Grief & Loss

Psychological strategies and counselling

ABOUT GRIEF

Grief is a natural and normal emotion. Grief is a natural response to loss. Bereavement refers to the process of recovering from the death of a loved one, whereas grief is a reaction to any form of loss.

Grief is our response to the loss of a loved one or by the loss of something we regard as precious to us. It might be the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a pregnancy, a pet, a way of life, or a job. Grief is a normal, natural and inevitable response to loss, and it can affect every part of our life, including our thoughts, behaviours, beliefs, feelings, physical health and our relationships with others. Experiences of loss can include infertility, children leaving home and separation from family or from friends.

There is no “right way” to grieve, and no way to predict how long the period of grieving will last – or should last. Adapting to a significant loss can vary dramatically from one person to another, depending on their background and their beliefs. Their relationship to what was lost and other factors may also play a key role.

Both bereavement and grief encompass a range of feelings from deep sadness to anger, helplessness, confusion, relief and regret. Grieving behaviours can include crying as well as laughter, there is no correct way to behave. Some people find comfort in the company of others, whereas others prefer to be alone with their feelings, and may engage silently in activities like cleaning, writing, or exercising. Grief can be expressed in many ways. It has no set pattern, and no prescribed length of time. For some people, grief may last for years. For others, grieving may take weeks or months.

Some thoughts and behaviours after a loss can be more helpful or safe than others, and this is where therapy can help. Grief can be complicated by other conditions – most notably depression – and by the type of relationship shared. Adjusting to loss may require developing new routines, envisioning a different future, or building a new sense of identity, which can take some time.

When grief persists

Although there is no prescribed length of time for grief, and loss may always be felt, when grief interferes with life, it may be time to seek help.

Normal symptoms of loss can mimic those of depression, but these symptoms will often pass within two months of the loss.
For those who may be vulnerable to depression, grief or bereavement has the potential to precipitate a depressive episode, and for those who already experience depression, the grief process can be prolonged and worsened by the depression.

What distinguishes grief from depression is that the feelings of grief are specifically related to a loss or death, whereas depression is characterised by a general sense of worthlessness, despair, and lack of joy.

When symptoms are interfering with life, interminable without improvement, and last for at least one year or more complicated grief may be implicated.

Grief is complicated.

Grief can occur before death. For many people who become carers, or who experience loss, they may grieve for they things they have lost – or for a future that cannot happen. The loss of hopes, dreams and planned futures can be as difficult as a bereavement. Carers may grieve for memories made together, especially when a loved one can no longer remember the memories. They may grieve for the changes of the personality of the person they love. If the person loved has a terminal illness, a strong mourning period can begin, with a deep sense of loss.

Prolonged symptoms may include:

  • Intense sadness
  • Preoccupation with the loss
  • Longing or yearning
  • Feelings of emptiness or meaninglessness
  • Difficulty engaging in happy memories
  • Avoidance of reminders of the loss
  • Lack of desire in pursuing personal interests
  • Bitterness or anger

How to support someone who has experienced loss

Loneliness and isolation can be a common feeling after a loss, and it can be helpful to increase emotional support.

Contact the bereaved person as soon as possible, attend the funeral service or memorial if possible.

Simply being there to help out, to listen, or to share stories can be helpful. Acknowledge the difficult feelings such as anger, regret or relief. Allow the bereaved person to talk and express their grief in whatever way they need. Allow tears, allow them to cry or to express a range of emotions.

Focus on listening rather than fixing up or providing solutions. It is a natural response to want to fix problems and reduce pain. The reality is that there is nothing anyone can say that will fix losing a loved one, or bring back a future lost. The most important help is to provide comfort and support – to allow grieving to occur.

If they don’t want to talk, sit in silence. Prepare a meal or just provide company. Holding a person’s hand can help if appropriate. use the name of the deceased person. They may want you to talk about your memories of a person, or it may be too painful. It is okay to ask. It is rarely helpful to give advice or compare your grief with theirs.

Other practical ideas include helping with housework, answering the phone, stocking the fridge or preparing a meal that can be reheated.

Encourage self-compassion – it is important to take time for yourself when grieving, and do things that would typically make you happy, such as taking a long hot bath or going for a walk.

Eating well, getting enough sleep, and taking time out for self-care is important. Encourage kindness to the self, and to forgive others who may not know how to support, or how to find the right words to connect. If you are unsure how to support your grieving friend, it is okay to ask them.

Excessive alcohol or drug use during the grieving process is unhelpful, as it can lead to the suppression of feelings, or acting out of anger.

If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulty coping with loss, there are a number of therapies that can help. Our warm, friendly and compassionate psychologists can work with you to help you through this difficult time.