Grief, Loss, and Bereavement
Grief is often painful, but for some people, the emotions can become overwhelming. When a person’s grief is severe and unrelenting, a therapist can offer support. In time, a person can recover from their loss and adjust to a new life.
Each experience of grief is unique, complex, and personal. Grief may concern the death of a loved one, or it could involve a life change such as divorce or job loss. Your culture, personality, and experience can all affect the grieving process. Therapists will tailor treatment to meet your specific needs.
For example, therapy may help you maintain healthy connections with your lost loved one. Many people find catharsis while talking about their loved ones. Reflection on positive memories can strengthen your bond with the lost person. As you reaffirm your bond, you may feel less sting from your loss.
That said, some people may become overly attached to the deceased. In complicated grief, a person may feel hopeless and desire to join the lost loved one in death. A therapist can help you adjust to life without your loved one. They may also help you strengthen bonds with surviving friends and family.
Another common goal in therapy is to process your feelings. Society may stigmatize you for grieving a certain way. But in therapy, you can express your feelings without judgment. A therapist can help you address any guilt or regret you have regarding the deceased.
Joint therapies are also available for people in grief. In group therapy, you may find solace in sharing thoughts and feelings with other mourners. Recovery results are often rapid in this setting. Family therapy may be suitable for a family who is struggling to adapt to the loss of a member.
Children may not understand their loss at first. Young kids may believe the deceased will come back. They may also believe they are in danger of dying. However, children are capable of understanding death, so long as adults explain it to them in simple and direct terms.
In some cases, a death may change a child’s daily routine. For instance, a widowed parent may need to hire a babysitter while they are at work. Adults can help children feel less anxious by letting them know what to expect. Children often feel more secure in a predictable environment.
Children often look to their guardians for how to grieve. If an adult hides their sadness, a child will likely try to do the same. When adults talk about their emotions, children can learn to recognize and accept the feelings in themselves. Adults can teach healthy ways to cope with strong feelings, as opposed to withdrawing or lashing out.
Children may have trouble verbalizing their thoughts at first. The immediate nature of their grief may overwhelm them. Certain activities, such as storytelling or play, can help them talk about loss from a mental distance. Children often find it easier to speak about a sad character than about themselves.
A child counselor can help children grieve in a healthy manner. Children who have lost a caregiver or sibling may benefit from family therapy.
Bereavement can involve a lot of vulnerability and pain. Like a physical injury, the emotional wounds of loss often take time to recover. If you are grieving, it is vital that you take care of yourself.
Self-care can take different forms. During the grieving process, there are five aspects of yourself that may need healing.
1. The Physical Aspect
Stress from grief can cause changes in your body. You may feel unexplained aches, sleep issues, or changes in appetite. Fatigue is especially common. Don’t be surprised if you need more rest than usual.
During this time, routine can provide a sense of stability. A nutritious diet can reduce stress, so try to eat three meals a day, even if you are not hungry. A set sleep schedule can help stabilize energy levels as well. That said, be gentle with yourself. A nap or a snack can go a long way to providing comfort.
2. The Cognitive Aspect
Your mental state may be compromised during bereavement. You may have trouble focusing or making decisions. Like the rest of your body, your brain may need a bit of a break.
You may wish to restrict or avoid alcohol use during this time. Although alcohol may make you feel temporarily better, it is not a long-term solution to grief.
3. The Emotional Aspect
During this time, you may need to be proactive about pursuing happiness. If you know you have an activity to look forward to, you may find it easier to get out of bed in the morning. That activity could be eating lunch with friends, watching a favorite show, or relaxing in a warm bath.
Many mourners find comfort in listening to music. Happy music may cheer a person up. Sad music can be cathartic. You may prefer different music at different stages of the grieving process. A song tied to the deceased may be too painful to listen to at first but grow nostalgic as time passes.
4. The Spiritual Aspect
When a loved one dies, it often sparks questions about death and life. People who have strong spiritual beliefs may find comfort in talking to their religious leaders. Rituals of mourning can provide validation.
Some people have no defined belief system, yet they may still seek to clarify their relationship with death and find meaning in life. Some may join a support group for people with existential questions. Others may find their own answers through meditation. Nurturing one’s spiritual self can be as vital as self-care in any other realm.
5. The Social Aspect
Grief is a difficult process to go through alone. Social support can make recovery easier. Friends and family can help you with daily responsibilities as you recover. They can also offer emotional support.
When a person dies, the dynamics between their loved ones may change. You may find yourself growing closer to some people and further from others. Different people can fill distinct needs. One friend may offer a shoulder to cry on. Another may be more suited for days when you need cheering up. Being honest about your needs can help prevent misunderstandings.
Your surviving loved ones cannot replace the deceased. However, they can help you recover from the loss.
Therapy can also be an important part of self-care. A licensed therapist can offer assistance with any of the aspects above. There is no shame in seeking help.
- Mourning multiple losses: Rhonda, 57, had a sudden breakdown after her sister passed away. She stopped working, becoming anxious and depressed. A month after her breakdown, Rhonda decides to seek therapy. A full history reveals she had been the sole caretaker for her sister, who had been ill for years and required constant assistance. During the time of the illness, Rhonda’s parents had both died of natural causes. Rhonda says she never had the time or emotional energy to mourn her parents’ death. In therapy, Rhonda realizes she resented her sister, explaining why Rhonda had not mourned her death either, even though she felt guilty about it. Also, she been so caught up in her family duties that she’d had little time to develop her own hobbies. The therapist helps Rhonda face her intense feelings of sadness and loss. Her anxiety slowly dissolves. After a time of rest to fully grieve, Rhonda feels ready to return to work. With the support of a therapist and a close friend, she finds the strength to build a new life.
If you would like more information on grief and loss, you can read the following articles:
- How to Help a Loved One through Grief or Bereavement
- How to Help Your Teen Process the Suicide of a Peer
- Workplace Grief and Loss: Coping with the Death of a Coworker
- 10 Ways to Cope with Grief and Loss During the Holidays
- The Reminders We Receive in Times of Death
- Doughty, E. A., Wissel, A., & Glorfield, C. (2011). Current Trends in Grief Counseling. Vistas Online. Retrieved from http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas11/Article_94.pdf
- Helping your child deal with death. (2016). KidsHealth. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/death.html
- Goldman, L. (2015). What complicates grief for children: A case study [PDF]. Healing Magazine. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2xuXNGW
- Nurturing yourself when you’re grieving. (2016, December 14). Center for Loss & Life Transition. Retrieved from https://www.centerforloss.com/2016/12/nurturing-youre-grieving