The Counselling Centre was founded to provide bereavement support. It now offers a full counselling service for adults and a specialist bereavement support service for children and young people.
Following National Grief Awareness Week, it seemed apt to consider why support following a bereavement can be important, and how The Counselling Centre can help.
Experiences of grief
Bereavement, when someone dies, is a universal experience. We’ll all have to face it at some point, and for some of us, many times over.
Grief is a natural response to loss. Humans are attachment-seeking, relationship-forming beings. When we lose people with whom we’ve had a relationship of any nature, close, or more distant, it can have a profound effect on our experience of the world for a time. It is entirely normal to be met with feelings of grief, as well as other attendant feelings including sadness, anger, bewilderment, even relief.
Bereavement can be a painfully disconnecting experience. Often we find ourselves navigating it alone. We may feel we have to hide our sorrow for fear of overwhelming others or bringing them down, or feel shame for going over the same thing again and again. We may worry about not ‘moving on’ quickly enough. We may hold ideas about being ‘stoic’ or appearing strong on the outside, when really, on the inside, the absence of the person we’ve lost feels all-consuming or debilitating.
Grief can be complex to manage, especially if we’ve experienced other painful losses in the past, or have experienced trauma or mental health difficulties, or are managing alone or supporting grieving dependents as we ourselves are trying to cope..
It may be that our relationship with the person who has died was difficult, leaving us with confusion about what it is we really feel, and why.
The particular circumstances of a loss can greatly influence how we feel. Sudden or untimely death, suicide, murder, manslaughter, accidental death, miscarriage or prolonged experiences of loss due to illness can all cause a layering of feelings that may need help to process.
The impact of Covid-19
We must also hold in mind the impact of the pandemic on our bereavement experiences.
Many have lost loved ones recently either to Covid-19 or in other circumstances, without being able to be present during their care or final hours. Our traditional mourning rituals, such as funerals, wakes and visiting, have been significantly disrupted. We have not been able to come together in our communities to collectively mourn in the way we might expect.
This is important because the rituals associated with death within our own cultures, enable us to gain some support from others, connect to our loss, say goodbye, and mark the passing of the person from the world of the living into whatever we believe comes next. Not being able to take part can feel like a loss in itself, and can impact how we go on to manage our grief.
The process of grieving
Grieving is a mostly internal process, connected to our emotions. It is different from mourning, which is how we engage with our loss through behaviour – crying, praying, wearing certain colours, attending funerals and so on.
Grieving is an undefined, non-linear, process. It may feel very different from person to person. Some experience feelings of emptiness, detachment or confusion, others will feel a variety of intense or conflicting emotions. It can feel relatively brief for some, whilst others experience acute feelings for a considerable length of time. We can experience guilt or shame if we recover too soon or not soon enough. It may also feel like the goal of grieving is to ‘get over’ our loss. After all, we often hear ideas about ‘closure’ and ‘moving on’. But is that really possible?
Perhaps instead, we can think about integrating our loss – that is, to get to a point where it no longer aches in the way it once did, where we can experience the joys and highs of life in all their brilliance again, and not feel guilty for doing so. We may hope to move towards a time when the loss has become part of our life story, in a way that no longer overwhelms us.
Talking about grief and loss
This process of integration can be helped by talking. In her book, “Before and After Loss”, Lisa M Shulman describes the importance of balancing time between distracting ourselves from the painful feelings of grief, and immersing ourselves in them, in order that they may be experienced, thought about and processed in a way that prevents them from becoming stuck.
Counselling can provide a safe and reliable space in which to ‘immerse’ ourselves in our grief, in a way that feels contained and manageable. The predictable structure of meeting once a week for a set amount of time can prevent us from feeling overwhelmed, and we may talk openly without having to worry about anyone else.
In cases where a death has been complex, traumatic or sudden, thoughts, feelings and memories may need to be disentangled to make sense of what the loss really means. Counselling creates an empathic space to do that, at a pace that feels right.
Differences between child and adult grief
At The Counselling Centre, we understand that bereavement and grief can be experienced very differently by children and young people. But we are in no doubt that bereavement can have a profound effect on children and young people. We are passionate about providing support to help them understand their feelings and experiences in ways that are helpful and appropriate for their age.
Parents, too, can face the added challenge of experiencing their own grief at the same time as having to support their children. Having a dedicated space to think about this and feel supported can be enormously helpful.
Our specialist bereavement support provides expert help to children, young people and parents who have experienced loss, and can help guide families through the most difficult of times.
To enquire about our bereavement support service, click here
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