Guiding you through grief and loss
Grief and loss take many forms. One of the most significant traumas that anyone can ever experience is the death of a loved one. Yet grieving and loss may also accompany the loss of a job, a cherished relationship or friendship, the death of a pet, or a life-altering event such as injury, fertility issues or menopause, illness, and moving house or even countries.
Grief and loss are deeply personal experiences that may be felt and expressed in different ways. In grief, it is common to feel completely alone, and that no-one can understand the depth of your pain. You might prefer solitude as you deal with your loss, or crave the company and support of your friends and family. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. However grief affects you, counselling is a safe and supportive way to effectively process your grief, come to terms with your loss, and find ways to cope in drastically changed life circumstances.
Common responses to grief
Grief often presents itself in unusual and even disturbing ways. This presentation may dominate other emotions, leaving you feeling emotionally drained, and/or fixated on a certain train of thought.
Some common emotional responses to grief include:
- Changes in appetite
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Loss of concentration
- Mood swings/constant tearfulness
- No interest in daily life
These grief-related feelings, thoughts and behaviours can seriously affect your capacity to function in daily life. Grief counselling is crucial to the healing process, as it explores and addresses your personal needs at your own pace. It is important to spend any time spent grieving by focusing on yourself, and clarifying what you need to feel supported in the present moment.
Stages of grief
Grieving is not a process that can be rushed or accelerated: there are usually a number of stages that you’ll experience before coming to understand and accept your grief. The intensity of grief and loss can often feel extremely overwhelming, and may interfere with your ability to think clearly. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief that create a framework of learning to accept loss. There is no order to the stages – often people will cycle through all five stages at various points in their grieving process, sometimes revisiting a stage if there are still unresolved feelings. Other people only go through a few of the stages – it is important to remember that your grieving process is as unique as you are.
Denial is the first stage of grief. You’re likely to still be in shock at this stage: denial is a psychological survival and coping mechanism in the face of extreme trauma. Denial can be a useful stage in the grieving process, as it helps to regulate the emotional and cognitive load of grief that might otherwise be overwhelming: by blocking out reality, there is a temporary reprieve from the pain of loss. Denial often fades as you accept the reality of the loss you have suffered.
Anger is the second stage of grief, and many people report feeling overpowered by their seemingly endless anger. You may feel anger at being left behind, unemployed, or frustrated that major life events beyond your control have happened. Anger provides form and structure to grief, because it is so targeted. Often anger is self-directed and accompanied by a sense of guilt. Dealing with this stage of the grieving process can diminish your feelings of anger, yet also serve to strengthen your fond memories and feeling of connection to the person, life possibilities or sense of self you are grieving.
Bargaining is the third stage of grief, yet it often appears prior to loss – especially so in the case of terminal illness. This is the ‘if only’ stage of grieving, when we react to feelings of vulnerability and helplessness by seeking to regain control of the situation. “If only I’d seen the doctor sooner… if only I’d been home that night when they called… if only I’d put in more of an effort at work” – the list of alternate choices is infinite. This stage is steeped in self-recrimination and regret, and a longing to return to the way things were. Numbing activities, such as oversleeping, eating, drinking and taking stimulants are common in this stage; anything to avoid feeling the loss, pain and guilt.
Depression is the fourth, and frequently the longest stage of grieving. Depression is a completely normal, appropriate response to the trauma and devastation felt in the wake of death. Life has lost its lustre, and things will never be the same. You may feel as though you no longer wish to live yourself, withdrawing from friends and family into the depths of despair and mourning. This is a very common response to grief and loss. Yet support is essential when moving through this stage of the grieving process. Although you may feel like isolating yourself, it’s vitally important to reach out to family and friends. Even if you don’t feel you have the strength to seek counselling for yourself, letting your loved ones know that you are struggling increases the chances that arrangements can be made to get you the help you need to deal with grief-fuelled depression.
Acceptance is the fifth and final stage of grieving. This stage involves learning to live with grief and loss, and is characterised by a realistic acknowledgment of what has happened. Acceptance isn’t about feeling okay with your loss, or feeling better about it – it’s simply a stage of grieving that affirms that life goes on. You may grieve your loss for the rest of your life, yet it becomes a quiet, private grief, tempered by other life experiences as you change, evolve and grow as a person.
Those who are grieving someone’s passing may feel this shift in living as a betrayal of their loved one, but acceptance is attained by learning to hold your grief in a way that allows space for other emotions. By fully recognising and accepting the reality that your loved one has gone, you eventually adapt to life without them, secure in knowledge that you once had the privilege of sharing your life with them.
Coping with grief and loss
Some days, you may feel as though the weight of grief is finally lifting and you are able to function normally. On other days, you may feel crushed by the loss and unable to cope. Not feeling completely consumed by grief may evoke feelings of guilt and shame. Yet having other life experiences – whilst still honouring your grieving process in whatever ways feel meaningful for you – is essential for your health and wellbeing.
Grief counselling will help you with:
- Working through painful memories and emotions
- Making your grief manageable
- Learning to enjoy life again, without guilt
Specialist grief counsellors and psychologists use a combination of evidence based techniques in grief and loss counselling that are targeted to help you move through your grief in a safe, supported way. Techniques include emotion-processing and stress-reduction tools designed to resolve feelings of grief and loss. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can also help to break patterns of intrusive, unwanted negative thoughts that are common after having suffered a loss.
Grief counsellors and psychologists
Grief can be an incredibly isolating experience, especially if people around you expect you to move on with your life when you don’t feel ready. The truth is, there is no typical time period for people to recover from loss. You may always grieve over your loss, but Grief counsellors and psychologists can help you to manage your grief so that you can learn to embrace life again, whilst keeping hold of treasured memories.
If you are experiencing grief and loss, and would like to identify practical strategies that you can use to cope with your feelings, then it is crucial to have expert support. Grief counsellors and psychologists are experienced and able to provide you with the support you need.