When we experience any form of loss, the typical reaction that follows is grief. Grief is defined as an affective emotional reaction which can manifest in a variety of psychological and physical changes including low mood, apathy, irrational thoughts or behaviours, and pain symptoms.
Grief is often associated with bereavement, although, it is not limited to the loss of a loved one and can be experienced by anyone going through varied life events. Often, people experience grief following significant life changes, for example, someone that recently retired may grieve the loss of their working life, whereas a teenager may grieve their loss of childhood freedom.
Below is a list of experiences commonly associated with grief:
- Death of a spouse, child, close family member, friend, or pet
- Family conflict
- Children leaving home
- Career change, retirement, or dismissal from work
- Changes in financial status
- Moving home
- Personal injury or illness
- Natural disasters
Grief in response to any of the above is described as a natural and necessary process for humans, which has functional benefits of gaining closure and/or adapting to a new life. However, it is normal to feel confused or overwhelmed by emotions that surface and the speed at which they may change, for example, it is possible to feel happiness, sadness, and anger simultaneously. Therefore, it can be helpful to seek support from a trained professional, to assist in understanding some of these complex feelings.
Research suggests that it is common and healthy for these feelings to come and go throughout our lifetime. A theoretical model by Stroebe and Schut (1999) indicates that grief operates a ‘dual process’ whereby people switch back and forth between ‘Loss-oriented’ and ‘Restoration-oriented’ experiences in everyday life.
In ‘Loss-oriented’ moments, you may experience thoughts, feelings, actions and events related to your loss which make you focus on your grief and pain. Whereas, in ‘Restoration-oriented’ moments you may get on with daily life and feel distracted from your grief and pain, even if only fleetingly. Examples of common restoration-oriented activities include exercise or cleaning the house.
Often, people cope with grief by taking on tough work assignments or chores to give themselves something other than their pain to focus on. However, if you have experienced loss and find yourself taking on too much, it is important to find a healthy balance and also allow time to grieve. It is natural to feel avoidant of pain but ignoring or ‘bottling up’ grief may put your psychological and physical wellbeing at risk. Please remember it is never to late to process your loss, despite how many years have passed.
Therapy for bereavement, loss and grief
During therapy you can explore your personal experiences within a safe and warm environment at your own pace. Your therapist can offer a source of comfort and support as you go through this process and work through issues together.
Whether you find yourself stuck, confused or avoidant, there are many therapeutic approaches which can help to meet your needs and make progress towards your goals and engage in a healing process.
Therapy for bereavement, grief and loss can:
- Offer an understanding of the bereavement process
- Experience pain healthily with less fear and avoidance
- Help resolve areas of conflict still remaining
- Help you to adjust to a new sense of self and environment
- Address possible issues of depression or suicidal thoughts
- Re-invest in the future
You may always miss the people or way of life you have lost, but with the right support you can remember these people and times with fondness and acceptance, and purpose can be reclaimed.