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Grief and Loss - Understanding Grief and the Mourning process 

Although grief is one of the most common emotions we have to bear, we are not taught how to prepare for the death of someone close to us. It is a cycle of loss and mourning which often includes denial, fear and loneliness. 

Grieving doesn't actually follow a neat progression of steps; it is much more intricate than that. Grief is a personal thing, it can be complicated, a prolonged and intensely traumatising experience that can result in significant emotional distress. There can be a lot of regression or backtracking to an earlier time. There is no easy way around it, it's a natural response to the loss of someone special or something we value.  There will be big and small adjustments which have to be made in your life. You will change. your routine will change, your moods will change. All of this is called 'grief'.

It is not well understood in our society, some people try to deny it, postpone it or avoid it. It is an excruciatingly painful aspect of life, yet grief is important and leads to emotional healing. Most people expect to be very upset or distressed when a loved one has passed away. What can take us by surprise is how intense the emotions can be, how they can change very quickly and how long they last. People around you may seem to think you should be ‘back to normal’ after a few weeks or months. You may even appear to be your usual self on the outside, but on the inside, you’re not even sure what normal is any more. 

Common reactions to Grief and Bereavement

• Shock - I can’t believe it.
• Numbness - I'm not feeling anything.
• Guilt - If only...
• Frustration - Why don’t people understand me? Why did this have to happen?
• Panic - How will I cope?
• Depression - I don’t care anymore, I want to end it all.
• Fear - What if I can’t cope?
• Low Energy - I'm too tired.
• Confusion - I can’t think straight.
• Rejection - How could you leave me?
• Emptiness - I feel like something is always missing.
• Pain - Physical and mental pain can feel completely overwhelming and very frightening.
• Replaying - You can't stop thinking about the events leading up to the death.
• Visions - Thinking you're hearing or seeing someone who has died.
• Mood swings - One minute you're angry and the next minute you can't stop crying.  

Common Myths about the Grieving Process:
Myth: I have to “be strong” after a loss.
You may experience different feelings, you may even cry, this is not a sign of weakness. It's a normal reaction to grief for some people. Showing your true feelings can only help you and those around you. Putting a brave front when you are mourning is not something you have to do.

Myth: Grieving should last for 6 months.
There is no time limit on grieving. It is different for everyone, we uniquely move through the stages.

Myth: If I ignore my pain it will go away.
Ignoring your pain can cause problems later on down the line. While it may not be easy, facing your grief as it occurs is a healthy approach.

Myth: If you don’t cry, it means you never cared.
Not everyone shows sadness in the same way. Crying is a common response but it’s not the only one.

Myth: Carrying on with life means forgetting about the loved one.
Carrying on means you’ve accepted your loss, that does not mean you have forgotten the person that you have lost. The memories can still stay alive. You may never stop missing your loved one, you may have just found a way to cope and overcome the grief.

The Grieving Process - What are the Stages of Grief?

According to the Kubler-Ross Model, there are 5 main stages of grief - they reflect common reactions people have as they try to make sense of a loss. An important part of the healing process is experiencing and accepting the feelings that come as a result of the loss. Below are some of the common stages that people go through:

Denial, numbness, and shock
Numbness is a normal reaction to a death, it should never be confused with "not caring". This stage helps protect the individual from experiencing the intensity of the loss. It can actually be useful when the grieving person has to take some action such as planning a funeral, notifying relatives, or reviewing important papers. As the individual moves through the experience and slowly acknowledges its impact, the initial denial and disbelief will diminish.

This stage may be marked by persistent thoughts about what "could have been done" to prevent the death. Some people become obsessed with thinking about specific ways things could've been done differently to save a loved one's life. If this is not dealt with and resolved, the individual may live with intense feelings of guilt or anger that can interfere with the healing process.

At this time, people begin to realise and feel the true extent of the loss. Common signs of depression may include difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, and crying spells. The individual may also experience self-pity and feel lonely, isolated, empty, lost, and anxious.

This stage is common. It usually occurs when an individual feels helpless and powerless. Anger can stem from a feeling of abandonment because of a loss. Sometimes the individual is angry at a higher power, at the doctors who cared for the loved one, or toward life in general.

In time, an individual can move into this stage and come to terms with all the emotions and feelings that were experienced when the death occurred. Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into the individual's set of life experiences.

The theory is, throughout a person's lifetime, he or she may return to some of the earlier stages of grief such as depression or anger. There are no rules or time limit to the grieving process, it can manifest itself differently in people, some move through it almost effortlessly while others get stuck at one stage. There may be an intense period of longing for things to return to the way they were.

Dr William Worden, Author and founding member of the Association of Death Education and Counselling, suggests that in order to complete the grieving process and move forward, the bereaved individual must accomplish four tasks of mourning:
1. Accept the reality of your loss
2. Work through the pain and grief
3. Adjust to the world without your loved one
4. Find a way to maintain a connection to the person you have lost while embarking on a new life.

The Stages of Grief are not exact, it's your journey
It can be very reassuring to recognise the stages, in a way we may feel less alone as we realise others have experienced grief patterns too. The famous five stages of grief are helpful when it comes to naming feelings and experiences, but they're not a roadmap for how.

Our grief journey is unique, we may share a lot in common with others but we'll move through it in our own way, in our own time. Perhaps, "there are really only two stages of grief, who you were before and who you are after". You may or may not go through what is mentioned in the other stages and that is ok. It does not invalidate your grief.

Some people try to get on with life and establish some new form of normality. Others may find themselves in situations where they momentarily manage to 'forget' about their grief, only to feel their heart sink as something reminds them - shopping for two or a favourite song for instance. There is no set pattern to follow, even members of the one family who are mourning the loss of the same person will show their grief in diverse ways, this is because we are all different in:
• How we mourn
• How we cope with stress
• How we communicate emotions
• Personality
• The relationship we had with the person
• The support we have around us
• Personal issues which may be brought to the surface at this time.

There may be instances that trigger Grief

Birthdays, Christmas, Anniversaries or milestones can bring back memories. Try to prepare yourself for this as they can be major triggers. It can be particularly hard during the first year as it's all so new, you may not know what to expect as you have not experienced these dates without your loved one.

How do I support someone who is Grieving?

• Resist giving advice.
• Help in practical ways.
• Do not put a time limit on grief.
• Remember anniversaries, birthdays etc.
• Most importantly, listen to them.

Ways to help resolve your own grief:

• Acknowledge positive and negative feelings.
• Allow plenty of time to experience thoughts and feelings.
• Confide in a trusted person.
• Express feelings openly or write journal entries.
• Find bereavement groups in which other people have had similar losses.
•Remember that crying can provide a release.
• Seek professional help if feelings are overwhelming.

People who are grieving may never stop missing a loved one but the pain may eventually lessen. The most important aspect of grieving is learning to cope with the loss. You may need support with that, as it is one of the most trying times - if not the most of our lives.

Grief and Loss Counselling - How can it help me?

Some people find the comfort of loved ones very helpful after a bereavement, while others find this hard and may withdraw from social contact, unable to face the world. You may feel like this, but grieving is difficult enough without having to do it all on your own.

We know that no one can understand exactly what your loss feels like to you, but we do understand that at times it may be easier to talk to someone outside of your friends and family about the impact of the bereavement. Offloading can be very beneficial...It is better out than in!

Counselling can help you during the mourning process by allowing you to move through the stages of grief in a relationship that is supportive and confidential. Your Counsellor will assist you to accept the loss and to talk about it. You will be encouraged to identify and express any feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, helplessness and anxiety. 

Losing someone to suicide can be a complicated grieving process. You could benefit from having a safe space to express any shock, frustration, anger, sadness, abandonment etc. that you might be feeling. Your thoughts matter, you may need some help to heal.

Grief and Loss Counselling can help you to learn to live without the deceased; it will encourage you to make decisions alone. This can feel very scary at first, support is very reassuring at this time. Your Counsellor will aid you in identifying ways of coping with the bereavement, you may soon realise that what you're experiencing is normal and a common response to grief.

Grief and Loss Counselling is not only for when someone has passed away
You may have a loved one who is terminally ill or has a condition that has severely impacted them. You could be experiencing some grief and loss about this, even though they are still alive. You might be fearful and worried about what is yet to come. Seeing a loved one's health deteriorate can have a major impact. It is something that people do go through and the feelings can be intense and overwhelming.

You may be experiencing Disenfranchised Grief, but what is it?
This is a loss that is not acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned, it is described as a hidden sorrow. Disenfranchised Grief is often a non-death loss, it may be due to:
Relationship break down
Estrangement from family
Extramarital affair
Parent/sibling dying before your birth
Being adopted
Having a child adopted
Loss of job or career
Loss of independence
Grief after an abortion
Death of an abuser
Death of an ex-partner
Change in body functionality
Loss of finances and financial uncertainty
Addiction of a loved one
Death of a patient/client
Death of a Doctor, Therapist etc.
Pet loss
Moving home or country
Grieving someone incarcerated
Loss of language, culture or identity
Loss of freedom
Learning a secret

Disenfranchised grief is often misunderstood and not validated. If your loss is related to a death, it's still important for you to work through it and have support. You are deserving of help too. Your thoughts, your hopes, your beliefs and your future could make the greatest improvement. All grief matters.

Therapy can be the light in the dark. It allows you to be heard. A time to talk, cry, shout, vent, share memories or just think aloud. It can guide you to look at your problems in a different way and bring relief by being able to communicate with a neutral party, without being interrupted. It can help you to sort out some of the confusion as a result of a painful loss.

Whether you have lost someone due to an illness, old age, murder, an accident, miscarriage, stillbirth or suicide, having support and guidance in adapting to the changes can help. Learn about What to do after a person Dies - Practical matters.

Get in touch with us and request your free Ebook about Grief and Loss or select one. We also offer Grief Counselling and Bereavement Therapy. It can help to open up about what you're going through, you have space to be heard. Our caring and compassionate Counsellors provide sessions via Email, Instant MessengerSkype or WhatsApp Calling and Telephone. We look forward to supporting you.