We have gradually built up our bank of bereavement counsellors over the last 5 years and it always amazes us at their generosity. They give their time to us free to help families deal with their loss. Several work full time, attend college and still find the time to support us.
One of the many things that the families we have worked with say helps them is specific bereavement counselling. Often they will say that they had been told that they were just 'depressed'. Whilst we know that grief can lead to depression it is also important to recognise that many people are not depressed they are purely grieving.
Bereavement counselling is a specialised type of counselling that involves supporting individuals who have experienced the loss of a loved one. This counselling helps them work through their grief as well as perhaps learn coping mechanisms to help them when they are on their own. Bereavement counselling is recommended for anyone, of any age, whose loss seems overwhelming or whose life is being adversely affected by their grief.
Grief often involves a progression of different emotions and reactions that include shock, numbness, anxiety, anger and sadness. It may take days, weeks, months or even years for someone who is grieving to go through several different emotions, and some people never experience all of these emotions. Others may experience some emotions related to one loss but different emotions due to another.
This is perfectly normal.
There is no set rule for grief, but if there is a lack of emotional response, or an emotional response so overwhelming that it begins to affect a person’s employment, education or personal relationships then it may be time to see a counsellor.
Although there is no set way for grief, there are many different ideas about the stages of grief. The most common description of grief is based on there being 5 stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
However, this does not mean that all bereaved individuals will experience all stages or that all stages will be experienced in the same way, or that all stages will be experienced in the same order. This may help others make sense of grief, but those who are bereaved should be concerned only with what they are feeling and how they are coping – not with fitting into a specific model.
Bereavement counselling, whether it is one-on-one with a private therapist or in a group setting, aims to help an individual explore their emotions.
At the very first meeting, the client will likely be asked about their loss and about how their own life has been effected by the loss of their baby/child. These questions can make the client become emotional and often tearful. This may be the first time they have expressed to anyone exactly how they are feeling.
Allowing an individual to explore their emotions without feeling guilt or is often what appeals most about bereavement counselling. In group settings people can sometimes feel reluctant to show their true feelings.
The length of time for which bereavement counselling will continue will most likely be decided between the counsellor and the client, and will likely be discussed as counselling progresses. We are lucky that the counsellors who work with us don't put a specific amount of sessions, they realise that often the families may need to return to counselling at a later date or they may only just be opening up when they reach the usual 6 week session and need more time.
Turning to bereavement counselling is not an admission of weakness, but instead it is an admission of the strength to seek help when it is needed.
Coping with the loss of a loved one and the resulting mix of emotions can be overwhelming. Allowing yourself time to grieve and come to terms with your own feelings is imperative to finding peace. Though it may seem impossible, you must remember to be patient with yourself and give yourself time to cycle through different emotions and come to a natural feeling of calm or acceptance.
While you wait, try not to make any major decisions such as moving, changing careers, or getting married that might be made due to overriding emotion rather than logical consideration. Most people find some support a source of comfort when they are bereaved, and seeking out caring friends and relatives, an organised support group or professional help may help you work through your emotions. They will likely also remind you that it is important to express your emotions rather than bottle them up inside, and help you remember that though you have suffered a loss, you are still alive and must live your own life.
It is also really important that you also look after your physical health when you are bereaved. It can be very easy to put off eating, or to overeat, as an emotional response to your loss. Staying fit and active with at least 30 minutes of exercise three times per week is also important for maintaining your physical health. You will also want to avoid becoming dependent on alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs to help you cope with your emotions. If at any time you feel that you are becoming physically ill or addicted to a substance, see your GP or a mental health professional immediately to discuss your concerns and create a plan for looking after yourself.
Children who experience a loss often work through their grief in a very different way than adults do. Very often children do not have the words to express what they are feeling, so it is their behaviour that may show how they are feeling. Changes in sleeping patterns, bed wetting, eating patterns, thumb sucking and socialising, such as becoming shy or bossy, or avoiding social situations all together, can all be signs of a child trying to cope with bereavement. Children themselves may not even realise that this is what they are doing.
Grief can also take a toll on relationships. Partners grieve differently but they also need to have time to grieve together and open up about how they are feeling. Grief can have a number of affects on relationships. Partners may grow closer as they need each for support or realise that they would like to spend more time together, or they could distance themselves as they don't feel able to open up and talk about how they are doing. Some relationships may not experience any changes.
Perhaps the greatest mistake someone attempting to comfort or console another can make is to insist on how the other must be feeling. Instead, friends and relatives of the bereaved should be patient with whatever emotions the individual may be feeling without deciding whether these emotions are “right” or “appropriate”. Talking about how each person is feeling often helps everyone stay on the same page and understand more about what others are going through.
Grief is often a solitary, unique experience. Others will never be able to understand exactly how the bereaved person is feeling, so patience with whatever may come will help all relationships stay strong.