B.A.C.P. Registered Counsellor in Tonbridge, Kent

Bereavement and Loss Counselling

Our lives can change profoundly when someone dies, we can suffer the most intense pain and how we feel can be very difficult to put into words. The intense emotional pain can be devastating. We can feel a vast array of emotions such as loss, fear, anger, guilt, regret, shock and disbelief. All of these are normal but it is important to remember that the way we experience them will be unique to us.

I have chosen to talk briefly about the 5 stages of grief as understanding them can help us realize that grief is “normal” and it can help us to see the feelings and emotions that we all experience. Grief is one thing we all have to face in this life.

There are several models of grief such as the 5 stages of Grief originally developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross:

The 5 Stages of Grief

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The 5 Stages of Grief are not meant to be worked through and “ticked off,” like a list, they are there to help us identify and try to understand what we may feel. Every- body is different and not all will go through every stage, others will go through the stages in a different order.

Denial:

When we lose someone our feelings can include shock, disbelief and numbness, it is hard to believe that we really aren’t going to see the person we love again. These feelings actually protect us as if we felt all these feelings of our loss at this stage it would overwhelm us. Also part of the denial stage is to keep retelling our story again and again. Eventually we do begin to ask questions – ‘how did this happen?’ ‘Why did this happen? This questioning signals that we are moving from the denial phase and into the feeling and healing process.

Anger:

Anger can be difficult to cope with and can present in many different ways such as being angry at your loved one who has died, at God, at the world, at yourself. Anger can be expressed towards everyone and everything or it can be suppressed. Suppressing your anger can lead to turning it inward and this can result in feelings of guilt. We may feel we should have done something. We can also feel guilty that we feel angry towards the one we have lost, but these feelings are natural. If we can recognise the anger it can help us find healthier ways to express it, ways that do not hurt ourselves or others. Being able to say ‘I am angry’ and feeling that anger is part of the healing process.

Bargaining:

We just want life back the way it was, we want to go back and change something, this is bargaining. Bargaining can begin before the loss occurs. If we knew that our loved one was expected to die we may have been bargaining for a while —we may bargain with God to please “spare” our loved one; we say we’ll “do anything” to keep them here. Bargaining keeps our focus on the past so we don’t have to feel the emotions of the present. Once we accept that our loved one is going to die, we can use bargaining to ease our minds and theirs, maybe praying for a “peaceful passing.” Or once they have passed, bargaining can help us focus on the future as we pray to “be reunited with them someday.”

Depression:

Eventually Grief will become deeper and bring on intense feelings of emptiness and sadness, nothing much means anything to us and even getting out of bed in the morning is a huge effort. “Why bother?” “What’s the point?” We can feel exhausted and really not want to do anything. This is a natural response to loss and it is not a clinical depression, it is bereavement and mourning. These emotions must be felt and experienced so that healing can take place.

Others may try to get us out of this depression and we might try to escape it, but really we need this. Allow the sadness and emptiness in and explore your loss, be gentle and patient with yourself. The way out of this depression is to feel it.

Acceptance:

Acceptance is the next stage, acceptance does not mean we are ‘cured’ or ‘better now. Our loss will always be part of us, though we will feel it more at some times than others. Acceptance means we have reached a stage where we are ready to try and move on. We feel we can now try and live without the one we lost. We start to process what has happened and what we want life to be now.

As humans we do not feel our emotions in a particular order at a particular time, just as in grief. These stages are a description of what we might feel and experience. We may not feel them in the precise order, we may get stuck at a stage for years. We may also experience feelings we don’t understand or feel uncomfortable about such as relief.

Counselling can be useful at any stage of grief and it may be years since your bereavement. We can look at how your loss may be affecting other areas of your life. You are you and so will have your own unique experience. Many people find their way through grief with support from family and friends without seeing a counsellor, but others can feel lost, isolated or stuck. Grief may be seriously affecting your life or you may be using unhealthy coping strategies such as substances or alcohol.

Counselling can offer you a safe place to explore your grief, a chance to cry, express your anger and say the things you feel unable to tell anyone else. It is your chance to be heard without fear of judgement.

The loss of a Pet

The loss of your pet as with any bereavement can be devastating and an enormous loss. Your pet was your friend and companion, part of your family. It is normal to feel the emotions of shock, pain, disbelief and overwhelming grief. Sometimes other people in our lives find it difficult to understand how much your loss has affected you. You need time to grieve and remember your pet in your own way. I realise how devastating it can be when we have lost a loved pet, through death or in other ways. Your pain is distressing and real and you are experiencing grief, going through the same 5 stages of grief as listed above.

The Loss of a relationship

The end of a relationship is a loss, there is the loss of the person and the loss of what would have been, the future has changed. There may be the loss of a home and finances may be in difficulty. Social lives change and feelings of fear, rejection and abandonment can be felt. Betrayal, jealousy and feelings of inadequacy may also play a part if a third party was involved. Day to day living can become incredibly difficult as we try to deal with our loss. Feelings can be intense for both people involved. The person who ended the relationship can also have feelings of grief and loss.

In any loss or bereavement people typically go through the 5 stages of grief as I have listed above, again maybe not in order as there is not a right or wrong way to grieve. As all people are unique so are all relationships.