“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
—Winnie the Pooh
Grief Counseling Is For Strong People Having a Heart-weak Moment
You’ve lost someone. Maybe a parent. A sibling. Perhaps you lost a child or another family member. Maybe it was your best friend. But you’ve lost someone significant and there is a hole in your heart where that person’s presence used to live. And while the world keeps spinning on its axis, you seem to be moving in slow motion, if at all…because your someone is no longer with you. You are having a hard time figuring out why people are still milling about as if this loss hasn’t happened. Why didn’t the whole world stop in deference to this moment – to acknowledge the loss that you must now face and figure out how to navigate? This is the task. This is the world’s ask of you. And it’s not an easy one. But it is one that you can (eventually) do. It will take some work and grief counseling is where that work happens. Let’s talk about what grief is and what people get out of grief counseling.
The period following a person’s death when a person is experiencing grief is known as bereavement. Bereavement is specific to grief related to death, and though most relate it to feelings about the loss of a loved one, grief can be experienced in response to any loss. You can grieve the loss of a relationship, a job, a home, a friendship, and anything else that has significance to you. Grief is perfectly normal and there is no one size fits all remedy for how to go through it. It’s a process and there are stages to it. You’ll be able to talk and work through it all in grief counseling.1
- Denial: it’s not unusual when you’re going through grief to just pretend the loss didn’t happen in the first place. Denial is a type of coping mechanism.2
- Anger: anger is a hiding effect that masks the emotions and other feelings that you’re having while grieving. This, too, is a normal feeling that is only problematic when it persists or spirals out of control. Sometimes the anger is directed at others, like the one who passed (if the grieving is related to death). Other times, the anger is directed at oneself. Either way, when the anger subsides, you’ll be able to think rationally about and deal with the emotions that have been pushed aside.
- Bargaining: is a line of defense against emotions of grief that help you to postpone hurt, confusion and sadness. It is not uncommon for people in this stage of grieving to create many “what if” and “if only” statements. This is also the stage of grief where people make deals with God, or other religious entities, to get a reprieve from their feelings.
- Depression: is sometimes called the “quiet” stage of grieving. You may feel the need/desire to isolate while trying to deal with the loss. This, too, is a natural part of grieving that may include feeling foggy, confused.
- Acceptance: doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the death or loss anymore. It is just the stage that signifies that you recognize the impact of the loss and have done the internal work to figure out the “what’s next” in your life.
Over time, clinicians have added other stages like “the upward turn, reconstruction, guilt” and others. Those technical terms aren’t as important. What you should know is that there is no real order to the process. Grief is as individual as the people who experience it. And that’s OK. What isn’t OK, and this is where grief counseling comes in, is when your grief starts to impact your life that hinders your everyday processes for an extended period of time. A rule of thumb is that grief counseling should be considered if you’ve been experiencing unrelenting sadness for a year or more with no reprieve. Your heart’s natural healing process may have been stalled and counseling may be the jumpstart that it needs.
Let’s dispel a few myths about grieving:
- Grief is just depression
- All you need to heal is time
- One day I will just wake up and feel better
- If i stay busy, I won’t notice that I’m hurting
- I can’t cry. I have to be strong.
Grief is an unavoidable and human part of life. And though it is natural and normal, there are some additional warnings signs that may be indicators that grief counseling may be in order:
- For death related grief, you have a preoccupation with the circumstances surrounding the death or with the deceased.
- You avoid any and all reminders of your loved one
- You have difficulty engaging in happy memories.
“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.”
- More generally, you are experiencing intense sadness.
- You have an insatiable longing or yearning
- You have prolonged feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness or hopelessness
- You are embittered and angry all of the time
- You’re not interested in your hobbies, job or other things that used to hold your attention.
- You are experiencing increased irritability or prolonged numbness
- You are emotionally (and maybe physically) detached from the things and people that remain.
Here’s the deal. At the end of the day, whether it is a loved one, a friend or a pet that you’ve loved and lost – it hurts. There are lots of fancy words and professional jargon that we could throw at you. None of that matters when you’re going through this dark time. If you could make it through it without help, you would. That you need help is more than OK, and it’s to be expected. Grief counseling could create a very healthy before and after for you, and we want to be a part of that. We want you to be functional again. We want you to be able to think about your loved one and not be miserable, but be able to celebrate their life and enjoy your memories with them. We want you to be OK on the special days that you would normally have spent together. We want you to be…YOU again.