by Counsellor, Leamington Spa, Staffordshire
‘Everywhere I look I am reminded of what I have lost. I see children looking at their parents with expectant faces, waiting for approval. I see lovers in passionate embrace. I see athletes, powerful and strong. I see friends laughing together, comforting each other, sharing. I see the disappointment, hurt and disbelief in the faces of those who have been betrayed. I see sadness and I feel it too. I see my reflection. Full of regrets. I wonder what happened. I didn’t notice. My life has passed me by.’
Our lives are characterized by loss and throughout the life cycle we face different losses. In childhood we learn about losses through leaving nursery and primary school and through the death of elderly relatives. As we grow older we continue to experience losses. We may face loss of health, loss of job and status, adapting to retirement, relationship breakdowns and the loss of people we love and care about.
Our losses cause us pain and sadness. Without the opportunity to grieve losses and come to terms with them we may find that future losses are harder to deal with. We may find that our current losses bring back memories of old losses and our sadness is magnified. We may find that we experience a range of emotions and feel that we need help to cope.
It is normal to experience grief following a loss. The grieving process can last from a few days up to several years and depends on the strength of the attachment as well as the existence of complications to the grieving process.
Stages of grief
The process of grief is unique to the individual and there is no timescale. The following are widely recognized as stages of the grieving process (see Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, 1969 for further reading):
Denial – ‘I can’t believe it’. ‘This can’t be happening’. This is often our first reaction to a loss. We might think there has been a mistake and we can’t allow ourselves to believe that it is true that we have lost someone or something we care about. Denial is a normal reaction to a loss.
Anger – ‘This shouldn’t have happened’. This stage may involve blaming someone else for the loss or death. We may feel angry with ourselves and it is also common to feel angry with the person who has died. We might think ‘how could you leave me alone?’ If we had some ‘unfinished business’ with the person who has died then this can be a particularly painful stage of grief.
Bargaining – ‘Just let me……’ or ‘I’ll do anything if…..’ We try to negotiate a way to recover what we have lost.
Depression – ‘Why bother with anything?’
Acceptance – Things are going to be ok’.
These stages may be experienced in any order and not all of these stages may be experienced.
How can counselling help?
Unfortunately many people feel uncomfortable talking about loss and death and say that they do not know what to say to someone who has suffered a loss. It may be helpful to talk about your feelings. Some bereaved clients feel guilty because they feel angry with the person who has died for leaving them. It is normal to feel this way. Others feel angry because they do not how to cope without the person who has died. Maybe they were in charge of paying the bills or certain domestic duties. Talking through all the losses associated with the death can help the bereaved person to mourn and to move towards an acceptance of their loss.
Copyright 2010 Christine Bonsmann. All rights reserved.