Although grief and loss is something experienced by all of us at some stage in our lives, it is usually very difficult to cope with and hard to adjust to. As with other stressful events, we experience grief and loss personally and differently from each other. This depends on a variety of factors, including our character and beliefs, our personal history and support network. Our individual upbringing and cultural norms may also play a part in shaping how we deal with a loss. Whatever our background, grief and loss is often completely overwhelming when we go through it. Professional support including grief and loss therapy from a trained counsellor can help.
What do we mean by Grief and Loss?
Although the terms are used interchangeably by therapists, what do we mean by grief and loss?
Grief is the feeling we experience when the final connection we have with significant people in our lives is broken. The more you love the person the more grief you might feel when they die. Grief is individual and unique for every death we experience. It can come in many forms and may become complicated if left unchecked.
Feelings of loss can be experienced when we lose something important to us. Wherever there is a loss there will also be a change. This can be anything from divorce or the ending of a relationship, to the death of a pet. Similarly, we can experience feelings of loss when going through redundancy or when moving to a new house, especially if this means a shift in income or a social circle. It could mean adapting to a change in mobility or independence as a full-time carer. With abuse it can be several losses including power, dignity and self-respect. Loss can also affect several people at once. It change the dynamics of a group, leading to other social issues such as domestic violence or emotional abuse. As with grieving there is a process of adjustment and alignment, and this is not easy.
A professional therapist will recognise that the smallest loss can make the biggest impact to the well-being of an individual, and this will vary from one client to another.
Stages of grief and loss
In her 1969 book, ‘On Death and Dying’ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described five stages of the grieving process. This should not be interpreted as a linear pathway for grieving, and originally it was used to define stages commonly experienced by people coping with a terminal illness and dying. Over time, the Kubler-Ross model was applied to stages of grief and loss more generally, especially for people surviving the loss of someone close to them. We might not experience each stage, and one person will deal with their grief very differently to the next. The stages are:
Characterised by overwhelming feelings of shock and denial, this stage helps us to cope with a loss by only letting in certain feelings at a certain pace. We can feel overwhelmed at this stage, and denial might be our mind’s attempt to limit the effects of the loss by suppressing other emotions. Losing a loved one has changed our life so quickly that denial allows us, temporarily, to be in a different reality because it’s hard to cope with the real change brought about by our loss.
Although we might feel anger in our daily lives, anger as part of the grieving process might feel as though it has no boundaries. We might feel anger towards a person we think as significant in our loved one’s death by their action or inaction, at doctors or at the hospital that may have treated them. Anger in grief can sometimes be a measure of how we loved someone in life.
This stage of grieving might take various forms. We might try and bargain with god to relieve of us of our loss, or ask for a loved one to be returned to us if we dedicate our life to a higher purpose. Alternatively, we might wish to turn back the clock and try to relive the circumstances under which our loved one was lost. By reliving the past, we can be filled with guilt about our actions or inactions, playing out endless scenarios about how we might have behaved differently.
This might be the longest stage of grief and loss and can occur when our thoughts turn to realisation that our loved is not going to return. To not feel depression would be unlikely given our sense of loss, but it is often the stage when those around us might advise us to start moving on or to get over our grief. This might be well-intended, but it isn’t helpful. Losing a loved one is depressing, and this stage is a part of the grieving and eventually, the healing process.
This is seen as the final stage of grief and loss. Acceptance is not the same as ‘feeling better’ about the loss of a loved one or having ‘gotten over’ a loss. The world is not okay again, but we might at least recognise that this new situation is permanent. We begin to accept the person we are grieving is physically no longer here with us, and that cannot change. Acceptance will probably take place over a long period and might also be the time when we start building new relationships and new connections.
How does this impact our mental health?
People experiencing grief and loss can sometimes feel totally consumed by it to begin with. It will continue to live within us, coming out on occasion with the remembrance of something forgotten. For some, it can feel like a heavy piece of clothing which is hard to remove. Over time however, grief and loss might become more obedient, and will feel tame where it was once uncontrollable.
What can help?
Everyone grieves differently and at a different pace, and there is no set path or a right way to handle grief and loss. Very slowly, we might find feelings of loss become less overwhelming or present themselves less often than before. Grief and loss therapy might also give you some useful coping mechanisms. Until that time, the following approaches might be useful:
Allow yourself to grieve
We will all experience loss differently but it’s important to try and share your feelings rather keeping emotions inside. Some people might find it useful to express their grief in ways other than through talking therapy, for instance by trying a different physical activity, keeping a journal of their thoughts, writing things down or through creative therapy.
Spend time doing things you enjoy
It’s important to look after yourself mentally as well as physically. When you are ready try taking time out from the grieving process by doing something you enjoy. This doesn’t need to be something big or expensive, and quite often connecting again with friends and family can be very rewarding and help to lift your mood for a while.
Take your time
Just as we all experience grief in different ways, there’s also no set time or prescribed path for grief. The five stages outlined above are not followed in a sequence, we might move through just two or three of the stages, and there’s not predefined length for experiencing stages of grief and loss. Take your time, try not to set yourself any deadlines or feel pressured to move on from grief.
Seek out help
We might find support in family and friends, although not everyone finds it easy to talk and not all those close to us know the right words to say. You might find it useful to approach your GP or an organisation skilled in helping with grief and loss. You could also approach a bereavement charity or a counsellor trained in grief and loss therapy.
What is Counselling?
When delivered by a skilled counsellor, grief and loss therapy will be non-judgmental and will empathise with you. The therapist might also be able to help alleviate some of the feelings associated with the loss, as well as discussing coping mechanisms. If you would like to know more about my approach when offering grief and loss therapy, please get in touch. You can call me on 07824 385338 or get in touch via the Contact Me page.
You can find out more about coping with grief and bereavement at Counselling Directory.