Grief does not just exist in the context of death and dying. The principles by which people successfully overcome any kind of loss remain the same. For example, when losing...
A Love, Partnership or Marriage
Your Way of life
...or any other serious loss that life can throw at you. Serious here is best defined only by whether this loss hurts you too much or for too long, not by any generalised opinion about what people should be able to tough-out alone.
Organisations, Associations, Regulatory Bodies
Education and Training
Counselling / Bullying Advice/Counselling / Eating Disorders/Counselling / Family Therapy / Humanistic Counselling / Mediation / Sexual & Relationship Counselling / Spiritual Counselling
Clearly, most people seem to survive losses without the aid of a counsellor, especially when they know what is going on for them and have a good support network. The information on these pages is also useful for people who can recover like this, hopefully to make the process of recovery even faster. None the less, people face different circumstances in life, can have multiple things going on for them at the time of a loss or the loss can mean more to them than anyone knows. There may be a variety of feelings making the resolution of the loss unattainable or the strength of feeling unbearable. Such ordinary people facing such extraordinary circumstances may need some extra help. Thats where grief counseling can come in.
There are certain principles (or stages) through which everyone who has sustained a loss must pass if they are to recover well. They are...
Overcome the disbelief and understand this has happened. To do this you may have to repeatedly expose yourself to this reality by whatever means you have. The hurt goes then.
Allow yourself to be emotional about it. Preferably with someone.
Re-Jig the mechanics of life to correspond with this loss being real and the needed changes in your lifes structure.
Find means to resolve the loss, maybe by talking to friends or a counsellor - not avoiding (too much) by just getting busy. This is so the loss is not in your face the whole time and you can free that energy up and use it to get on with your life. What you have lost means something to you, but if it really is lost, then the shortest time that you suffer, the better. People often relocate losses from them being in their face - to a place in their hearts.
The above stages must be got through for people to come back to something more like their usual health. If you can use this information for yourself, fine. If you know someone who is suffering a loss and you don't know how best to help, then use these principles too, to figure out what you have to do for them to make these stages happen. (Do you have to be repeatedly blunt-but-caring to make the first stage happen? Do you need to be more sensitive to help someone to stage two? And so on..)
Basic Grief & The Stages of Grief
It is entirely normal for us to become attached to important people in our lives, and the amount of this attachment will determine how much we are affected when they are gone. They often matter to us in many different ways, and sometimes, sadly, we only realise how much they matter when they are lost to us in this life. There's nothing wrong with feeling bad about losing anyone (or any thing) that we have become attached to, and this feeling is called grief. Grief can consist of a range of different feelings for different people, but for emotional well-being to return it is important to experience and express this individual range of feelings. Sadness, depression, anger, guilt, anxiety, isolation, numbness, fatigue, shock and helplessness can be quite legitimately expected, and for some people, senses of relief and freedom can be quite easy to understand. Looking more closely at how an individual's grief is constructed can provide a blueprint for a plan to move away from grief. A grief that goes on beyond a respectful amount of time is destructive.
Separately from missing the person themselves, if you can find out what they provided for you (in whatever sense) and then you learn to provide it for yourself, do without it or replace it (not them) in some way, it can help you cope. Sometimes what they gave you can be unclear, and bereavement counselling can help to clarify things.
Some theories about human development suggest that grief (however unwanted) is an important part of the maturing process, as the person feeling it is presented with opportunities to learn how to expand their independence, life and coping skills, emotional strength and preparedness for future adversity. In short - a normal human life way of learning to grow, adapt and survive loss.
When an important loss has just happened, it is normal to be shocked and in a state of disbelief or disorientation. We quite naturally think about the deceased a great deal and when this is coupled with a wish for the death never to have happened, it is very normal for us to experience them as somehow being close by. We can become restless and try to keep too busy in order to keep feelings at bay, and this in turn can cause loss of quality sleep which in turn makes us edgy or not with it. Having a cry is common and calling out to or longing for the deceased is to be expected. We may want to keep everything that belonged to them or avoid all reminders in an attempt to prevent feelings being triggered off. None the less, losing someone important causes distress and a departure from normal functioning that is not unlike an illness. And like an illness still, a complete recovery is hoped for but may not happen fully, and the level of recovery may depend on factors like your previous state of health, the seriousness of the loss and the kind of help offered and taken.
In every bereavement though, four stages of grief have to be resolved for some sense of recovery to take place, they are :-
1. Accept that the loss has really happened
2. Experience all the feelings of grief as fully as possible
3. Make adjustments to your life in a world where they are missing
4. Emotionally relocate them with love and respect and move into the next phase of your life
Some losses are clearly more difficult to cope with than others, but an ordinary grief can be assisted with the kind of bereavement counselling we and others offer, which follows the pattern of assisting the normal passage through the above stages of grief, based on where each individual is in the process.
Achieving the successful passage through the normal stages of grief is essential for health and well-being to return, and under normal circumstances bereavement counselling is helpful to clarify and speed-up the process, which can get stuck or incomplete.
Bereavement counseling, then, is to assist a normal grief, under normal circumstances, whilst in normally good physical, practical and emotional health.
Unfortunately, for many reasons, some losses are not so simple, and the necessary stages of grief can become impeded from taking their course. These worse situations can be called Complex Grief.
All people who are bereaved need to go through the stages of grief (outlined above) in order to return to some kind of well-being. These stages are simple to understand in theory, however in practice they are often only satisfactorily overcome without help when the death has been expected or ordinary and without undue problems and where the person who is experiencing the grief is both well and with good support.
Unfortunately, some losses are absolutely gut-wrenching in their severity, and not all people are equipped at all times to handle a loss that is so much more complicated than the average. In a complex grief a wide range of problems can get in the way of people passing through the stages of grief satisfactorily, and this can give rise to problems affecting large areas of home, family, working and personal life. It is these extra problems that cause grief to become complicated, and they have to be overcome before the stages of grief can be tackled properly.
Grief can become chronic (go on or too long), delayed (hidden, masked or postponed), exaggerated (so terribly affected that excessive drinking or other substance use can become a problem and where some people risk serious psychiatric problems), or masked (where even the sufferer does not know they are experiencing a grief gone wrong - but a range of physical and psychological problems can arise without apparent cause).
Many factors can affect the individuals ability to cope, and some are less obvious than others. For example, the severity and manner of a death are important factors, but also the kind of relationship that existed with the deceased should be taken into account. The sufferers prior experiences in life and about death also matter, along with whatever else is currently going on for people.
There are high risk deaths to consider the implications of, such as death by suicide, a sudden death, the death of a baby (perhaps cot death) or child of whatever age. Those whose loved ones are terminally ill face special problems too, as do those who lose a partner or someone in tragic (posssibly horrific) circumstances. Your own terminal illness can also be fraught with what can seem insurmountable problems preventing dying with peace and dignity. Still-births, babies lost during any stage of pregnancy and abortions also cause terrible grief reactions. Entire families are disrupted by some deaths and even very young children can suffer severe grief, though current thinking suggests that they need not be offered professional help unless other factors make them children with a high risk of not recovering unaided.
Intense guilt can accompany some losses and this can (understandably) lead to great anger or even the need to blame others.
In obvious situations of complicated high risk grief, it is usually advisable to seek help as soon as possible, and as a rule of thumb the family doctor should be involved, even though the nature of these predicaments often means people are reluctant to seek help early enough.
These more difficult to cope with losses can often benefit from the extra help found in counselling services such as ours.
If you are in such a complex grief yourself or are seeking help for another, please get the help you need from me or anywhere, but please seek help - some things cannot be tackled very well alone. A range of free services for information and help are listed in the Organisations and Associations section.
Information provided by: Kim Smith, The Fellow Travellers Counselling Service
24 First Street, Low Moor, Bradford BD12 0JQ West Yorkshire
Tel: 01274 607833 Mobile: 07811 423459
Fax: 01274 607833