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Grief counselling, death, dying and and loss are not topics many of us want to talk about. We have a tendency in Western culture to sweep death ‘under the carpet ‘as much as possible, until we are directly face to face with it ourselves or someone we love or know dies. Death, dying and grief still remain somewhat ‘taboo’ topics. Losing someone is hard enough, but the following months can also be challenging. Often in the few weeks after loss, we may feel shocked, numb or deeply distressed. We may be caught up in ‘being busy,’ arranging the funeral and having family and friends with us. Then we are expected to move past it, return to work and act as if our life is normal again. ‘If we can’t pick up the pieces’ in the timing people expect us to, including employers, anti-depressants and grief counselling may be recommended. Grief counselling is very useful but not necessarily to ‘fix you’, but to provide a confidential, private and safe space with a trained, experenced process work therapist/ grief counsellor. A qualified and very experienced counsellor deeply understands the process of loss, without judging and can support you in whatever way you need. You can say anything and grieve in a way that is good for you. No-one can tell you how you should feel or behave or have a timetable for you to ‘get better.’
Sometimes you will receive support for a few weeks and then everyone is busy and they go back to ther own lives. Often this is the time people feel most alone. Everyone grieves differently and there is no normal time or way that we should be ‘coping better.’ Its not about coping. Grief is a process that you need to follow in your own way as well as takng care of your physical and emotional well-being. Some people want to ignore ther feelings, others to be strong. You may want to stay busy and immediately return to work or you may feel that you never want to go back to work or socialize again. These feelings will change over time.
There is also a process called ‘complicated grief.’ This can occur if you lose a partner, child or close family member. It can take longer to move through, let go and create meaning in your life again. It can also occur with the death of a baby and unexpected death like in a car accident or multiple deaths in a short space of time. Violent death and suicide has an extra layer of grieving as it involves more emotional trauma. However death is always shocking when it occurs as we are not prepared for it, intellectually or emotionally.
“Grief is like the ocean. It comes in waves, ebbing and flowing.”
Grief is like a wave. Sometimes it feels like a tidal wave or being in heavy surf. You can feel like you are drowning in the emotions of sadness, despair and loneliness. Or the wave slips under your normal defence mechanisms and leaves you feeling bereft and raw. Your day to day coping mechanisms don’t work anymore and you can feel vulnerable and out of control. Sometimes you don’t feel anything at all and the numbness doesn’t go away. Weeping is a way of letting your grief go.
“We can’t stop the waves but what we can do is learn to swim through the ocean of grief.”
There are many stages that we pass through in the grieving process, in no particular order and you will repeat over.
- Denial, shock and numbness
- Sadness and loneliness and yearning for the person who died.
- Anger and anxiety
- Guilt and self-reproach
- Acceptance and sometimes, relief
- Exhaustion and Depression
- Questioning the meaning in life and any religious or spiritual beliefs you may have.
You may also experience physical body symptoms such as tightness in the chest, feeling short of breath and muscle weakness etc. Certain thoughts are common such as confusion, disbelief and preoccupation with the person who has died. It is also usual to have eating and sleeping disturbances, social withdrawal, dreams of the person you have lost and feeling that your mind is not functionally normally.
It’s true the person or a beloved animal are no longer physically alive, but your relationship with them doesn’t stop. They will always be with you, in some way and therefore are a part of you. Even if you are not religious, small rituals can support you in your grief. Lighting a candle next to a photo of your loved one, talking to people about your pain when you feel ready and not letting yourself get isolated can all help. You can also decide on one quality that the person had and embody and have that quality more in yourself.
Don’t be surprised even when you feel that you have dealt with your grief that it doesn’t get unexpectedly triggered again. It can be on a birthday, Christmas or an anniversary or simply shopping in a supermarket and glimpsing someone who resembles your loved one. The feelings of pain and loss can return powerfully. Its good to go home and have a cry as weeping is a way of letting your grief go. Don’t panic. You will remember how to surf the wave of grief and you will process and deal with the sadness much quicker.
Grief is a universal experience. We are all impermanent so enjoy the gift of life.