Exploring The Impact of Loss
Updated: May 17, 2020
Grief/ bereavement/death/loss are taboo. Grief is always there and shifts and changes over time. Grief is complicated as it is a process that cannot be rushed and comes in many forms such as hitting a milestone age, job change or moving. First emotion in dealing with a loss is shock, disbelief, denial, numbness and/or carrying on as usual. This phase can last for a few years or less. This numbing or shock phase is essential in terms of self-protection during this time it can be valuable to tie up loose ends. Death of a loved one can unfortunately leave admin for those left behind to sort.
Family dynamics that were not great may seem to deteriorate even further as death gives space for grievances to come to the surface. Funerals are potential areas for conflict as family members want different things in order to honour the deceased. Discussions around funeral rites, culture, burial or cremation can be hard work if the deceased has not made this clear. The impact of the death can leave emotional unfinished business, “shoulda, woulda, coulda”, feelings of regret and guilt are paralysing and seem stuck on a loop.
Factors to consider in processing grief are:
· What was the quality of the relationship with the deceased was it loving or conflicted?
· How did they die? Sudden? Traumatic? Unexpected?
· Did you get a chance to have an ending and say goodbye?
The body and mind are inextricably connected. Physical symptoms in expressing grief such as feeling empty, lack of appetite or skin flare ups to name a few. Nightmares or repetitive intrusive thoughts about the deceased are unconscious expressions of grief. In therapy, time is taken to reflect and explore difficult episodes. Grief is an emotional hurricane that arrives at every individual’s doorstep.
Common misconceptions around grief are believing it is in several stages or a linear process. I draw a zig-zag line for clients as one day can be good day then suddenly a song, smell or anniversary can leave them feeling like they are back at square 1. I offer a safe space to explore uncomfortable feelings like anger, envy towards the person for “leaving.” Part of the work is around creating permission and that all feelings are a valid response to grief. Anger can be expressed physically and verbally in a safe way. Often there can be pressure to “ I should feel better by now” and this can be an emotional mismatch to the relationship with the person who has passed.
Grief is painful, it demands your attention. In therapy, various strategies are experimented with in order to self-soothe and one question to ask is “where do you find comfort?” It is hard to sit in grief and time is needed to honour our connection with that person. For some families it maybe cooking the deceased’s favourite food, visiting a grave or to not mark it at all. Remembering to pause, reflect and accept whatever feeling is coming up. We are complicated human beings and trying to rationalise may work temporarily, acknowledging our vulnerability can paradoxically give us the strength to continue.
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