As a therapist I have worked with many clients who are grieving.
Grief occurs in everyone’s life at some point and losing someone or something you care about can be very painful. Grief is most commonly associated with the loss of a person that is close to us through bereavement, but there are many life events that can cause grief, including:
- Death of a family member, partner or friend
- Death of a baby, through miscarriage, termination or other causes
- The end of a significant relationship
- Change in a relationship, due to illness or injury
- Loss of a job or important possessions, i.e. home, money etc
- Major changes in lifestyle
I often get asked by clients, “are these feelings normal?” and “what’s the right way to grieve?”
Grief is a unique and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on factors such as the nature of the loss, your general emotional resilience, your personality and your life experience. Grief can bring up lots of difficult emotions and the feelings of pain and sadness can feel overwhelming at times.
In 1969, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “five stages of grief.” This model can be helpful for you to frame and identify what you may be feeling, but is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the feelings that may come up for you and they are unlikely to happen in order.
These five stages are:
Denial: Denial of the loss, perhaps not wanting to believe that the loss has happened, fantasising that the person or thing has not gone/changed.
Anger: This can be anger towards yourself or others and is often characterised by questions like “Why is this happening?”, “Who is to blame?”, “Why didn’t I do something different?”
Bargaining: Usually this involves negotiation played out in the mind such as “if only they were still here, I would behave differently”.
Sadness: Overwhelming feelings of sadness over the loss, inability to look to the future and a feeling of futility.
Acceptance: Being at peace with the loss and able to look to the future.
If you are feeling any of these emotions following a loss, I can reassure you that your reaction is natural and normal. However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages, and that’s ok too. There are no “shoulds” in the grieving process so just allow whatever feelings are there.
Whilst there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are things that you may find helpful in processing some of those difficult feelings and moving towards acceptance, such as:
Ask for support: Whether this is from a friend, family member, a support group or a counsellor. Sharing your feelings and talking to someone who is empathetic and a good listener can really help to process some of those difficult feelings.
Allow your emotions: Make time to sit and be with your feelings, rather than distracting yourself. It really is beneficial to cry as this is a natural expression of sadness and pain. Also it is scientifically proven that crying releases hormones and toxins that are built up during stressful times.
Get Creative: Something that I find helps many clients is expressing their feelings of loss in a creative way. Whether this is writing a journal about your feelings, writing a letter to a lost loved one, or by creating a book or a box with memories of a lost loved one. The creative process can be extremely cathartic.
Self Care: Taking time to look after yourself is really important when you’re grieving, yet it can be easy to let this slip. Ensure that you’re getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. When you’re feeling good physically, you’ll be helping your emotional wellbeing also.
No matter how you’re feeling about the loss, it can be helpful to speak to a qualified therapist who can help you to work through the grief and if you feel like you’re really not coping, a therapist can help you to work through some of the painful feelings. An experienced therapist will offer you a safe space where you can express whatever thoughts and feeling you may have without risk of feeling judged and without being told how you should feel.