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Dealing With Grief & Loss

Written By Ben Wright, Councillor

One of the most common reasons that leads people to seek counselling is in response to a bereavement or a loss in their life. This could be the death of a friend or loved one, a much loved pet, the loss of a job, a relationship or a sudden change in one's financial or health circumstances. The common denominator for all of these is that something central to one's life has been lost or altered, and that it's a struggle to come to terms with it.

Often grief may be mistaken for depression. We still live to a certain extent in a 'stiff-upper lip' society. We are taught that we need to be brave and get on with things. Many times a client has stepped into a councilling first session and has said things like 'I don't know why I am struggling at the moment' or 'I can't seem to get things together like I usually do'. Sometimes they have been put on a course of anti-depressants by their GP.  When asking them about the circumstances of their lives, it could be that a close relative has died recently, or that there has been a major loss or change in personal circumstances. Consequently, the first thing is to 'normalise' an inidividuals experience. 'You're not going mad … you're grieving!'.  Why would it not be difficult to lose somebody you very much loved?         

It would not say very much for our love for them if we were simply able to swat these feelings away like a fly!

Grief often manifests itself in a series of stages, although each instance of grief is very personal and it certainly would not be correct to suggest that everybody goes through each of these stages and in the same order. The following can be useful as a guide;

1. Denial & Isolation

We don't want to admit the loss fully to ourselves because it hurts too much. We might become very busy organising things such as the memorial service, or immerse ourselves in our work to avoid these feelings. We may also isolate ourselves from others (and thus our own feelings) because we simply don't want to encounter the hurt.

2. Anger

We may become very angry with the world, or 'God' or even our departed loved one for leaving us alone and with such hurt. It shouldn't be the case that those we love are wrested away from us. It feels so unfair! This is a very difficult stage to go through, but if we are willing to acknowledge and express these feelings without being judged (the counsellor's job!) they can be worked through.

3. Bargaining

We might try to make sense of the situation by having thoughts such as: 'If only I'd persuaded him to go to his GP earlier', or 'If I hadn't gone out shopping she wouldn't have been there..'. If we believe in a God, we might even bargain with him.. 'If I change my ways for the better, will you bring her back?' Here we are responding to the powerlessness of the situation, by asking for the impossible.

4. Depression

This word is so loaded and there is still a lot of judgement about admitting one is depressed. However, in terms of the grieving process, feelings of depression or low mood are a perfectly appropriate response to the loss of a loved one or situation. In reality, it is an admission of the stark reality of the situation. It is not being denied any more … loss does hurt!

5. Acceptance

I don't think one ever stops missing a loved one, but it is possible to come to terms with the situation. Acceptance doesn't mean you don't sometimes feel sad about the loss, but it denotes that the loss no longer holds you to ransom.

The secret is to find ways of looking at the situation in the face with the help of a councillor. Death and loss are inevitable parts of life, and our society is not very good at dealing with these situations. By speaking about your feelings with somebody not directly involved with the situation, it could be possible to move through these stages to a place of greater acceptance and peace.

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