After the loss of a loved one in our lives you may feel torn to pieces or feel like there is a hole in your life. Everyone will have unique needs. Things are different and your needs have shifted.
No matter where you are on your grief journey, it is a journey. Moving from your internal feelings and thoughts into authentic mourning and knowing that you can’t go back to the way it was before. We seek a new normal, all the while knowing that there will be days when tears will flow or a smile will come. Whether it’s in 5 days after the loss or 50 years. Welcome your journey.
Mourning, often heard interchangeably with grief, is different. Mourning is the outward expression of our grief. In other words, it is our shared social response to loss. In simple terms, mourning is grief gone public.
It is through authentic mourning that grief begins to soften. The fancy term for this process is perturbation which is the capacity to experience change and movement. Emotions are a vast source of information for us and that extends to grief as well. At times grief is something many of us want to run away from or evade because the emotions that come along with it don’t feel good. However, when we run away from those emotions and deny them a chance to be felt we set ourselves up to be stuck in grief. Emotions want to be felt. They need motion.
“I still feel, 20 years later about my mother, I still have shock within me . . . People say shock can’t last that long, but it does. You never get over it. It’s such an unbelievably big moment in your life that it never leaves you, you just learn to deal with it.”
“It hits you. It’s like a wave. You just get this profound feeling of instability. The Earth isn’t stable anymore and then it passes and it becomes more infrequent, but I still get it sometimes.”
Liam Neeson, Actor
Pre-Bereavement (Anticipatory Grief)
- Accept that anticipatory grief is normal. You are normal and feeling grief before a death is normal. You are allowed to feel this type of grief. This is a common phenomenon that has been documented for nearly a century. You are not alone.
- Acknowledge your losses. People may say things like, “at least your mum is still here” – this can minimise what you’re experiencing. Allow yourself to acknowledge that, though the person hasn’t died, you are grieving. Consider journaling, art or other creative outlets to express your emotions around things like acceptance of the impending death, loss of hope, loss of the person you once knew, loss of the future you imagined, etc. Explore Mindfulness, as a way of being present and aware of the many emotions you are coping with.
- Connect with others. Anticipatory grief is common among caregivers, but unfortunately when all your time is consumed with caregiving you may feel totally alone and isolated.
- Remember that anticipatory grief doesn’t mean you are giving up. As long as you are there for support, you are not giving up on a family member or friend. There comes a time where we often accept that an illness is terminal and that recovery is no longer a possibility. Though it is a reality, there can be a feeling of guilt that comes with that acceptance. Focus on what you are doing – still supporting, caring, loving, creating meaningful time together, etc. You are shifting your energy from hope for recovery to hope for meaningful, comfortable time together.
- Reflect on the remaining time. Consider how you and your loved one will want to spend that time together. Though what we want may not always be possible, do your best to spend your remaining time together in a way you and your loved one find meaningful. If your loved one is open to it, you may want to discuss practical matters, like advance directives and funeral arrangements to ensure that you are able to honour their wishes (rather than being stuck having to guess what they would have wanted).
- Communicate. Just like we all grieve differently; anticipatory grief is different for everyone. Expect that everyone in your family may be experiencing and coping with anticipatory grief in different ways. Keeping the lines of communication open can help everyone better understand one another. If you are planning for the remaining time to be meaningful and comfortable, make sure to include all the important family members and friends in those discussions.
- Take care of yourself. Try Yoga and meditation. Remember the old cliché, you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.
- Take advantage of your support system. Caregiving and anticipatory grief can be a long road. Do an assessment of your support systems so you know which people may be able to help you out (and who you may want to avoid).
- Say yes to counselling. Counselling is helpful for normal, everyday people who need a place to process complicated emotions and have some you-time. Say yes to counselling if you are feeling overwhelmed with the feelings of anticipatory grief.
- Relief is normal. In the case of anticipated loses there can be months, years, and even decades of caregiving that can be overwhelming and exhausting. When someone dies there can be a sense of relief that is completely normal, but that can also create feelings of guilt. Remember that feeling relief after an anticipated death does not mean you loved the person any less. It is a normal reaction after a stressful and overwhelming time in your life.
- Don’t assume. Just because your loss was an anticipated loss, do not assume this will either speed up or slow down your grief after the death.
Here is the thing about grief – though we think of it as something that happens after a death, it often begins long before death arrives. It can start as soon as we become aware that death is a likelihood. Once death is on the horizon, even just as a possibility, it is natural that we begin to grieve.
Though this is different than the grief that follows a death, anticipatory grief can carry many of the symptoms of regular grief – sadness, anger, isolation, forgetfulness, and depression. These complicated emotions are often coupled with the exhaustion that comes with being a caregiver or the stress of being left alone when someone goes to war or is battling addiction. We are aware of the looming death and accepting it will come, which can bring an overwhelming anxiety and dread. More than that, in advance of a death we grieve the loss of a person’s abilities and independence, their loss of cognition, a loss of hope, loss of future dreams, loss of stability and security, loss of their identity and our own, and countless other losses. This grief is not just about accepting the future death, but of the many losses already occurring as an illness progresses.
Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning
- To accept the reality of the loss.
- To work through the pain of grief.
- To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing.
- To find an enduring connection with the deceased while embracing a new life.
Grief is our internal experience to loss. This includes the thoughts and feelings that each of us have when someone we love dies. Our ability to grieve stems from our capacity to give and receive love.
Many of us have been given the message that grief is something “to get over.” The reality of the situation is that grief is not something that one “gets over.” Rather, we integrate our grief by being touched by the feelings. In a way it is our grief that manages us or guides us rather than us trying to manage our grief. Grief is integrated when it is welcomed rather than being based on a set time.
The Kübler-Ross Cycle of Grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross focused on anticipatory grief, owned by the dying person, not the survivor. However her model of grief can be adapted to both pre-bereavement and bereavement grieving processes. Her work was descriptive and unapologetically unscientific, and eventually her goal became talking about death so the dying could prepare and be supported by loved ones who would understand their process.
“Tears are for the soul, like lotion is for the skin.”
She observed 5 identifiable stages of grief
Kübler-Ross now notes that these stages are not linear and some people may not experience any of them. Others might only undergo two stages rather than all five, one stage, three stages, etc.
Our work together
The aim of bereavement counselling is to help you explore your emotions. At our first meeting, I will ask you about your feelings connected to your loss, or potential loss, and about your relationship to your loved-one. l will enquire about your life, now that you have lost a loved one, or how you envisage life without them. We will go at your pace. In my experience answering these questions may bring up feelings of sadness or anger. Crying and yelling may come naturally during bereavement counselling and I will certainly not be offended. You might be afraid to talk about the person who has died. People in your life might not mention their name because they don’t want to upset you, this can leave you feeling lonely and isolated.
Turning to bereavement counselling before or after the loss of a loved one is not an admission of weakness, but instead it is an admission of the strength to seek help when it is needed. Whether you are bereaved, pre-bereaved or have a terminal illness, counselling helps you work through your grief as well as learn coping mechanisms to help you when you are on your own. Bereavement counselling is recommended for anyone, of any age, whose loss seems overwhelming or whose life is being adversely affected by their grief.
Additional Areas of counselling I work with:
- Affairs and betrayal
- Anger management
- Pre-Bereavement, Bereavement
- Carer support
- Child related issues
- Chronic boredom
- Domestic violence
- Drug and alcohol abuse (Substance misuse)
- Eating disorders
- Elderly issues
- Emotional abuse
- Family issues
- Financial concerns/ debt
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Historical abuse
- Intrusive thoughts
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Passive aggressive behaviour
- Physical abuse
- Pregnancy and birth
- Separation and divorce
- Sex problem
- Suicidal thoughts
- Wedding nerves
- Work-related stress