Bereavement Counselling London Guide
Loosing someone close to you can be incredibly painful. Whether it’s your partner, a friend, or someone from your family, your world has suddenly changed. You might be facing difficult or confusing emotions, as your expectations of what the future holds have shattered.
It can be hard for other people to understand what’s going on for you, and you might feel alone and isolated in your pain.
Grief is not only felt with the loss of an important person, you can also experience bereavement of the end of a relationship, a decline in your physical or mental health, a major lifestyle change or the death of a pet.
When you’re grieving, it’s natural to go through a series of emotions such as denial, anger, sadness and depression. These emotions can be hard to understand, especially when they sometimes seem to contradict each other. There’s also physical symptoms associated with grief, such as exhaustion and weakness.
There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, as everybody experiences grief differently. It can be temping to try and ‘get over it’, and find distractions to avoid the deep pain you’re feeling. But with bereavement counselling, you can have a non judgemental space to fully express your emotions, and move on to a place of acceptance.
How long does grief last?
There’s no time limit on grief and this can vary significantly from person to person. The time spent in bereavement counselling will be different for everybody and depends on various factors: the type of relationship you had, the strength of attachment or intimacy, the situation surrounding the death, and the amount of time spent anticipating the death.
What does a bereavement feel like?
How you feel while you’re bereaving a loss is impossible to predict. It will depend on your personality type, your relation to your own emotions, and the sort of support you have around you. In most people, grief involves a range of feelings and emotions, which can come up at any time, including sadness, anxiety, despair and relief.
There isn’t one way to go through the grief process, and its important to honour how you’re feeling. There can be other symptoms in addition to the emotions, including disrupted sleep, physical problems (including psychosomatic symptoms), eating less or more, needing the company of others more, or withdrawing from others to prioritise alone time.
Feeling depressed after a bereavement
Sadness and depression is very common after a loss. Loosing someone can leave a hole in your life leaving you feeling empty and bereft. Your mind may be flooded with memories of times you spent together, humour and insights that you shared, and common passions you pursued together.
The sadness can be so strong that it feels like you can’t stop crying. You might be worried that your feelings are overwhelming and out of your control. It might feel like nothing can replace the loss you feel, and you might find the thought of doing anything without the one you’ve lost feels pointless and empty.
Feeling numb and shock after a loss
Sometimes after the loss of someone close to you, you can have no access to your feelings, just a sense of numbness. This happens when the feelings are too overwhelming for you to be able to experience and process. It’s a natural defence mechanism, where you’re in a state of shock, temporarily protected from the pain of loss. The feeling of numbness will stay in place until you’re ready to feel the emotions, which can be a long time after the loss.
This numbness can also come with a type of denial. You might be carrying on with your life as if nothing’s happened, unable to accept that you’ll never again see the person who you might have been speaking to just a few days before. If you’ve been feeling numb for a long time you might need some help in accessing the difficult feelings which are being held within.
Confusion and panic around death
In our society, we rarely talk about death in detail, and what it means for us. The death of someone you know can leave you with a sense of confusion and panic. You may not have been expecting a sudden loss, and coming face to face with the unpredictability and transient nature of the world.
Death can bring up the existential fear of your own ending, your vulnerability, and the purpose of your life. If this is something you’re not used to thinking about, it can be very disrupting and disturbing.
Many of us follow advice from experts about diet, healthy lifestyle, and exercise regimes with the hope they’ll provide longevity or a degree of protection from illness. It can be shocking when someone full of life and in good health becomes terminally ill or dies. Assumptions and expectations cab be shattered, leaving you in a state on panic or anxiety.
Blaming God for death
If you believe in God, you might be wondering how he’s let something which has caused so much suffering happen. You might feel anger as you question God’s compassion and love for you. Tragic loss can bring up a crisis of faith, especially if you’ve been following the rules of your religion, caring for others, and leading an honest and virtuous life.
The anger which can arise, along with questions about God’s will or plans can be difficult to talk about, especially with members of your religious or spiritual community. You may fear being punished by God for feeling anger towards him, or that you were somehow not good enough in his eyes.
Feeling angry while grieving
An unexpected loss can feel unfair, and you might feel angry with the people or establishments who seem to have contributed to the loss. Or you might be angry with yourself for not having done enough to prevent the loss. It’s also not uncommon to feel angry with the person who has died, leaving you to pick up the pieces on your own.
Anger can be confusing to someone who is bereaving the loss of a loved one. But it’s important to explore it and fins a way of expressing it, rather than suppressing it. If you feel angry, try witnessing the anger without judgement – it’s an important part of the grieving process and the journey towards healing.
Feelings of guilt and regret
You might feel regret for things you said, or wish you’d said. There might have been unresolved issues, or you might be questioning the way you behaved. There can also be feelings of guilt, that you could perhaps have done more, or spotted some of the symptoms earlier on.
Regret is a natural feeling in response to a loss. Death is often unexpected it arrives while you’re unprepared, so there’ll always be something left incomplete, something else you could have done. Acknowledge your regret and any feelings of guilt, and see that they’re natural feelings which you can learn to accept and make peace with.
Feeling a sense of relief
Even if you had a close and caring relationship with someone, you may still have feelings of relief after they’ve passed. They may have been illness and suffering for a long time, and you’re glad to see that they can finally rest.
Or you may have been caring for them full time, having to sacrifice a great deal to look after them. It can be a relief to be able to meet with friends again, or start looking after your own needs and health.
Feeling relief doesn’t mean you didn’t care – it’s possible to feel seemingly conflicting emotions at the same time.
Bereavement – the mixed and contradictory feelings
Our relationships with anything – people, places, objects and concepts are always complex, and although there can be a strong primary feeling, there will be other lesser feelings, which sometimes feel contradictory.
When someone close to you dies, you might feel confused about the mixed emotions you’re experiencing. You could be angry with a parent for how they treated you as a child, but at the same time feel devastated at their loss. Or miss someone close to you, while also feeling angry that they’ve left. Or you might feel overwhelming sadness at the loss, but also some relief, and perhaps guilt about being free of having to care for them.
During the grieving process, you can find yourself oscillating between emotions without any warning, one minute crying, the next minute laughing, another time peaceful, the next moment angry and agitated. These are all normally signs of bereavement – give yourself the time and space to feel these emotions fully.
“The truth is that grief can make you feel like you’re going crazy. Grief can make a liar out of you. You say you’re doing fine, when really your heart is shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. But everyone wants you to say you’re okay, so you do”Maria Shriver
What are the 5 stages of grief?
The 5 stages of grief were identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s, and have since become very well known. In her book ‘On Grief and Grieving’, she writes that there’s no typical loss, or response to loss, as everybody grieves in their own way.
The stages that follow: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance are not linear steps, and not everyone goes through all of them. You can use them as tools to help identify and clarify how you’re feeling. They can last anything from a few minutes to several weeks or months.
Feelings of denial about the loss don’t mean you actually think your loved one hasn’t died. It’s more a feeling of shock and disbelief. The idea that they’re never coming home again can be very difficult to come to terms with. You might live with the feeling that the loss didn’t really happen, or there’s been some sort of mistake.
There’s a numbness involved in denial, a type of paralysis, which works as a protection mechanism. Denial helps you to survive the loss. The feelings are so potentially overwhelming that they’re only being allowed in gradually.
The reality of loss is that it’s unfair, and a natural reaction to the unfairness of life is anger. Anger around death can be experienced in many ways: you might feel anger towards other people, the one who has died, yourself, or towards God. Any anger you feel is valid, and doesn’t need explanation or reason.
You might be angry with yourself because you feel you could have made more effort in caring for your loved one. Or because you didn’t see it coming, or were powerless to intervene.
Anger at others might be directed at doctors, the healthcare system, or your family and friends for not understanding what you’re going through. Anger at the one you’ve lost might be around their lack of care about themselves, or that they’d promised they’d always be there for you.
You might feel anger towards God for allowing your loved one to die. Maybe you’ve led a righteous life, followed the rules of your religion, only to be rewarded with a seemingly cruel act.
Our society tends to demonise anger, and you might get a bad reaction from friends, family, or member of your religious community. Anger is often misunderstood, and thought to be a ‘negative’ emotion which should be avoided or minimised.
But if or when you feel anger, it’s important to find health ways to express it. It’s a natural part of mourning, and often the gateway to deeper feelings of sadness and loneliness.
Bargaining is a stage that often starts before the death of someone you care about. You might bargain with God, promising to behave in a certain way if an illness goes away, or a recovery spontaneously occurs.
It may move on to bargaining about a death which is free of suffering. Once the death has happened, there can be other attempts to bargain – for your safe future, free of illness or misfortune.
Bargaining is an attempt to gain some control over a situation which seems overwhelming, and beyond your control. It’s a tool for avoiding the feeling of deep pain associated with grief. But the stage of bargaining has a purpose – It helps with the pacing of the grief process, giving you the time you need to adjust to the reality of loss.
A period of depression is inevitable after a significant loss. It’s the stage where the deep sadness of your loss really hits you. You might find yourself distancing yourself and loosing interest in friends and activities you once found meaningful.
It can be difficult to find a reason to get up in the morning, and when you do, the activities of the day can feel pointless and effortful. You might be feeling stuck, and wondering whether there’s any point in attempting to get through it. Depression can feel like a black hole of loneliness, with no escape.
The depression after a loss is not a sign of mental illness – it’s an appropriate response, which you don’t need to try and stop. People around you might try to cheer you up, feeling that it’s wrong to be depressed. While they’re probably well meaning, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the sadness.
Ideally you should seek people out who can be with you ‘as you are’ who can offer emotional support, without trying to fix your sadness. This is where grief counselling with a bereavement counsellor can be very helpful. It’s only if your depression goes on for too long, or leads to clinical depression, that it’s necessary to seek specialist help for depression.
Depression is a difficult, though important stage of the grief process. Its a time when you experience the full force of your painful feelings, stripping yourself down, so you can grow anew with a new understanding and acceptance.
Acceptance is about coming to terms with the reality that someone you cared about is no longer around. It doesn’t mean that you feel good about it, or that you’ve ‘recovered’ from it. You’ll start to accept that you now live in a new world, and entered a new phase of your life.
Acceptance is about making the adjustments and changes necessary to live in a world without your loved one. That might mean making new friends, asking others for help or learning new skills so that you can start rebuilding your new life. From a place of acceptance, true healing can begin.
Grief and Bereavement Counselling in London
Coping with the loss of a loved one is always difficult, especially when it’s not expected. It can take time to understand your feelings and adjust after the loss has happened. Bereaving a death can be painful and exhausting but most people find that in time things become easier.
By allowing yourself to go through the grief, and feeling all of the emotions, a natural healing process can take place. It’s important to look after yourself physically and emotionally while you take the time to recover.
I’m an integrative psychotherapist offering bereavement support in Central London. If you need help with your grief, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, so we can talk about your needs and how bereavement therapy might help.