl. Accept. She is not coming back. The sun comes up tomorrow. The book of memory is filled with joy. It is not a betrayal to live, to laugh, to love again. And in getting there, it helps to look around. To see the light in a tree of autumn gold and know that there is beauty when something dies. To watch the mist lift from the lake at dawn and know that beneath every shroud, there is a child called hope.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 secondsWell why don't we speak to our resident doctor, Dr. Andrew Schuman and ask him whether that model still applies?

Welcome to Week 3: Bereavement

This week, we’ll be thinking and talking about literature and bereavement.

Like heartbreak, bereavement is something that almost all of us will experience. Many writers have written about their own intense sorrow at the loss of a loved one, and about the difficulty of coming to terms with or accepting this loss. Later in the week, we’ll be looking at some poems by Wordsworth and Hardy which explore this difficulty, and we’ll also be talking to some people who have found literature an immense source of comfort during their own experiences of bereavement.

Grief can affect us in unpredictable and unexpected ways. In 1969, the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed a model for the experience of grief, outlining five emotional stages through which the bereaved person was thought to transition. We take this model as a starting point this week, but while the emotional responses Kübler-Ross mentions - such as anger and denial - might be common to many people who experience loss, we want to emphasise that everyone responds to bereavement differently, and that there is no prescriptive pattern that everyone will follow.

During this video, we listen to Jonathan’s poem ‘Processing’:

Processing

It doesn’t really matter what you’ve lost:
Whether it’s the flatline on the bedside monitor
The single hair upon the empty pillow
Or the absence of an incoming text,
You will have to learn that the book of memory
Can still be read but there is nothing more to write.

Whatever it is you’ve lost
It will always be the same:

Deny:
Perhaps I’ll wake and find it all a dream
We’ll meet again in heaven
He’s still in love with me.

Rage:
Life is so unfair
God does not care
Why me?
I hate her for leaving me so soon
I hate myself because it must have been my fault.

Bargain:
O God, if I am good, can I have him back?
Dear love, I will do anything
If you give me one more chance.

Wallow:
Nothing matters any more.
Today I will not rise from bed.
In my heart I howl.

Accept:
She is not coming back.
The sun comes up tomorrow.
The book of memory is filled with joy.
It is not a betrayal
To live
To laugh
To love again.

And in getting there
It helps to look around.
To see the light in a tree of autumn gold
And know that there is beauty when something dies.
To watch the mist lift from the lake at dawn
And know that beneath every shroud
There is a child called hope.

Jonathan Bate


Throughout the course we will be addressing some sensitive and potentially upsetting topics. We encourage all of you to exercise your own judgement, and to skip any material that you think may be distressing rather than helpful for you. Please also remember to be considerate of your fellow learners in the discussion areas, both when commenting and when responding to comments made by others.

If you are experiencing any of the conditions that we discuss during the course, or if you feel that you are in need of help, you should speak to a medical practitioner or counsellor, who will be able to offer professional support. You can also seek help from charities and care organisations such as the Samaritans. We’ve included a link to their website at the bottom of the page.


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Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing

The University of Warwick

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