Bereavement Counseling and the Process of Grief
These are some key stages and feelings that come up for an individual, a family, a nation when encountering the process of dying, death, loss and major change. This is simply a guideline. No two people grieve the same, and no two people grieve for the same time period. The process of grief does not happen in a linear fashion or from 1-10. The process is cyclical and manifest in many different ways. It is a process as unique as an individual person.
This is a guideline; a beginning to understanding and not a definitive proclamation on the process. Use this to help you access where you are in the process and as a guideline as to what individual support you may need. Remember this is a personal process. You may need time to be alone; however be aware of isolating yourself at this time. The process of grieving is a very sacred time and must be honored individually. We must learn as a society to support the person or persons grieving.
A facilitator or therapist in assisting in the process of grief is there to hold a space for healing and created a safe place for feelings to be expressed and explored. This needs to be done in a non-judgmental way and in a way that honors the individual’s inner process.
Many times it is beneficial for the person grieving to ask for support and to ask for that support in specific ways. For instance one may just need and want to be listened to and not given advice or suggestions for processing emotions or thoughts. There needs to be a flexibility in approach and in assistance. The individual, family or group grieving will not always need the same assistance. Like all communication sometimes we have to stumble and fumble until we know what we need and can ask for what we need and want. Also, feelings can be messy. This is ok. We don’t always have to express ourselves succinctly. Sometimes it may take 30 minutes to know what we are feeling, sometimes 3 hours, other times 30 days. For some years.
It is important that one allow themselves the time to find their expression and what they feel and need. It is also very important to learn to ask for what you need, to know when to furnish it yourself or ask it of another. And, in stating this it is important to work with a facilitator or therapist that you feel comfortable with, even with uncomfortable emotions and feelings. It is crucial that you not give up on yourself and process and begin to notice the difference between your process and you. In choosing a facilitator or therapist you need to feel a sense of rapport and enough initial trust to allow for a consistent relationship in building further trust to facilitate healing and wellness through this important transition.
Key Stages of the Process of Grief The process of Loss and Bereavement
- Denial and disbelief
- Alarm – anxiety, restlessness, physiological accompaniments of fear
- Urge to find/search for lost person/object/title/job/security/known situation.
- Anger and guilt
- Bargaining – in anticipation and reaction to the loss/threatened loss
- Despair and depression – internal loss and deprivation
- Identification phenomena – adopting traits, habits of deceased/adopting behavior patterns to insure that the loss/perceived loss does not occur again in the person’s environment. In the case of job/career security this can be taking on traits of person that is perceived as causing the loss. At this stage one may begin to repress certain aspects of their personality and curtail their instinct to reach and respond in relationship to their environment and world. Withdrawal.
- Pathological variants – delayed/prolonged/inability to grieve. Lack of motivation. The loss/perceived loss must be grieved in order to move through the cycle and restructure. It is at this point that many people may feel “stuck”, blocked, or feel a virtual victim of circumstance and environment. The feeling of “why try again?” “It’s no use.” may prevail.
- Acceptance – non-acceptance or resignation. This is a decision making interim; and the beginning of recovery as a resolution is mandated at this point.
- New identity – reorganization. At this juncture the restructuring begins and all that entails in the process, and individual development.
Process of Bereavement Counseling Transitional Counseling
- Help the person actualize the loss.
- Help the person identify and express feeling of anger, guilt, fear, anxiety, sorrow.
- Work with the person on living without the deceased/person/situation/job/status/income
- Aid emotional withdrawal from loss
- Give time to grief and its expression
- Assess “normal” and “pathological” behavior/relating patterns
- Allow for individual behavior
- Explore defenses and coping mechanisms
- Assess for referral if there is absence, deferred or prolonged grieving.
Loss, Transition & Change To Travel through the unknown to get to a place of Certainty.
Loss throws you into a place of uncertainty, even if the loss is anticipated or planned. The experience of loss signals a time of re-evaluation. The recent loss whether the loss of a loved one; (animal being or human being) creates a void and a disrupt of our routine, patterns and focus. Sometimes this loss is a situational loss. A long-standing job, career,someone moves away, is sick; or we are in the midst of a divorce or separation.
Whether the loss is from a loved one, a situation, way of viewing ourselves, a role/title we now have to restructure and reorganize our life, way of being and relating without what we have lost. We are missing a part of us…. An important part of our life is missing; and this leaves a gap we will need to fill with….We don’t know what yet. This does not replace what is missing or is lost; especially in the case of the loss of a loved one. They now will be with us in other ways—non physical. And, we will now have to learn how to feel them with us non-physically. Whatever the loss we need to give ourselves time….Time to create wholeness, to piece ourselves and life back together in a new way. And, this may feel odd, frustrating and useless in the beginning.
We will and do heal. We heal by taking the time to focus on the loss and bring the meaning of the loss into the present with us. There is no time limit on healing. It takes as long as it takes. (if we can not get out of bed 6 mos. on we need further help to deal with the loss) We need to nurture this new way of dealing with life, this new way of being and relating without our loved one. We need support at this time. Support is crucial, even if you don’t think it is necessary or helping….It is. Most importantly is allowing the time to grieve, to reminisce, to reflect, to allow a healthy expression of all your emotions and feelings. If others well intentioned are hurrying you along in your process this is not healthy.
Find those that can listen, can just be present to your situation and experience without trying to “fix” or hurry you along. One needs to express emotions at this time to get to core feelings. Remember all feelings are valid and ok. They are simply feelings and need to be expressed, acknowledged in a place of honor and safety. The loss brings one deeper to oneself, an unveiling and revealing takes place. There is always a reason even though it doesn’t make sense and in earthly reasoning and sense is senseless; or perhaps before one’s time. Through the loss we will come to see ourselves in a new light, and we may even feel the strength and meaning of the life before the loss if we bring it’s meaning forward in the present.
The loss and what it means needs to be expressed. Some ways of expressing are: Journaling Music Writing- It helps to write about the loss, not necessarily literally, but what it invokes in you. Video filming Collage the person’s life Collage what you are feeling and experiencing because of the loss Reading books on the loss Painting/drawing A pictorial memorial A chronically your experience and understanding of this loss. Building something Sculpture Creating Art Artistic Artforms Write a poem about you-where you are now.
Write a poem about the process and state you are in from the loss. Use your heart, mind, spirit to channel the energy of the loss in a way that feels satisfying to you. Journaling and telling our story is powerful for us. It allows our emotions to be revealed, expressed and transformed. To tell “our story” our path and process is giving honor to what we have experienced. It also marks it in time in a way that we can reflect back on the loss and transition. Many times loss happens quickly or in a way that we are in a heightened coping state and we are not aware of how we are being affected in the moments of the process.
Usually, through the experience of transition, whether it be the transition from seeing a loved one fading through illness, or the unexpected loss of imminent death we are thrown into “coping mode” very often having to mask our feelings, or prioritizing them in a way that the transition and loss process takes key precedence over our feelings, needs and wants. This is even more prevalent with care givers of those sick or in the death (crossing over) process.
The author and professor Robert Neimeyer provides detailed descriptions of the use of expression & artforms in his Book – Lessons of Loss: A Guide to Coping by Robert A Neimeye Among them are:
- writing a biography of the deceased
- drawing and painting
- writing an epitaph of the deceased
- keeping a journal of the thoughts and feelings
- examining how we are like the deceased (also known as a life imprint)
- integrating objects that link us to the deceased into our lives
- writing about the loss as if you are a third person describing it
- constructing a memory book honoring the deceased
- using metaphors to describe the loss and your reactions to it
- expanding the metaphors into a metaphoric story
- going on a personal pilgrimage
- creating a photo gallery
- writing a poem of the loss
- reading about others’ experiences with loss such as C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed
- creating and conducting a personal ritual about the loss
Create a Descansos
(The word “Descanso” is a Spanish word that means place of rest) How can you create a commemoration that allows a place to rest for the loved one you have lost, or the situation that is no more in your life. In my heritage (Hispanic) we use the descanso to bring meaning, honor, sacredness and clarity to the loss of the loved one. I have updated this use to use for a loved one, situational loss, or transition. It is a powerful tool and one that honors your life, life experience, situation or the loved one that is no longer on this earth plane. A Descanso allows you to honor, commemorate, celebrate and let go to connect in a new way that is relevant for you in the present. You see descansos on the side of the road of an accident, for instance, to signal to those that pass that a death has occurred here. A Descanso allows you to acknowledge the loss, the transtion and the new way of managing the loss in your mind and life.
It is truly a way of honoring the deceased or what has been lost. The descanso is done in whatever way or manner is pertinent to you. Design it, write it in a way that reflects your personal beliefs, imagery that is significant to you, that is sacred to you. Writing one or more letters to the deceased expressing what you were not able to express while he/she were alive (without sending them). Artists and non-artists have also used painting, sculpture, photography, music, and other expressive means to help them find meaning in their loss. If the task becomes too difficult, a trained counselor can be of invaluable help during this time of exploration.
Giving Space to Grieve
One of the drawbacks i see in our societal structure is we don’t have a space for grief. When we are faced with loss, whether loss of an idea, a position, a major transition or loss of a loved one many times we are told: “Don’t worry”, It’s going to be okay” “Try to get on with your life”, “you’ll be alright”. If we are not told this perhaps we have the uncomfortable experience of not being looked at in the eye, of avoiding the loss; especially if illness or death is involved. For most the message is clear – Get over it, and soon so friends and family can feel more comfortable.
The message is hurry up and grieve, hopefully only a month or two, maybe six months at the most and then join life again the same way you did before the loss. This message and ultimately this belief system causes us stress- distress of the body and mind. We are taught to “steel” ourselves away and create a barrier to our emotions and feelings. We are taught tacitly to “tough it out and move on”, and we begin to expect that of ourselves and each other. As a society we are uncomfortable with loss and especially crossing over-death of the physical body. It reminds us of our limitations and that there is an aspect of life that is unknown and perhaps random.
As a bereavement counselor and transpersonal therapist I recognize if we would keep a space open for loss and what it evokes in us there can be a deeper meaning in our life and new insight and understanding. This takes time, and for each the time of processing, understanding and grieving the loss is different. And, even in processing and making space for the loss this doesn’t mean it ends. We all grieve our loss’s in bits, in remembrances, and memories that are triggered in our present time living. If we are to have a space in our society for loss, this means we need to create a sense of support and structure of support in our society. This to me means we need to be able to acknowledge our losses and to talk about them without censoring ourselves or being censored.
The very act of us speaking what is truly going on with us eases our stress or, more accurately distress at having to suppress our life process. In some ways our losses makes us human. We are vulnerable. We love, we bond whether to an idea, a perception, a way of being, a job, career or position, and of course the highest bonding to a love one, be it an animal being or human being. And, yes, when we lose this connection, this bonding we experience loss, and we grieve… And, doesn’t this make us a loving, compassionate a sentient human being. So it is natural to grieve, even healthy. Suppressing our grieve is not natural human nature or healthy. The best gift we can give ourselves or others in the grief process is to just be present to this sacred state.We can ask if anything is needed, we can suggest, we can support, but most importantly is to just be present.