Perhaps you are mourning the loss of a relationship or the death of a loved one. Perhaps something significant in your life has been taken away. Experiencing loss happens to all of us over the course of our lifetime - in fact it's part and parcel of being alive. Loss of family members, friends and loved ones. The loss of a much-loved pet. The loss of jobs. The loss of hopes or expectations. The loss of health. The loss of our youth and coming to terms with our ageing.
Loss is an inevitable part of life, and grief is a natural part of the healing process. Every loss, however small or large, is valid and how you feel is valid also. All too often we are told that we 'should have got over it' or that it's time we moved on. But moving on may feel difficult or even impossible. You may be full of strong or conflicting emotions, from sadness and anger to relief. You may also feel guilty or ashamed or hopeless.
To One In Sorrow
Let me come in where you are weeping, friend,
And let me take your hand.
I, who have known a sorrow such as yours, can understand.
Let me come in -- I would be very still beside you in your grief;
I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend,
Tears bring relief. Let me come in -- and hold your hand,
For I have known a sorrow such as yours,
- Grace Noll Crowell
Different Kinds of Loss
Feelings of loss are very personal, and only you know what is significant to you. People commonly associate certain losses with strong feelings of grief. Such losses can include:
- loss of a close friend
- death of a partner
- marriage breakdown
- death of a classmate or colleague
- serious illness of a loved one
- relationship breakup
- death of a family member
Subtle or less obvious losses can also cause strong feelings of grief, even though those around you may not know the extent of your feelings. Some examples include:
- leaving home
- illness/loss of health
- death of a pet
- change of job
- moving to a new home
- graduation from school
- loss of a physical ability
- loss of financial security
Sudden versus Predictable Loss
Sudden or shocking losses due to events like crimes, accidents, or suicide, can be traumatic. There is no way to prepare for these kinds of events. They can challenge your sense of security and confidence in the predictability of life. As a result you may experience symptoms such as sleep disturbance, nightmares, distressing thoughts, depressed mood, social isolation, or severe anxiety.
Predictable losses, like those due to terminal illness, sometimes allow more time to prepare for the loss. However, they can create twin layers of grief: the grief related to the anticipation of the loss and the grief related to the loss itself.
How Long Does Grief Last?
The length of the grief process is different for everyone. Although it can be quite painful at times, the grief process should not be rushed. It is important to be patient with yourself as you experience your unique reactions to the loss. With time and support, things generally do get better. However, it is normal for significant dates, holidays, or other reminders, to trigger painful feelings and memories related to the loss.
Taking care of yourself, seeking support, and acknowledging your feelings during these times are ways that can help you cope. However, there is much research that indicates that grieving beyond a period of two years can have lasting negative impact on a person’s life and future.
Normal Grief Reactions
If you are going through a period of grief, it can help to know whether your reactions are normal, particularly since grief can be so overwhelming and make you feel so out of control. When experiencing grief, it is common to:
- feel like you are "going crazy"
- fixating on certain thoughts or repetitive thoughts
- have difficulty concentrating
- feel sad or depressed
- be irritable or angry (at the deceased, oneself, others, higher powers)
- feel frustrated or misunderstood
- experience anxiety, nervousness, or fearfulness
- feel like you want to "escape"
- experience guilt or remorse
- be ambivalent or unable to make decisions
- feel numb
- lack energy and motivation
Grief as a Process of Healing
It is important to note that the grief process is not linear but is more often experienced in cycles. Grief is sometimes compared to climbing a spiral staircase where things can look and feel like you are just going round and round, yet where you are actually making progress. Being patient with the process and allowing yourself to have the feelings you do have about the loss can help.
Remember that dealing with a significant loss can be one of the most difficult times in life. How you ‘process’ loss - how you make sense of it and move on - plays an important part in your emotional and mental health. Unprocessed loss may affect your judgement today and your ability to make good choices in the future.
How Counselling or Psychotherapy Helps With Loss and Grief
Whatever your loss, your grieving should ease as time passes. The emotions should become less intense as you accept what has happened and start to move forward. If you aren’t feeling better over time, or the strength of your grief stays constant or is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.
Here are some indications that it’s time to seek professional help:
- You feel like life isn’t worth living.
- You wish you had died with your loved one.
- You blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it.
- You feel numb and disconnected from others, for more than a few weeks.
- You are having difficulty trusting others since your loss.
- You are unable to perform your normal daily activities.
If you do feel that you are lost or stuck in your grief or that it has spiralled out of control, please get in touch with us. Professional help can make all the difference at this time. Even with ‘normal’ grief, a counsellor will help you process the loss in a safe, therapeutic and lasting way so that in time you can move on and start living again. This is something friends and family, however much they love and support you, simply don’t have the skills to do. It’s almost inevitable that they will want to cheer you up and have you quickly get back to your old self when that just isn’t possible
There are many further ways in which counselling provides the professional help you need, and since grieving is different for everyone, these will be completely personal to you. Most fundamentally, in counselling, a trained professional - who feels deeply for what you are going through but who also knows the natural stages and movements of grief - can accompany you in your grieving. This means that your grief can run its course in as ‘healthy’ a way as possible and with a sense of realistic but genuine hope for the future.