Losing a loved one is an experience that touches the depths of us, leaving a lasting mark on our hearts. Grief, in all its complexity, is a journey that is as unique as the relationship we had with the person we've lost. At Healing Roots Counselling & Psychotherapy, we understand the intricacies of grief and offer compassionate support to help you navigate this challenging path.
The Uniqueness of Grief
Grief is not a one-size-fits-all emotion; it's a deeply personal and individual experience. Each person's journey through grief is shaped by their relationship with the deceased, their cultural and personal beliefs, and the circumstances surrounding the loss. It's important to recognize that there is no "normal" way to grieve, and everyone's healing process is valid.
There are times when grief may be particularly complex, such as through traumatic losses (e.g. suicide, addiction, or accidents), or when we didn't have a good relationship with the person who passed. It is vital to remember here that difficult feelings that may be deemed "inappropriate" by some, such as anger, disappointment, or even apathy, are normal and okay.
The Duration of Grief
The duration of grief varies from person to person. While there's no strict timeline, grief is often experienced in waves, with initial intense feelings giving way to periods of relative calm. Over time, the pain may lessen, but it's natural for grief to ebb and flow, especially during anniversaries, milestones, and special occasions. On average, substantial grief (grief that heavily affects our day-to-day life) may last anywhere from 6 - 12 months. However, this is only a guide and may not reflect your experience.
Different cultures can have very different ideas about how long grief "should" last. For example, some religions have strict guidelines on how and when the deceased should be put to rest, and how long different family members should grieve. For many who aren't religious though, the story may be very different. People are often told that "everyone grieves in their own way" whilst feeling like they need to keep to a set of invisible guidelines so as not to seem strange.
Does Grief Really Happen in Stages?
Whilst some may find the well-known "stages of grief" theory helpful, for others it can create feelings of shame or worry that they are not grieving "properly". However, did you know that the stages theory was originally intended for the dying themselves, and not the bereaved? Furthermore, research shows no evidence that grief happens in stages at all. However, two prominent ideas about how grief may work shed light on the dynamics of the grieving process:
Growing Around Grief
This theory acknowledges that while the pain of grief remains, individuals can grow and evolve around it. The growth doesn't replace the loss but rather individuals incorporate the grief into them whilst actively recovering. This theory can be helpful because it does not pretend that we ever fully "get over" the loss. The impact of the grief may always leave an imprint on our hearts - but we can still move towards living a fulfilling life after our loved one is gone.
Dual Process Model
This theory emphasizes the importance of balancing the mourning process with other life demands. It acknowledges that grieving people shift between focusing on their grief and engaging in other aspects of life - neither of which they have to feel guilty for. People may switch between focusing on "loss-oriented" behaviour (e.g. remembering the deceased, crying, and denying the loss), and "restoration-oriented" behaviours (e.g. doing new things, distracting from grief, and attending to new roles and relationships). Over time, grieving people may spend more time focusing on restoration-oriented behaviours and less on loss-oriented behaviours.
How Can Counselling Help?
Counselling can provide invaluable support as you navigate the challenges of grief and move towards a life without your loved one being physically present.
Safe Space: A counsellor offers a safe and non-judgmental environment to express your feelings openly, providing validation and comfort.
Coping Strategies: Counselling equips you with coping strategies to manage the intense emotions and challenges that arise during the grieving process.
Grief Education: A counsellor can help normalise your experience and alleviate feelings of isolation by providing helpful grief education and context.
No Guilt: Unlike friends and family, a counsellor is totally separate from the situation, so you can be as vulnerable and honest as you need to be without fear that you will negatively affect others.
Emotional Healing: Counselling can facilitate emotional healing by helping you process unresolved emotions, find meaning, and rebuild your sense of self.
Moving Forward: Counselling can provide other perspectives where needed, helping you to feel better and move forward in a way that feels comfortable for you.
When is Counselling Recommended?
Seeking counselling during times of grief can be incredibly beneficial, especially if the emotional pain feels overwhelming or persistent. Research shows that grief counselling is generally most beneficial from at least 6 months after the loss. This is because, even though it can feel painful and unbearable, you must allow yourself time to grieve and process your emotions in your own way. However, if you find yourself struggling to cope, experiencing prolonged feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt (e.g. are still intense six months on), or if your grief is interfering with your daily life, counselling can provide you with comfort and a space to navigate these emotions in a healthy way.