Loving someone and losing them…You’re not alone
When we lose a loved one, we can feel so alone. We may have family and friends around us, but we are alone with our thoughts. Alone with our grief.
Sometimes, our culture serves to hide us from the taboo of death. We lose sight of the fact that we are all going to experience bereavements in our lifetime. And yet often we don’t talk about it. And that can mean that we learn to fear it.
I experienced loss at a young age and suppressed it for many years. It didn’t serve me too well. But when I had a chance to speak about how I felt in counselling, life started to change.
This isn’t an easy topic, but it’s one that I feel we need to bring into awareness. Be kind to yourself as you read on.
So, let’s illuminate what maybe going on when we’re grieving.
What is grief?
…a natural healing process and often different for each of us…
Grief is the emotional response resulting from a significant loss. Especially – but not only – from the death of a loved one.
What needs to be remembered is that it’s a natural healing process and often different for each of us.
Immediately after a loss, and for months and sometimes years afterwards, it’s normal to have intense symptoms. These can include shock, distress, sadness, poor appetite, sleep trouble, and poor concentration.
Symptoms can diminish with the passage of time, although some of us may need some help for this to happen.
Like a volcano has gone off
A useful metaphor for grief can be a landscape painting of a volcano. This scene is how our lives are before the death or illness of our loved one. There’s a large volcano but it’s dormant and the surrounding countryside is full of birds, trees, wildlife, flowers and bushes.
When the death or illness strikes, the volcano has erupted. Devastating this beautiful setting. The picture now looks totally different, a wilderness that we just don’t recognise.
Over time (and sometimes help is needed) the landscape can start to grow again. Flora and fauna return. We see that a ‘new normal’ has developed in our picture.
Is what I’m feeling normal?
‘Normal’ grief varies between cultures, people, and situations.
For example in India, and in
The Indian cultural norm is that death is not to be feared. Instead, life and afterlife are to be celebrated. Whereas here in the UK, death is often treated as a taboo.
Deep pain inside
Now, I’m not saying that we should start a similar practice to Varanasi, here at the banks of the river in Leamington Spa or near the theatre on the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon!
But, I guess what I am saying is that when we ignore it, we often bury our pain. And this pain remains within us.
We may feel like we’re becoming a burden by talking about our loss. But, this swallowing of our feelings can lead to problems and complications later on. Our pain always seems to come out at some point.
…when we ignore it, we often bury our pain. And this pain remains within us…
So maybe we can learn something here from other cultures? Do we really need to swallow our pain?
Perhaps knowing more about what could be going on may help?
Grief theories – what could be happening?
1. Kübler-Ross model (1969)
The most famous theory about loss is where Kübler-Ross describes five primary responses.
Someone who is suffering bereavement may go through these stages in any order. It’s not a ‘linear’ process….‘messy’ seems a more fitting word somehow.
We may dip in and out of these. And we may not experience them all.
…it’s not a ‘linear’ process…’messy’ seems a more fitting word…
This can’t be happening
We may refuse to accept the fact that a loss has occurred. We sometimes minimise or outright deny the situation. Family and professionals need to be honest about loss.
This is especially important with children and young people who are likely to not fully grasp what is happening.
Honesty about loss can help a child or young person to start to understand what has happened. Tip: Some do’s and don’ts for children may help.
It’s normal to return to disbelief and denial throughout our grieving process.
Why is this happening to me?
When a person realises that a loss has occurred, they may become angry at themselves or others. They may make attempts to place blame, stating that the situation is unfair.
Sometimes, they may be angry at the deceased for abandoning them. In this situation, feelings of guilt and shame may arise.
I will do anything to change this.
A person may try to delay the loss or change what is happening. For example, in the case of a terminal illness, understandably, we may seek out alternative cures for our loved one.
Sometimes, when a loved one has died, we may say ‘I just want one more day with them’. This also can be seen as bargaining.
What’s the point of carrying on?
When we reach the stage of depression, we have started to recognise that the loss has happened or will happen. We may spend time alone crying or being upset.
Depression is often a precursor to acceptance because the individual has come to recognise their loss.
It’s going to be okay
Finally, we learn to accept our loss. We have started the process of coming to terms with the situation on an emotional and rational level.
This does not mean that all difficult feelings will disappear; there may still be sadness. However, it will feel easier to deal with and process the sadness.
Language is important
Sometimes, we can use different words for different stages. Language can be key for us to understand how we feel.
…find your own words and language that fits for you…
For example, I have known bereaved clients prefer the word ‘Adjust’ rather than ‘Accept’ as they feel they don’t want to accept the unimaginable. But they may prefer to say that they have adjusted to living without their loved one. Others are okay with ‘Accept’.
The important thing is to try to find your own words and language that fits for you.
The Kubler-Ross model considers these different stages whilst it’s acknowledged that they may or may not happen. There may be other stages and they can be unique to us.
Furthermore, there are other ways to think about our grief…
2. Dual Process Model (1999)
Another theory is called the ‘Dual Process’ model. Stroebe and Schut suggest that we switch between two states during our bereavement process. They named these “loss-oriented stressor” and “restoration-oriented stressor”.
This involves focusing on and processing the loss of our loved one and the relationship.
We may yearn for the person. Remembering times with them by reminiscing. We may imagine what the person would say if they were still here.
Looking at old photos or videos of the person. Making a memory jar continues the bond with the person we have lost. Talking about them keeps us connected in some way.
…we may yearn for the person. Remembering times with them by reminiscing…
Difficult emotions can be involved such as loneliness, sadness, fear, pain and anger.
This was suggested as a state where we need respite from the loss-oriented work. It lets a person be distracted from their experience, allowing them to get on with daily life.
Examples of this could be going back to work, exercise, socialising or watching trashy TV! It helps the person by giving them something else to focus on rather than their loss.
It could be considered as our way of avoiding the pain that can be so unbearable at times.
Being in either of these states too much could result in difficulty for a person.
For example, if we just remained loss-oriented, it would be unlikely that we could carry on with daily tasks.
Equally, if we just stayed within the restoration-oriented stressor, we would be avoiding our grief and this could lead to burying of difficult emotions.
And here’s another way at looking at this…
3. Tonkins “Growing Around Grief” Model (1996)
Lois Tonkin offers alternative ideas to the first two models above, challenging the notion that our grief reduces in size over time.
She suggested that grief starts by consuming all areas of our life. The bereft person gradually grows around their grief with it remaining the same intensity and size.
This model relieves the bereft person from thinking that their grief has to “go away”.
It helps them to integrate the loss of the person into their lives whilst validating intense feelings rather than minimising them.
…the bereft person gradually grows around their grief with it remaining the same intensity and size…
The bereaved person adjusts to their grief by encompassing it into their lives. They can even grow from their grief. Personally, I think this eventually happened to me.
Moreover, remember your grieving process is yours and it may well not fit into any of these theories.
This video explains things well and challenges some of the theoretical thinking…
NB. Remember all of these are theories, so it doesn’t mean any of the above will definitely happen. But they can provide a picture of what grief may look like.
There’s no right or wrong way to grieve
Everyone deals with the death of a loved one differently. People cry, laugh, busy themselves with work, use substances or alcohol to cope, feel totally numb and empty. Sometimes all of the above.
Some recover quickly, while others take their time. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to process loss.
Sometimes it’s long-lasting
Grief might last for years. Seeking support through grief counselling can help to provide a safe space in which to explore our feelings and process our experience.
For some people, it can become too painful. It can grow into something totally different where we are all-consumed by our suffering. Sometimes complications can ensue.
According to Shear (2010), about 10-20% of people can develop complicated grief after a loss. It can be described as a chronic, heightened state of mourning that persists for over six months.
…there isn’t a bereavement time-scale. And that’s okay. It takes as long as it takes…
Now, I consider my own experience of loss here. When I was in the midst of grieving, I felt many if not all of the symptoms Shear describes. These continued for a prolonged period of time which went into some years.
I wonder where the six months mentioned actually comes from or is it
What I will say, is that as we’re all different. There isn’t a bereavement time-scale. And that’s okay. It takes as long as it takes.
Nevertheless, if you feel you are experiencing complications, then why not ask for help? Attending bereavement counselling can support you to work through your despair. It helped me through mine.
This is the lifelong stage where you have resolved your most overwhelming feelings.
At this point, you have come to accept or adjust to the reality of the loss. You’ve resumed daily life activities and found a ‘new normal’ – the volcano is dormant again.
This doesn’t mean that you miss the person any less, or that you don’t feel pain when you think about them – you’ve just learned how to cope.
Be aware that acute feelings may show themselves again, especially around holidays, anniversaries, and other reminders.
And sometimes they come up when we hear a song or just in a random thought. All of this is absolutely normal.
Bereavement Counselling – 5 reasons it can help
1. Less isolation
Firstly, grief therapy aims to help a bereft person explore their feelings without trying to fix the unfixable. Sometimes our friends and family want to fix us. They often have good intentions, as they want us to feel better.
But sometimes, it can leave us feeling isolated. Like we have no-one to talk to about the extremely difficult and normal feelings of grief. Counselling can allow us time to explore how we really feel when we feel able to do so.
2. Space to talk about the person you’ve lost
Secondly, you’ll be provided with a safe space to talk about your loved one when you feel able. When you feel ready this can help you to continue your bond. A therapist will not be afraid to ask about the person who has died.
They will encourage you to discuss your lives together and what the person was like. Paying tribute verbally can allow a client to connect to their loved one again which can help to heal the pain.
3. Emotional holding
Thirdly, a trained bereavement counsellor will try to understand how your loss is impacting on your life. Your loss is personal to you.
People we know may find it hard to know what to say. They may feel uncomfortable in asking about the impact of your loss.
A counsellor is able to hold you emotionally when you feel ready to explore what has happened and how it affects your life.
4. Develop coping skills
Furthermore, you may be coping with the difficult feelings after your loss by increasing alcohol consumption, substance use, excessive work or over-eating. These are coping mechanisms which, although effective, can lead to further issues if continued long-term.
It is important to acknowledge that you are finding ways to cope as it isn’t a counsellor’s role to judge you. Instead, a therapist offers acceptance and
It would not be my intention as a therapist to take away your chosen coping mechanism when you are grieving. However, therapeutic support may invite you to consider other healthy coping strategies.
5. Ease difficult symptoms
In addition, you may be experiencing sleep problems, unwanted thoughts/images, heightened anxiety amongst other difficult symptoms.
A therapist can talk you through different ways to help alleviate such symptoms. E.g. Journalling, mindfulness, drawing, poetry, grounding exercises and breathing techniques.
The important thing is to give you choice and find ways of coping that suit you specifically.
My own experience of counselling shows how therapy can result in growth, even after unimaginable pain. This quote sums it up for me…
In conclusion, you’re not on your own in loving someone and losing them.
Click for more information about my bereavement counselling service.
Or call me on 07886082333 if you would like to chat about how grief counselling can help you.
Kübler-Ross, E. and Byock, I. (1969). On death & dying.
Shear, K. (2010). “Complicated grief treatment: the theory, practice and outcomes”. Bereave Care. 29 (3): 10-14.
Stroebe, M. and Schut, H. (1999). “The dual process model of coping with bereavement: rationale and description”. Death Studies. 23 (3): 197-224.
Tonkin, L. (1996). “Growing around grief – another way of looking at grief and recovery”. Bereavement Care. 15 (1): 10-10.
Stroebe, M. and Schut, H. (1999). “The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement: Rationale and Description”. Death Studies. 23 (3): 197–224.
Tonkin, L. (1996). “Growing around grief – another way of looking at grief and recovery”. Bereavement Care. 15 (1): 10-10.