Grief & Bereavement
Grief is felt by everyone from all walks of life. It is usually felt in response to the loss or death of a person or animal that was close to us in life.
There are thought to be five stages1 to the grieving process, but studies have since indicated there may be seven stages. Following is a brief summary of each of the five stages. It is important to remember that not everyone will experience all of these stages, nor experience them in the order given.
Some people when learning of a terminal illness or the death of a loved one may experience denial when faced with the reality of the situation. This is a normal defence mechanism, is temporary and helps you through the initial shock, enabling you to cope and survive the experience. As you begin to accept the reality of the loss, you become stronger and can begin the healing process.
Once the feelings of denial and isolation begin to fade, the reality of the situation begins to set in and pain begins to rise to the surface. Emotions run high and a person may begin to feel irrational anger or resentment at the unfairness of it all. These feelings may be directed at the dying or deceased person, friends, family members, medical staff or inanimate objects. A person may begin to question their faith and God’s part in it all. It is important to understand that the anger is masking pain and the more you allow yourself to feel it, the more it begins to dissipate and you begin to heal.
This is a normal response when we are feeling helpless or vulnerable. It is often followed by thoughts of regret such as “if only I was nicer to them”, “cared for them more”, “spent more time with them”, “got a second opinion” and so on. Some people may even try to bargain or plead with a higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable.
There are two forms of depression associated with grieving. The first is the reaction to the practical implications that relate to the loss, such as organising the burial or sharing our time with others associated with the death. The second form of depression is our own coming to terms with the loss, of separating ourselves in order to let go so we can begin to heal. Even though this depression feels as if it will last forever it is not a sign of mental illness, but a response to an overwhelming loss.
Those that are terminally ill often go through a period of withdrawal and acceptance, with an air of calmness about them. They can spend many hours where they seem to be detached from the world around them. They may cut themselves off socially from everyone outside of their immediate family, or even from people they were previously close to. This can be difficult for those that wish to be near them, not understanding why they are being pushed away. This can lead to feelings of hurt and rejection.
This may also be where you begin to accept the reality that your loved one is gone and is never going to return to you. Life has forever changed, you now have to slowly start moving forward, to embrace life and to live again.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve and each person copes with loss in their own way. It is a deeply personal experience, and no one is able to relate to how you feel at the time. The best thing is to allow your grief expression in order to heal, as resisting it will only prolong it to the point where it becomes complicated grief. It is okay to allow others to be there for you, to offer comfort, even if it is to just listen or to give you a hug. You can never replace those you have lost, but you can begin to make new connections, new friends and new relationships.
If you are having a difficult time coping with grief of any kind, discuss your feelings and emotions with your doctor or specialist, ask relevant questions and request clear cut answers.
These are groups where others come together to talk about their lost loved ones. Here you will find empathy and understanding along with comfort and practical guidance. Your doctor or community centre may have a list of groups or you could try an online forum.
Professional help is often needed to work through and overcome the grief, especially if it is impacting negatively on your day to day life and current relationships.
If you would like help to overcome your grief, to talk about it, or come to terms with it, then please click on the below link that will take you back to the Counselling page where you will be able to book an appointment.
Kübler-Ross, E. (1969) On Death and Dying. 1 New York, Scribner.
Worden, J. W. (2008). Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy (4th ed): A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner. New York. Springer Publishing.