Bereavement is the state of loss when either someone close to us dies or something else in our life that had a significant importance, such as a job, family pet, house or event relationship is also lost.
Grief is the pain and suffering experienced after loss and is a process we go through after a bereavement – it is essentially the feelings, thoughts and actions we experience after the loss. We will mourn the loss and experience a range of feelings from deep sadness to anger as we try to adapt in order to heal and resolve our loss and adjust to an environment without that person, relationship, job or other attachment.
Grief and loss can be defined as “emotional, cognitive, spiritual, physical and behavioural manifestation that can be completely overwhelming and debilitating” – it is different for everyone but this definition illustrates how all-encompassing grief can be and make us feel disconnected from real life.
We all deal with loss in many different ways, this will depending on our belief system, our culture, religion, and the relationship to what we have actually lost.
Over the years psychologists and researchers have presented a number of different stages that we go through when we experience loss and these models can be a useful reference point to help understand the process of grieving and help clients feel some sense of structure when they are experiencing emotional turmoil enabling them to feel a sense of control and help them see any progress they are making against a series of stages.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five linear stages of grief in the 1960’s, recognising that everyone experiences at least two of the five stages of grief and that due to the nature of grief being very unpredictable and a very personal experience we may move in and out of some stages.
It’s important to mention that these stages may not proceed in an orderly fashion, and most importantly there is no time limit for passing through each stage.
The stages include:
- Denial – we deny the reality of the loss and defend against it to stop ourselves being overwhelmed by the initial shock.
- Anger – our pain turns to rage, and our feelings turn to a sense of injustice of what has happened, and we may direct our feelings towards other people who have cared for the deceased.
- Bargaining – those with a religious faith may bargain with their “God” to postpone death or loss.
- Depression – intense sadness sets in and the individual may withdraw into themselves as they try to make sense of the loss – depression is a natural process to prepare the individual for acceptance.
- Acceptance – we begin to accommodate and accept the reality of our loss and begin the process of healing
Entwined with these stages can be immense pain and guilt; for example the guilt associated with what we might or might not of said or done whilst the person was alive, whether we made a difficult decision to end or in more traumatic circumstances there can be survivor guilt where we feel we should have died instead.
Types of Grief
Normal grief can be defined as any response where the individual has the ability to move forward gradually and begin to accept the loss with no set timeframe, just a gradual decrease of the intensity of emotions and an ability to function their basic daily activities.
In addition to the emotional expression of grief, it can also be expressed in physical, behavioural, social, and cognitive ways. Click through the table to see an explanation of each type of grief.
Includes digestive problems, chest tightness or pain, fatigue, tiredness, aches, or insomnia.
Includes self-destructive behaviour (i.e alcoholism or drug use) deep and persistent feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, violent outbursts, or radical lifestyle changes
Includes withdrawal from social occasions through fear of judgement about how we are coping with our grief, or not being able to express our grief or want to talk about it.
This can include forgetfulness, memory problems, anxiety stress or depression. Mental attitude to physical health can be affected by bereavement for example if the we have lost someone to a terminal illness we may be much more aware of our own mortality.
What is clear is that grief can be a complicated and difficult process for us to work through and covers many different areas of our lives and is very unique and individual experience. People don’t always grieve in the same way, and not everyone will cry or feel sad, some might feel shocked or numb, especially in the first days or weeks, some may experience complex grief that needs specialist support, and others the death of a close friend or family member can be a relief as it ends their suffering.
Culture and our upbringing also play a part in how we respond to grief. Western culture tends to depict death as something to fight or resist, whilst Eastern cultures tend to see death as part of life, seeing it as more a transition than an end.
We should be aware of the healthy role of maintaining continued bonds with the deceased and as a therapist I feel this should be encouraged, social media can play an important part here with memorial pages that can leave a lasting legacy for the deceased and allow others to pay tribute – this can bring great comfort to the bereaved. In addition to this was the introduction of Death Café’s in 2010 which are a positive way of helping talk about death opening through self-directed discussions where members of the public gather to discuss the topics of death and life.
How can I help?
Grief is different for all of us, we are likely to be feeling very fragile and vulnerable, but also torn between how we should feel and how we think we should feel based on others opinions about the grieving process. As a therapist my role is to provide you with a safe environment to help and support you allowing you to be able to freely express your emotions without judgement within your own timeframe and at a pace that is right for you.
The first step after you contact me (either by phone or email) will be a brief telephone conversation with me. This is so you can raise any questions or concerns and share a little about your situation. Each and every telephone call is conducted in strict confidence. If you feel uncomfortable with a telephone conversation, please express this on an email and we can organise your initial free consultation in person.
Following this, you can choose whether to book in sessions with me and we can discuss how and when these will happen. The initial consultation is designed to give you freedom of choice and to ensure you are comfortable talking and working with me
Your first session will give you the chance to talk freely in a calm, quiet and completely confidential environment to explore your situation and how it impacts you day to day. I look to understand what you hope to achieve from therapy and from this we can explore some techniques and ideas to help you to achieve improved health and wellbeing, so you are armed with a unique set of tools that you can use to continue to feel well. Most importantly I work at a pace and frequency that feels right for you with regular check ins to see how you are progressing.
More information on my approach can be found here.