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Bereavement - an emotional process

Coming to terms with losing someone important is an emotional process which affects us all in different ways.

Often, in the immediate aftermath of such an event it is hard to come to terms with the reality that the person has actually passed away. Their death does not seem real to us, it is as if we are expecting them to reappear at any moment. We catch them out of the corner of our eye, or in a dream, or imagine that they will be there as we open our eyes in the morning.

For others the loss creates a state of shock, as if a bomb has gone off and our system has been frazzled and needs rebooting. We walk around in a stupefied state; meanwhile the world is carrying on as before, leaving us behind.

Others still appear to function normally; we leap into action, we throw ourselves into our work, or busy ourselves with the many practical issues associated with losing a loved one, or we become the emotional support for others. We can see others responding to the loss with emotion but it is as if we have none.

All of these responses (and many more) are normal; they are our way of trying to process an event of enormous emotional magnitude, so enormous that we must turn away from it, by shutting down, by denying it ever happened or by diverting our attention away from it for a time.

However as time progresses hopefully we find that we can look at the loss in a more direct way, to think about the person who has passed away, to consider our relationship with them, and to find a place for them in our lives that both honours our relationship with them and enables us to continue with our lives in a meaningful way.

What is the grieving process?

Many people experience grief as a process, an emotional process of coming to accept and learning to live with the loss of a loved one. Some clinicians identify five key stages to this process, these are thought to be:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

These stages are used as a tool to help people who are grieving to identify their feelings and the concerns that they are struggling with. Not everyone will find these stages resonate with their experience of grief.

I have briefly described the first stage in the introductory section to this webpage, if you would like to know more about each of the stages of grief then you can do so by heading to this website: https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/

What complicates the grieving process?

There are many factors that can complicate the grieving process. Normally what happens is that we become stuck with one particular aspect of the loss and are not able to move forward.

For example the pain associated with the loss can feel so overwhelming that we are never really able to accept it, we may be continually haunted by thoughts about the person being seen alive, or else stuck in action mode in our work and in our lives, permanently shut off from the emotions where our feelings about the loss reside. Alternatively we may find ourselves locked in particular feelings, for example we continually find ourselves angry at some injustice in the world or frightened by the thought of getting close to another and then being left. We may not know that these feelings relate to our earlier loss.

What helps with grieving?

Whilst there are times when the most helpful thing may be to distract ourselves in some way from our feelings, in the end those feelings will need to be thought about and processed for us to move forward with life.

There are many things that can help us to engage and process our feelings; the funeral or wake can of course be a very important part of this process, it can help us to think about the person we have lost and come to terms with their death. It brings us into connection with others who are also experiencing this loss and enables the possibility of giving and receiving support to and from others.

Some people find it helpful to talk to the person they have lost, to say all of the things that they could not say whilst they were alive or to let them know how things are now that they have passed away. Others find it helpful to read about loss or write down their thoughts and feelings in a diary or else to create a piece of art out of their feelings.

When is it helpful to seek therapy?

The process of grieving tends to be made easier when we have an environment and people around us which help to facilitate it, when we have friends who are good at listening and who understand us, family who are loving and supportive with all of the practical tasks and a workplace that allows us time and space off when we need it the most.

Of course we are not all lucky enough to have such an environment and even when we do we may find that this is still not enough to help us to move forward. It is quite common for people to feel frightened of burdening or overwhelming others with their feelings, particularly after a loss, as many of the people who we might want to speak to are having to manage their own feelings about the loss and may not feel able to be of support.

Often it can feel helpful to talk to someone who has no connection at all to the person you have lost.

Your therapist at Hitchin counselling and psychology is fully trained and professionally accredited. This means that you can trust that you are being supported by a therapist who is competent and has experience in helping people to overcome the sort of difficulties with bereavement that you are experiencing. It also means that you can feel reassured that your therapist will abide by sound ethical principles designed to maintain your privacy, to respect your autonomy and to safeguard your well-being.

For further information about anxiety and how psychotherapy might be helpful for you please feel free to contact Hitchin Counselling and Psychology and a therapist will get in touch with you directly.


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