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Grief and Loss

Although grief is one of the most common emotions we have to bear, we are not taught how to prepare for the death of someone close to us. It is a cycle of loss which often includes denial, fear and loneliness. 

Grieving doesn't actually follow a neat progression of steps; it is much more intricate than that. Grief is a personal thing, it can be complicated, a prolonged and intensely traumatising experience that can result in significant emotional distress. There can be a lot of regression or backtracking to an earlier time. There is no easy way around it, it's a natural response to the loss of someone special or something we value.  There will be big and small adjustments which have to be made in your life. You will change. your routine will change, your moods will change. All of this is called 'grief'.

It is not well understood in our society, some people try to deny it, postpone it or avoid it. It is an excruciatingly painful aspect of life, yet grief is important and leads to emotional healing. Most people expect to be very upset or distressed when a loved one has passed away. What can take us by surprise is how intense the emotions can be, how they can change very quickly and how long they last. People around you may seem to think you should be ‘back to normal’ after a few weeks or months. You may even appear to be your usual self on the outside, but on the inside, you’re not even sure what normal is anymore. 

Some common reactions to grief are:

  • Shock - I can’t believe it.
  • Numbness - I'm not feeling anything.
  • Guilt - If only ...
  • Frustration - Why don’t people understand me? Why did this have to happen?
  • Panic - How will I cope?
  • Depression - I don’t care anymore, I want to end it all.
  • Fear - What if I can’t cope?
  • Low Energy - I'm too tired.
  • Confusion - I can’t think straight.
  • Rejection - How could they do this to me?
  • Emptiness - I feel like something is always missing.
  • Pain - Physical and mental pain can feel completely overwhelming and very frightening.
  • Replaying - You can't stop thinking about the events leading up to the death.
  • Visions - Thinking you're hearing or seeing someone who has died.
  • Mood swings - One minute you're angry and the next minute you can't stop crying.
 
According to the Kubler-Ross Model there are 5 main stages of grief - they reflect common reactions people have as they try to make sense of a loss. An important part of the healing process is experiencing and accepting the feelings that come as a result of the loss. Below are some of the common stages that people go through:

1. Denial, numbness, and shock: Numbness is a normal reaction to a death, it should never be confused with "not caring." This stage helps protect the individual from experiencing the intensity of the loss. It can actually be useful when the grieving person has to take some action such as planning a funeral, notifying relatives, or reviewing important papers. As the individual moves through the experience and slowly acknowledges its impact, the initial denial and disbelief will diminish.

2. Bargaining: This stage may be marked by persistent thoughts about what "could have been done" to prevent the death. Some people become obsessed with thinking about specific ways things could've been done differently to save the person's life. If this is not dealt with and resolved, the individual may live with intense feelings of guilt or anger that can interfere with the healing process.

3. Depression: At this time, people begin to realise and feel the true extent of the loss. Common signs of depression may include difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, and crying spells. The individual may also experience self-pity and feel lonely, isolated, empty, lost, and anxious.

4. Anger: This stage is common. It usually occurs when an individual feels helpless and powerless. Anger can stem from a feeling of abandonment because of a loss. Sometimes the individual is angry at a higher power, at the doctors who cared for the loved one, or toward life in general.

5. Acceptance: In time, an individual can move into this stage and come to terms with all the emotions and feelings that were experienced when the death occurred. Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into the individual's set of life experiences.

Throughout a person's lifetime, he or she may return to some of the earlier stages of grief such as depression or anger. There are no rules or time limit to the grieving process, it can manifest itself differently in people, some move through it almost effortlessly while others get stuck at one stage. There may be an intense period of longing for things to return to the way they were.
 
Some people try to get on with life and establish some new form of normality. Others may find themselves in situations where they momentarily manage to 'forget' about their grief, only to feel their heart sink as something reminds them - shopping for two or a favourite song for instance. There is no set pattern to follow, even members of the one family who are mourning the loss of the same person will show their grief in diverse ways

This is because we are all different in:

  • How we cope with stress.
  • How we communicate emotions.
  • Personality.
  • The relationship you had with the person.
  • How the death occurred.
  • The support we have around us.
  • Personal issues which may be brought to the surface at this time.

 

How do we help a loved one who is grieving?

  • Resist giving advice.
  • Help in practical ways.
  • Do not put a time limit on grief.
  • Remember anniversaries, birthdays etc.
  • Most importantly, listen to them.

People who are grieving may never stop missing a loved one but the pain may eventually lessen. The most important aspect of grieving is learning to cope with the loss. You may need support with that, as it is one of the most trying times - if not the most of our lives.

Here are some tactics that can be used to help resolve grief:

  • Acknowledge and accept both positive and negative feelings.
  • Allow plenty of time to experience thoughts and feelings.
  • Confide in a trusted person.
  • Express feelings openly or write journal entries.
  • Find bereavement groups in which there are other people who have had similar losses.
  • Remember that crying can provide a release.
  • Seek professional help if feelings are overwhelming.

 

Grief and Loss Counselling

Some people find the comfort of loved ones very helpful after a bereavement, while others find this hard and may withdraw from social contact, unable to face the world. You may feel like this, but grieving is difficult enough without having to do it all on your own.

We know that no one can understand exactly what your loss feels like to you, but we do understand that at times it may be easier to talk to someone outside of your friends and family about the impact of the bereavement, this is what we offer at OCS.  Offloading can be very helpful...It is better out than in.

Counselling can help with the mourning process by allowing a person to move through the stages of grief in a relationship that is supportive and confidential. The Counsellor will try to help the client to accept their loss and talk about it. They will encourage them to identify and express their feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, helplessness and anxiety. 

Grief and loss counselling can also help the person learn to live without the deceased; it will encourage them to make decisions alone. The Counsellor will also assist in identifying ways of coping with the bereavement. They will also help the person to realise that what they are experiencing is normal and a typical response to grief, that they are not "going mad".

Therapy can be the light in the dark. It gives you an opportunity to be heard. A time to talk, cry, shout, vent, share memories or just think aloud. It can guide you to look at your problems in a different way and bring relief by being able to communicate with a neutral party, without being interrupted. It can help you to sort out some of the confusion as a result of the death.

Whether you have lost someone due to an illness, old age, murder, an accident, miscarriage, stillbirth or suicide, having support and guidance in adapting to the changes, your thoughts, your hopes, your beliefs and your future could make the greatest improvement to your life. Our caring and compassionate Counsellors are here to help.