Grief and Loss

Many of us come to counselling because of grief or a loss-related issue. Loss invokes a shock to the system: our typical ways of going about are business are shattered; our sense of reality, even if it was dysfunctional in some way, has been turned on its head.  We are creatures of habit. We crave stability and resist change. When something happens to disrupt this state of mind we can become easily discombobulated and it’s normal to need support. Friends and family can be a godsend, or not. Sometimes we seem stuck, unable to function in our daily life existence. Counselling and therapy can help.

What is grief?

Grief is an emotional response to a loss of some kind. It may be known as mourning or bereavement when we are grieving the loss of a loved one or pet who has died. Bereavement is a process, although it’s not as straightforward as you might expect. A number of years ago, the idea of “stages of grief” was a popular one. It was common for health professionals to say things like, “He’s in the denial stage” or “she’s bargaining,” for example. What is more commonly understood is that while some people experience bereavement as separate stages, others don’t have this experience at all, and this is normal too.  And for those who identify with stages such as ‘anger’, ‘depression’, ‘acceptance’ they may even find that they experience these states in no predictable order.  No matter what your experience of grief, it’s best to expect the unexpected and refrain from self-judgement about what you “should” be experiencing.

Bereavement can also be described as complicated, which sometimes means that a person has put their grieving “on hold” and some time later an emotional dam bursts and all the unresolved and undealt with grief is there on the table. Sometimes bereavement is also complicated when the relationship with the person who has died was, when they were alive, a difficult one. Examples include situations where the person perpetrated abuse or neglect, where family members had physically and emotionally severed contact with one another, or where there were issues that occurred that were never adequately resolved when the deceased was alive.

Loss

People come to my downtown Vancouver counselling and psychotherapy office for a variety of loss-related reasons, including:

  • When a family member or friend has died
  • The death of a pet or companion animal
  • The loss of a significant relationship (divorce, separation, widowhood)
  • Pregnancy-related loss such as miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth
  • Loss of health (both acute and chronic conditions, aging)
  • Cancer and other life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses (self or loved one)
  • Financial loss and / or unemployment / underemployment / demotion
  • Retirement, which can be experienced as particularly stressful if work played a central role in life)
  • Loss of country (for example, immigration, refugee situations)
  • Loss of property or a valued object
  • “Empty nest” syndrome: when the youngest child leaves the family home
  • Loss of life roles (e.g. work, active parenting, the ability to perform a treasured hobby or pastime, being a student, pre-parenting days…)
  • Even losses seen in society as positive, such as quitting drinking, can force a person to learn radically new ways of coping and adjusting to life’s challenges. Not an easy thing!

Coping

People cope with grief and loss in highly individualized ways. Strategies that my clients have used over the years include, in no particular order:

  • Sharing thoughts and feelings with a friend or close family member
  • Accepting practical support with things like household tasks, rides, childcare
  • Finding a support or mutual aid group
  • Exercise, ranging from gentle to vigorous, depending on the person
  • Journalling; formal or infomal writing
  • Memorial services / ceremonies / remembrances / celebrations of life , formal or informal
  • Divorce parties
  • Retirement parties
  • Relaxation CDs or MP3s
  • Meditation, formal or informal practice
  • Being in nature
  • Attending church / temple / synagogue / sacred space
  • Talking to a spiritual teacher
  • Self-help books and readings; “escapist” books or magazines
  • Writing “letters” to the deceased
  • Quiet walks alone
  • Music: performing, listening
  • Creating art
  • Sewing, crafting, knitting, crochet, other needlearts
  • Model building and activities that require intense focus
  • Accepting permission to “do nothing” without guilt
  • Keeping routines; abandoning routines
  • Eating healtfully; eating chocolate or other comfort foods
  • Aromatherapy

If you would like additional, individualized counselling support in your grief or loss journey, I would be pleased to meet with you. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. Call or email me today.