These days, I find most people have heard of the five stages of grief as outlined by the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1):
What people might not know is that these stages are experienced by people in completely unique ways. There isn’t an order or logic to grief. No one can predict how someone will encounter and experience these states of mind. What may last years for one person could be days for another. For some people, the stages come and go, with no warning or understanding of why. We may be ‘hit’ by a stage, knocked breathless by its punch. Moreover, we don’t experience the stages in any particular order, and they very often overlap.
Everyone experiences grief differently and uniquely, and simply put, there is no one ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to grieve. We all have to find our own way with death, loss, and grief.
What I’ve noticed is that people seek out bereavement counselling for 3 main reasons:
Feeling caught in one phase, where it becomes a kind of living prison. This could be a depression that seems to last forever, or anxiety that takes hold. Years ago I saw someone whose wife had died 3 years earlier from cancer. He had been displeased with her medical treatment, and there were questions that negligence may have ended her life sooner than necessary. He admitted feeling vengeful ever since, living ‘in a dark pit of anger.’ Bereavement counselling helped him work through and release the anger; his grieving process continued, but he no longer felt burdened and trapped.
Grief and loss can tip one’s life into chaos; life will never be the same again. This can result in feeling out of control, and experiencing bursts of anger or sadness that are overwhelming and frightening. Some people experience a loss of control of the body – shaking, panic, spontaneous crying jags, lack of mental focus and concentration, sleep and appetite changes. Sometimes people feel like they are falling apart or disintegrating, and have fears of not being able to cope or manage in life. Bereavement counselling can provide a sense of structure and order to the grieving process; it can help lessen fears around the intensity of the symptoms.
Difficulties speaking about the death, grief, and loss with family and friends. Everyone grieves differently, and some people (and families) need to grieve privately and separately. This could result in others feeling ‘shut down’ when they want to talk about the deceased, or feel that speaking isn’t permitted or allowed. I’ve sat with people who felt as if no one close to them understood what they were going through in their grief – they found it easier to speak with a counsellor than with family and friends. Sometimes we have thoughts and feelings when grieving that feel taboo, things we wouldn’t want to discuss with others. Counselling can provide a safe place to speak of these things without fear of judgment.
Bereavement counselling provides additional support in the grieving process. It helps because it’s confidential, and takes place with a trained professional outside of the usual family and social network. The experience is contained, and can be a safe, secure outlet for releasing difficult thoughts and feelings. It’s somewhere to be heard and understood, a place set aside especially for healing and working things out.
If you or someone you know needs support because of bereavement, counselling can help. Call me at my Woking counselling practice on 07768 812 476
Reference: Kübler-Ross, E. (1997). On Death and Dying. New York, NY: Scribner (Reprint Edition).