By Aviva Keren Barnett Existential Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Lecturer.
“Grief is something all of us have or will anticipate. It is a painful process that forces us to clarify ourselves, our values, and our relationships. It forces us to confront the fragility of life.” Carol Becker (1992).
Here I see Becker’s statement about the fragility of life being so true. I often use the analogy with clients who have experienced a loss as though it is like the security blanket you have always walked on, has been ripped away from under your feet. Many people acknowledge that to be their lived experience as well.
There is not a way to ‘grieve well’. As human beings, we grieve differently, and it was almost always dependant on the relationship we had with the deceased. It is very common to come across assumptions when it comes to grief. One assumption is that it is wrong to continue working. Some people find keeping in their normal routine very helpful and only taking off a few days. Others cannot contemplate working for a long time. It is very individual and must be respected.
Another very common assumption is that all grief is sad. Many clients have told me that they felt relief when a person who abused them died because now they can finally say it out loud, and the abuse will stop forever.
Asking a person how they feel, is more respectful than assuming you know. Counselling and psychotherapy can be very helpful for people who are anticipating a loss or have experienced bereavement. People can use therapy as a safe sounding board, where you can have the opportunity to say things that you cannot to friends or family. “I actually always felt jealous of my sister, but no one knew.’ A client told me once in therapy. She felt able to express those feelings to me but not to others.
Many people find that their religious and spiritual beliefs offer them a sense of meaning through their bereavement. “Going to church gave me a place to feel accepted and close to my mum who went to church every week, even when she was really ill.” A client shared with me. “Another client said “Being forced to stop and grieve gave me an allocated time, this is what we do now, we sit, we cry, we mourn. It was very helpful to me, not to be pre-occupied with other things; I could just be and not do anything. “Another client told me about her religious beliefs here.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross (1970) famously offered us a way of understanding the grieving process through her stages of grief. I work with many people affected by loss and am aware that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to grief. I understand Kubler Ross’s work to be looked at as a guide not a checklist as some people think. “I have gone through the denial stage now I can move onto anger” is not how it works.
Some people experience some of the stages, some people experience all of the stages and some do not experience any. Try to not have expectations of how grief ‘should’ be, as it is your unique experience. When grieving you have not only physically lost the person, it was what they represented for you that also died with them. A supportive and encouraging spouse dies; there is a lack of support as well now. Be kind and compassionate to yourself through your loss.
Becker, C. (1992) Living and Relating: An introduction to phenomenology. Sage New York
Kubler Ross, E ( 1970 ) On Death and Dying. London Tavistock.