How do we move forward after losing a loved one?
Psychotherapy is an invaluable tool for people at times of transition or when they are at a cross-roads in their life. There can be no bigger a cross-road for us to deal with than the death of a loved one. Psychotherapy can help people to deal with their grief in a supportive and confidential environment. It is here that they are allowed the space and time to express their emotions. It helps them to move forward in their grief, to come out of the shadow of their loss and into a fuller life. The therapist supports and provides this sacred space for the healing process to begin.
Grief: A personal Journey
We will all, unfortunately experience the loss of someone close to us at some point during our lives. Some of us will have time to prepare for this loss (terminal illness) and others will not (sudden deaths or suicide). There is no ‘correct’ way or time to grieve. Grief is a purely personal journey and no two people will handle grief in the same way. This can be difficult for people to understand especially within families where some family members will handle their grief differently to others.
When we lose someone close to us; parent, son, daughter, sibling, partner or friend, we can feel isolated in our grief. Once the funeral is over, we may feel the pressure to go back to our normal lives, in a sense we should be “over” the grief. People may feel that their emotions need to be kept in check as these emotions will make others feel uncomfortable. When others meet our pain and suffering, they may not know what to do or say and we can incorrectly interpret this as an unwillingness to listen. Because of this, we may shut down and isolate ourselves from potential supports.
Grieving can be broken down into stages. These stages do not follow a strict pattern and we may alternate from one stage to another. It has been identified that there are five stages to grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, it should be noted that not everybody will go through all of these stages.
This stage is normally our first reaction to the loss of our loved one. It does not mean that we “deny” that he/she has passed away, rather that we are still in shock and cannot come to terms that they will never walk through the door again to be with us.
Anger is a necessary stage of grieving. It does not have to be logical or valid. It can manifest itself in many ways; we may feel that we did not do enough to help our loved one in their illness; we may feel that we didn’t “see it coming” and thereby act on it in time; we may be angry with the doctors who cared for our loved one or feel that it is unfair that someone we loved had to die. We may also be angry with God for allowing our loved one to die. We may become angry with people who did not attend the funeral thus feeling they were disrespectful to our loved one. We need to be willing to feel our anger in order to dissipate it and thus help heal ourselves. We may move in and out of this stage many times during our grieving process.
This is the stage where we try and “bargain” for our loved one not dying i.e. if God will allow our loved one to live, we will become a better person, volunteer for charity work etc. We can also bargain when our loved one has passed away i.e. that we will accept losing them if we can be sure that we will meet them again in the afterlife or that if God does not take any other members of our family, we will accept the loss of our loved one.
This is the stage where we become fully aware of the “present”. We now experience the dark, empty feelings of our loss and grief enters fully into our life. We feel that this stage will last forever. We will never revert back to the happy person we once were. It’s important to note that this is not a sign of mental illness rather an appropriate response to a great loss and is a necessary stage to the grieving process.
This is often confused with the idea that we are all right with the loss of our loved one. This is not the case. It is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and that this is a permanent reality for us.
“Death is but a transition from this life to another existence where there is no pain or anguish”.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, “On Grief and Grieving”; 2005.