In the aftermath of a significant loss, there is so much going on - powerful emotions, reuniting with loved ones, funeral arrangements, paperwork and such – that you may not even think about bereavement counselling.
However as the days become weeks, and the weeks become months, life slowly returns to a semblance of normality.
Family members return to their hometowns; you go back to work or study; meanwhile the flood of cards, flowers and casseroles becomes a trickle, before drying up completely.
Grief however doesn’t tend to dry up as quickly, nor is it predictable. Around the time the support of others stops, is probably when you need it the most!
This is when bereavement counselling may be of benefit.
The 5 Stages of Grief
You’ve probably heard about the “stages of grief” as put forward by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying”. These stages are:
Denial – You may feel numb with shock, and have thoughts such as: “This can’t be real, I keep expecting them to walk through the door”. Or you may deny your own feelings, “I shouldn’t be sad, they’re not suffering and in pain anymore”. Shock may cause you to run on auto-pilot.
Anger – You may find yourself growing angry at your loved one for leaving you, or at those you believe are responsible, or even at complete strangers eg somebody cutting you off in traffic.
Bargaining – This is where thoughts about “What if” and “If only” come into the picture, as you struggle to find meaning in your bereavement. “If only I’d taken him to the doctor earlier”; “What if we’d left home five minutes earlier on our trip …”, or “Maybe if I devote my life to helping others, this will all just be a dream”.
Depression – A grey mist seems to envelop you; you have difficulty concentrating, and it feels like there is nothing to look forward to. “I’m just not interested in eating / hobbies / socialising anymore.”
Acceptance – You begin to explore new opportunities and connections, despite the ache in your heart. “I miss them and I always will, but this is life now; it’s not like it was before” or “The worst has happened, but I’m going to be okay”.
The important thing to remember is that the pathway through these stages is not a straight forward one. You may find yourself looping back to places you thought you’d already finished with.
You may be getting along just fine, and think you are over the worst of it – and then something will trigger an avalanche of emotions all over again. It might be getting stuck behind a hearse in traffic; or seeing somebody on the street that looks like your loved one – but of course it isn’t, and never will be again.
You may feel guilty about finding enjoyment in life again following your loss, as if you are betraying the memory of your loved one.
Occasions such as anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas can be a challenge – and not just the first ones after your bereavement.
Or perhaps you are burdened by some unfinished business with your loved one.
All of this is perfectly natural, but it can really help to be able to talk to a psychologist with experience in bereavement counselling.
Not only can a psychologist help you with strategies and support you through the grief process, you will be able to express yourself more freely than if you are speaking with somebody who is also dealing with the same loss.
Don’t Wait for Bereavement Counselling
If however any of the following apply to you, it is important that you get help immediately:
Have others expressed concern about how you are coping with your loss?
Have you had suicidal thoughts since the death of your loved one?
Have you been unable to stop crying?
Have you thought about harming yourself or others?
You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Lifeline Australia 24 hour phone counselling: 13 11 14
The experience of grief and loss is different for everyone, so it’s important to allow yourself to adjust in your own time. However if you do feel you would benefit from a little help along the way, you can make an appointment for bereavement counselling with a Gold Coast psychologist at Guidelight Psychology, Southport, on (07) 5527 0123.