Counselling for Bereavement, Grief & Loss
Different forms of loss and how we can help:
What is Grief
Grief refers to the thoughts and feelings we experience when we lose someone or something significant from our lives. Grief is most commonly associated with the death of a loved one, but people can experience grief in relation to a whole range of other losses or life experiences
When someone dies….
When someone dies, feelings of grief can be completely overwhelming and it can be one of the most difficult experiences we will ever face. Thoughts & emotions at this time, can differ significantly between individuals. In fact, most people report feeling a whole range of different emotions at different times, including intense yearning, anger, guilt and despair.
There can also be more confusing emotions such as a sense of relief, resentment or liberation, especially if the deceased person was suffering a long illness or the relationship was problematic in some way.
Much of the grief experience is determined by the nature and intensity of the relationship which has been lost - so grief is a very personal and individual journey and this can feel lonely, isolating and confusing.
Bereavement through Sudden or Traumatic Loss
The term ‘sudden bereavement’ relates to a death that was unexpected and therefore, in many cases, traumatic. The sudden death may have been caused by an accident, murder or suicide. This kind of bereavement can sometimes become what is known as ‘complex’ or ‘complicated’ bereavement as it can involve an additional layer of shock or trauma. It may be especially difficult for the bereaved person to even ‘believe’ that their loved one has died.
In these cases, many people report feeling very complicated emotions such as shame and guilt. They can also find it impossible to share their grief with others, as many of their friends, family or colleagues may tend to avoid talking about the loss.
Bereavement through Terminal Illness or Dementia
This can be a particularly difficult form of grief and can involve intense and prolonged feelings of emotional & physical exhaustion, especially if the bereaved person assumed a caring role before their loved one died.
Grief experienced through terminal illness often begins before the loved one has actually died. This is known as ‘anticipatory’ grief as the person who is ill typically experiences changes to their physique, their personality and their attitude to life and this can obviously impact on the nature and quality of the relationship they share with loved ones. People may therefore begin to grieve for the person they once knew and the relationship they once had, before the person has died. This is similar to the experiences associated with people who are suffering from dementia and their loved ones too.
Bereaved people may also experience challenging and unexpected emotions such as resentment, guilt, anger and relief.
Losing a beloved pet can be devastating and can have a major impact on a person’s way of life. Yet as a society, we fail to recognize the significance of such a loss and this can make grieving for a pet especially difficult.
Many people say they feel unable to share their intense feelings of grief when a cherished pet dies, for fear of what others might think and some may even feel embarrassed or ashamed at the extent and depth of the grief they experience.
However, research actually suggests that we can take as long to grieve a beloved pet as we do a person and that the close relationship we forge with our pets can make recovering from this loss incredibly painful.
A treasured pet becomes part of the family and part of our daily routines. Caring for them involves commitment and responsibility and our lives (and homes) can seem empty without them.
It is particularly difficult if the grieving owner or guardian has had to make some painful decisions about whether to have their pet euthanised as they may naturally be overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and regret.
Pet bereavement is often an example of what is called ‘disenfranchised’ grief as it can tend to be dismissed by others in the bereaved person’s circle of family, friends or colleagues. .
Other Kinds of Loss
Grief most obviously relates to bereavement, but also extends to suffering endured from other kinds of loss, such as loss of career, relationship or personal identity.
Coping with feelings of loss can be a difficult, confusing and lonely process. These feelings can be triggered by life’s many challenges including the ageing process, a deterioration in health or changes in lifestyle, career or family circumstances.
How Counselling can Help
Everyone grieves loss in their own time and in their own way. The process of grief and the feelings experienced by bereaved people can vary tremendously. However, many people can feel completely overwhelmed by grief at certain times and simply do not know which way to turn or how to cope with the intense sadness and emotional pain they are feeling.
Grief can also be very confusing. It is possible for people to go between feeling hopelessness and despair on the one hand, whilst becoming distracted and engrossed in daily tasks at other times. There may even be occasions when a bereaved person can enjoy aspects of their lives and relationships, which in turn, can lead to feelings of guilt and regret.
Because of the intensity and range of emotions associated with grief, many bereaved people feel as if they are going mad and do not realize that much of their experience is completely normal and to be expected following a bereavement. A grief counsellor can help to ‘normalise’ these feelings and so provide much needed reassurance to the bereaved person.
Many bereaved people also feel unable to share their true thoughts and feelings with others for fear of upsetting others or being regarded as a ‘burden’.
Counselling can help by providing a safe, non-judgmental space, for someone to explore these very difficult feelings openly and honestly.
During bereavement, sometimes people can also feel that others expect them to have ‘moved on’ or ‘gotten over’ their bereavement by a certain time after their loss.
However, grief counselling is not about moving someone on, as once a significant bereavement has occurred, it will always be a part of the bereaved person’s life. Counselling aims to help people to process their difficult feelings, make sense of their new reality and gradually adjust to their painful loss.
The counselling process will not try to rush bereaved people through their grief journey – a grief counsellor will work at the pace which is right for their client. There is no ‘right’ time by which a person should be ‘getting over’ their grief. Rather, counselling is concerned with allowing people the time they need to work through their feelings of grief and slowly begin to build a new way of life around it.
Counselling can also validate the grief experience – especially if the loss is somehow not fully recognized or acknowledged by others.
Finally, a grief counsellor can provide a valuable opportunity for the bereaved person to talk about the person or pet who has died, to celebrate their memory and to consider what their legacy might be in terms of how they will be remembered in the future.
Preparing for the end of life
When someone has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, they may benefit from having counselling to help them come to terms with their situation and to begin preparing for the end of life.
Grief is usually associated with bereaved people who have suffered the death of a loved one. However, people who are facing their own end of life may also be grieving – for the loss of their health, career, identity and for the life they would have lived.
People in this situation will often experience a similar range of emotions as a bereaved person. There may be disbelief, anger, fear, resentment, intense sadness and worry about those they are leaving behind.
This can be a very isolating and lonely position to be in. Many people find it virtually impossible to speak truthfully about their situation to those around them and to begin important conversations about the end of life – it may simply be too painful to discuss with friends and family.
Counselling is a place where people can be honest and open, without fear of upsetting someone else. It allows a person in this situation to explore their thoughts and feelings without being ‘closed down’ by others. This in turn, can lead to important insights about how that person wants to prepare for their end of life. Discussion may also extend to practical arrangements such as writing a will or planning a funeral.
Some people may also wish to talk about how they can initiate and manage difficult conversations with friends and family, and some may have a desire to explore how they wish to be remembered.