When a loved one dies, we all react differently. For some people, accepting the inevitable loss of a 87-year-old much-loved grandfather following a lengthy illness is not that difficult. For others, it is an unbearable task. Similarly, some people seem to “get over” the loss of a small child in a relatively short period of time, while others never seem to recover.
For the many people who find it hard to cope with a death, grief counseling often can help them make the transition. Its goal is to help people grieve within a normal, healthy period of time and eventually resume their daily lives. Grief counseling can be a long-term process, a short-term affair or even a one-off, and can occur on a one-to-one basis or in groups.
For people for whom grief counseling is not enough, grief therapy may be the answer. It helps people with complicated or abnormal grief reactions deal better with the conflict of separation, using specialized techniques to help them eventually function again as a happy human being.
Five Stages of Grief
Psychiatrist and author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first introduced this model in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying. She wrote it particularly for people who were dying themselves as the result of a terminal illness. However, her five steps later became identified as the five stages we all go through when someone else dies, and are now widely seen as a useful tool for people going through the grieving or bereavement process. They are:
Denial. The first phase we all go through. Either you deny that it is happening to you or you find yourself “forgetting” that the event has happened at all, by continuing to set a place at table for the deceased, buying them a present or talking to them.
Anger/Blaming. This stage occurs once the denial is over, when you get incensed over what has transpired and seek to lay blame. You might blame your husband for something he did “wrong”, you might blame yourself.
Bargaining. Trying to bargain for time, saying you will do this and that if the inevitable does not happen. Some people try to bargain with God to get their loved one back.
Depression. Once you have begun the process of acceptance often you are faced with intense depression, and seemingly don’t care what happens any more at all.
Acceptance. When the depression begins to lift an acceptance of the inevitable begins, and you can begin to rebuild your life and move on.
How Grief Counseling Can Help
In today’s society it’s generally accepted that grieving is a normal process, but unfortunately we don’t all know how to grieve. Grief counseling can help us to express our feelings and adjust to the loss. Please be aware, however, that in specific situations – such as when a child dies or a homicide unexpectedly occurs – that specialized counseling may be warranted.
Here are some basics about the grief counseling process:
Grief counseling is specific for people who are bereaved. Grief counselors can be clergy people, trained therapists or social workers, and can work individually with bereaved individuals or in groups.
The counseling seeks first of all for an expression of grief, and to understand that their feelings are normal and, hopefully, only temporary. It can be helpful to consolidate memories, learn how they affect us, and then move on.
Some people feel so shocked or numb following the death of a loved one that they are unable to cope. Talking about these feelings and getting them out in the open can help them go forward.
Sometimes there are unresolved issues between the person who is being counseled and the deceased. Counseling can help resolve them.
As grief counseling helps consolidate feelings, it sometimes is implemented after a loss of a different kinds other than death, ie, the break-up of a relationship or the loss of a job. In many cases, the grieving process is the same. Loss of a feeling of personal safety following a trauma or even the loss of a dream many require similar counseling.
When a child does, the two parents may deal with their loss differently – and at a different pace. Everyone grieves differently, although it can be hard for people to understand that when they are suffering the same loss. Couples grief counseling can help partners to understand each other’s needs and not place blame on each other.
Many people wrongly assume that the funeral spells the end of the grieving process, when it actuality it’s often the beginning. Grief counseling – and occasionally grief therapy – can help people come to terms with their loss and continue on with their lives.
Experts in the field have recognized that there is no set timetable for getting over a loss, and that it’s not always important to stay strong. Everyone grieves differently, and you may feel numbness, disbelief, shock, anger, pain, fear and even physical symptoms such as headaches, chronic fatigue and panic attacks.
Getting the right support you need is paramount, not just from other family members and friends but also from support groups and professionals. Finding someone who has gone through similar trying times can help greatly, as can finding someone to talk you through the myriad changes you are experiencing.
If your grief is turning into depression, it’s time to face things head on and get professional support. Treatment can lift you up throughout the mourning process, so ask for help – and get it. Coping with grief is not an insurmountable task, but it’s one that many of us need help to get through.