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.
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.
– Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
– Liam Neeson, Actor
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.