Grief and Loss Counseling
- Do you have a persistent yearning or longing for someone who died?
- Are you preoccupied with thoughts about someone who died?
- Has a loss resulted in frequent feelings of loneliness or emptiness?
- Do you have recurring feelings of anger, sadness or injustice about a loss?
- Do you avoid people, places and things that remind you of a loss?
- Do you experience excessive emotional and physical reactivity while thinking about a loss?
It’s helpful to understand the grieving process.
Here are some helpful definitions when thinking and speaking about a loss:
- Grief – the internal experience; the normal and helpful process one goes through after suffering a loss. It involves many emotions, actions and expressions.
- Mourning – the outward expression of loss and grief; what others see and hear; how we make meaning of what happened.
- Bereavement – the state of being caused by suffering a loss; a place of feeling deprived.
- Complicated grief – a disruption of the normal process of grief that prevents healing. It can be rooted in unresolved past grief or trauma. `
- Ambiguous Loss – a loss that occurs without reason or understanding; a person is searching for answers, complicating and delaying the process of grieving; a seemingly random event.
Grief is a normal reaction to loss and follows a path to healing. Complicated grief is more disruptive and affects your everyday life to a greater extent. After about six months, if you’re struggling with obsessive thoughts and emotional reactivity, consider getting some help.
Bereavement is the period after a loss, during which grief is experienced and mourning occurs. The time spent in a period of bereavement depends on how attached the person was to the person or object that was lost, and how much time was spent anticipating the loss.
Mourning is the process by which people outwardly adapt to a loss. It’s how you carry on with your life. Mourning is also influenced by cultural customs, rituals and society’s norms for coping with loss. It’s very important to follow whatever customs and rituals you believe in. It’s also important to respect and support others’ cultural beliefs.
An ambiguous loss may be sudden and random, without reason or warning. You can get stuck on why the loss happened and search for answers that don’t exist.
Loss is much more common than you think. It is a universal experience.
Many people have experienced death in their lives. In addition, we have all experienced losses that we don’t realize have affected us. We often don’t think of them as losses because most are not tangible. However, all losses benefit from grief, mourning, and bereavement. Some examples are:
- Behavioral – job, income, career
- Cognitive – safety, trust, self-esteem
- Spiritual – hope, friendship, self-worth
- Emotional – pregnancy, marriage, faith
- Physical – youth, fertility, health
Some events you may not realize are losses can be: a relationship breakup; infidelity; serious illness; the death of a pet; moving to a new location; school graduation; child leaving home; the birth of a child; changing jobs; discrimination; prejudice; bigotry; racism and theft of a valuable.
A natural disaster such as a fire, flood or tornado produces massive losses to many people.
When you see someone else, try to imagine the losses they’ve suffered. This may evoke empathy and compassion, which are helpful in processing a loss.
Although loss is common, your experience is unique.
Every loss is different and everyone grieves differently. There is no rule, no textbook and no expectation for your grief. Judging your grief is not helpful and will prolong the process. There is no way you “should” feel or behave. Whatever is right for you is also best for you. The point is to grieve and mourn in your own way, in your own time. You are the expert of your grief.
One thing to consider is how the loss affects your day to day life. There will certainly be an impact on work and relationships, but this is normal - to a point. If the loss excessively affects your work performance, consider getting help. If the loss causes a rupture in a relationship, this is cause for concern as well.
You may experience waves of emotion and confusing feelings. Often, they seem to come and go at random. Experiencing regrets are normal. It’s important to use your support system. That’s what they’re there for. Lean on people you can trust and who will give you what you need.
The death of a family member will disrupt the whole family system. Every family has their own unique normal balance. Without that person, there is no normal to return to. The family must find a new way to operate and relate to each other. There is also a redistribution of power in the family. These things can be very difficult, cause friction and add to everyone’s grief.
The Myth of Closure.
Get over it. Get past it. Closure implies that there is a fixed endpoint to grief and someday you’ll get over the loss and recover. This is not how it works. There will never be a time when the loss doesn’t affect you. It’s not like losing a pen, which sounds ridiculous, but your loss will never be completely forgotten.
You may reach a point where the loss no longer interferes with your daily life. However, closure is not possible because the experience never completely goes away. Wanting closure can create false hope. It can also get in the way of creating healthy memories and remembrances.
What’s important is how the loss affects you. Ask yourself that question and see what answers you come up with.
After a period of months, If the answer is it hurts, but I can handle it, you’re on the right path. If the answer is it hurts and I can’t stop thinking about it, or I feel anxiety or depression, you may need help.
Some losses are so painful that they affect who you are. You may never be the same person you were before.
If not closure, what then? Healing and growth? Maybe even acceptance and peace?
Think of Reconciliation.
Reconciliation usually means working out differences and bringing two different things together. It could be a relationship, your beliefs or ideas, and many other possibilities.
In the context of loss, think of reconciliation as a unification of the loss and the new reality without what was lost. One way to look at it is you are merging your grief with your life. And the size of the adjustment will depend on the depth of the loss.
With reconciliation comes a renewal of energy, meaning and purpose. What is also gained is an appreciation for the loss and gratitude for time spent with what was lost.
It can be a time to decide how to best honor the loss and what remembrances and rituals you want to keep.
It is a time when you can move forward again, a little older and wiser.
Treatment Approaches With Me.
Some of the things we would explore together include:
- Progress assessments such as the Prolonged Grief Disorder Screen, Traumatic Grief Inventory and the Complicated Grief Assessment
- Psychoeducation on creating reasonable expectations
- Obstacles to grief processing
- Benefits of a grief journal
- Benefits of writing a letter about the loss
- Leaning on a support network
- Identifying and processing unresolved issues and trauma
- Finding meaning in the loss
- Benefits of attending a support group
- Examining triggers and what makes them so
- Having an imaginal conversation with the deceased
- Role-playing with the therapist
- Creating rituals of remembrance
- Adapting to a different relationship with the deceased
Based on what we learn, we’ll decide the best way for you to work through this process. Along the way, we’ll evaluate how you’re doing and make any necessary adjustments.
Here are some general guidelines anyone can follow to help along the way:
- Reach out to someone trusted
- Know and prepare for triggers
- Stay physically active
- Be kind to yourself
- Practice self-compassion
- Find activities to recharge your energy
- Allow emotions to unfold without resistance
- Maintain a connection to the loss
- Check eating, sleeping and dreaming
- Work on resilience
It can also be helpful to find a time and a place to safely feel and express your grief. This could be your car or a room in your home. This may help reduce spontaneous feelings that occur in a place that is unsafe for you emotionally.
Turn, Turn, Turn
I encourage you to listen to the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds. It was written by Pete Seeger and was a national hit in 1965. The lyrics were taken from Ecclesiastes 3 1:8 in the Old Testament, which says:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven;
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Most of all there is hope. You can honor the loss.
You can learn how to feel and express your grief in a healthy way. You can mourn in a way that finds meaning and honor. You can experience bereavement in a way that makes you grow as a person.
Often, talking to a professional can help you work through this challenging and complicated process. If you think you could use some help, don’t hesitate to give me a call.