Bereavement counselling, Grief and Loss
Bereavement is a distressing but common life experience. Sooner or later most of us will experience the death or loss of someone we love.
Generally the subject of death is still a little taboo, we think and talk about death and loss very little, perhaps because we encounter it less often than previous generations did.
For them, the death of a brother or sister, friend or relative, was a more common experience in their childhood or teen years, but better health and longer life expectancy means for most of us, our loved ones live longer.
We do not have much opportunity to learn about grieving, or how it feels, the right things to do, what is ‘normal’ or how to come to terms with it.
In spite of this we have to cope when we are finally faced with the death or passing of someone we love. Bereavement counselling can help to move us through the normal cycles of grief.
The Grieving Cycle
Grief is not just one feeling, but a whole host of feelings and emotions which take a while to get through and which cannot be hurried.
Although we are all individuals, the order in which we experience these feelings is very similar for most of us. Grief is most commonly experienced after the death of someone we have known for a long time.
However, sometimes the relationship was not long standing, but it is still incredibly painful as in the case of miscarriages and still birth.
In the few hours or days following the death of someone significant, most people feel simply stunned, or in shock, as though they cannot believe it has actually happened. They may feel like this even if the death has been expected, such as in a long illness.
This sense of emotional numbness can be somewhat helpful in getting through all the important practical arrangements that have to be made, such as getting in touch with relatives and organising the funeral, burial, cremation or other death related ceremony. However, this feeling of unreality may become a problem if it goes on too long
Seeing the body of the dead person may, for some, be an important way of beginning to accept this, getting some closure. Similarly, for many people, the funeral, cremation or memorial service is an occasion when the reality of what has happened really starts to sink in.
It may be distressing to see the body or attend the funeral or cremation, but these are ways of saying goodbye to those we love.
At the time, these things may seem too painful to go through and so are not attended by some people. However, not attending can often lead to a sense of deep regret in future years and an interruption in the grieving cycle.
Soon though, this numbness disappears and may be replaced by a dreadful sense of agitation, of pining or yearning for the deceased person. There may be a feeling of wanting somehow to find them, even though this is clearly impossible.
This makes it difficult to relax or concentrate and it may be difficult to sleep properly. Dreams may be extremely disturbing. Some people feel that they ‘see’ their loved one everywhere they go, in the street, the park, around the house, anywhere they had spent time together.
People often feel very angry at this time, often towards doctors and nurses who did not prevent the death, towards friends and relatives who did not do enough, or even towards the person who has left them.
Another common feeling is guilt, people may find themselves going over in their minds all the things they would have liked to have said or done. They may even consider what they could have done differently that might have prevented the death.
Of course, death is usually beyond anyone’s control and a bereaved person may need to be reminded of this. Guilt may also arise if a sense of relief is felt when someone has died after a particularly painful or distressing illness.
This feeling of relief is natural, extremely understandable and very common. Bereavement counselling can help you work through these complex feelings.
The stages of Grieving
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, relating to the situation concerned. It’s a defence mechanism and perfectly natural.
Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic loss bereavement counselling can help with this.
Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and or with others, especially those close to them.
Knowing this helps keep detached and non-judgemental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset. Anger linked bereavement counselling is effective and will help you to move on through the stages of grief.
Bargaining, traditionally the stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in.
People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.
Depression also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it’s the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the ‘aftermath’ although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It’s a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment.
It’s natural to feel sadness and regret, fear and uncertainty. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.
Acceptance Again this stage varies according to the person’s situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
Whilst the dying person may have accepted their passing, their loved ones may need a lot of support, bereavement counselling offers this support.
Bereavement, Grief and Loss – How it may feel
It is common for a state of agitation to be strongest about two weeks after a death, but is soon followed by times of quiet sadness, stress and or depression, withdrawal and silence.
These sudden changes of emotion can be confusing to friends or relatives but are part of the normal way of passing through the different stages of grief.
Although the agitation may reduce, periods of depression may become more frequent and reach their peak between four to six weeks later. Intense grief can occur at any time, sparked off by people, places or things that bring back memories of the deceased person.
Other people may find it difficult to understand or embarrassing when the bereaved person suddenly bursts into tears for no obvious reason. At this stage it may be tempting to keep away from other people who do not fully understand or share the grief.
However, avoiding others can store up trouble for the future and it is usually best to try to start to return to one’s normal activities after a couple of weeks or so. During this time, it may appear to others as though the bereaved person is spending a lot of time just sitting, doing nothing.
In fact, they are usually thinking about the person they have lost, going over again and again both the good and the bad times they had together. This is a quiet but essential part of coming to terms with the death.
As time passes, the intense feelings of loss may begin to fade. The depression lessens and it is possible to think about other things and even to look again to the future. However, the sense of having lost a part of oneself never goes away entirely.
For bereaved partners there are constant reminders of the loss of their relationship, in seeing other couples together and from the deluge of media images of happy families. After some time it is possible to feel whole again, even though a part is missing.
Even so, years later you may sometimes find yourself talking as though he or she were still here with you. Bereavement counselling is appropriate at any time, it may be weeks, months or years after, but it always helps to talk to a bereavement counsellor.
These stages of mourning often overlap and show themselves in different ways in different people. Most recover from a major bereavement within one or two years.
The final phase of grieving is a letting go of the person who has died and the start of a new sort of life.
Having said all this, there is no correct way of grieving. We are all individuals and have our own particular ways of grieving. Bereavement counselling is therefore personalised to your needs.
In addition, people from different cultures deal with death in their own distinctive ways. Over the centuries, people in different parts of the world have worked out their own ceremonies for coping with death.
In some communities death is seen as just one step in the continuous cycle of life and death rather than as an end. The rituals and ceremonies of mourning may be very public and demonstrative, or private and quiet.
In some cultures the period of mourning is fixed, in others not. The feelings experienced by bereaved people in different cultures may be similar, but their ways of expressing them are very different. Bereavement counselling from someone who understands your culture is essential.
Why do we have to suffer like this?
If human beings were not the social creatures we are, then grief and loss would be so much less painful.
Compared to other species, we attach ourselves to our families and friends for longer and in more close emotionally ways. We are born into families and they are extremely important to us.
It is part of our human blueprint to form strong bonds of caring and affection with other people, family and friends.
The attachments that draw us to each other are so deep rooted in our nature. We respond to these connections in powerful ways. We feel upset and hurt when we are lonely and bereft of companionship, we have a strong and undeniable need to connect wholly with others.
When things are going well in our social networks, things are wonderful, the connected-ness feels satisfying and we feel a part of something bigger.
Generally speaking we’re not loners, we are dependant on others. People friends and family are part of us. When we lose someone we love from our lives, we lose part of who we are. Grief is the process by which our minds heal this hurt.
In order to move forward and thrive again, we need to accept and let go of our loved one and continue to connect with others.
Of course there is still sadness, but it is a wistful sadness that is tempered by the happy memories that we still possess. Bereavement counselling can help you move forward
Dear online counsellor,
I lost my Mother 15 years ago today, I am as tearful today as the day of her funeral when I collapsed by the graveside. I am just not getting any better, my Mother was my life and I cannot seem to move on past the grief stage.
I have so many things left unsaid and I am in so much pain, I could not be with her as much as I wanted to be and i feel so guilty about that every day. I have tried to contact her through a spiritualist. I am so depressed. Please, please help.
Reading your message I can see that you are hurting so much. I feel the barrier to you moving on from your mothers death is “the many things left unsaid” which you spoke of. I would like to help you using a technique to actually get those unsaid feelings out and “said” to your Mother.
The technique is very successful and often gives clients the closure they need to go on with their lives, which is what I am sure your Mother would want you to do.
You sound as if you were very close to your Mother, and she will have known that too, even if you were not able to be with her as much as you wanted to be. I hope to hear from you soon Liz, in the meantime have a look at my page on depression.
Best wishes bereavement counsellor – Paul Parkin, online counsellor (therapist) and online life coach