Saturday, 4 June 2011
Coping with Bereavement
I thought I’d write this blog article from a very personal perspective. Having recently lost my father, I understand about grief and bereavement only too well. He and I were very close and I miss him very much. Nonetheless, I have not yet fully dealt with his loss. I know that some of the feelings that I have around his passing have yet to surface. This is quite normal. The grieving process takes time and if there are other things going on in our life it can be stalled (perhaps partly as a defence mechanism).
A friend of mine told me recently that when his father died he let out little emotion until six months after his death when he heard a song that he associated with him in a shop. He broke down and sobbed almost continuously for the next three days. I have certainly let out some emotion, but I know that there is more to come. It cannot be forced. It happens when you are ready for it.
The same is true for other sorts of loss – divorce, the loss of a job, a friendship, good health or a relationship, for instance. Depending on circumstances, these can all be as painful as a death, but the deep feelings may take time to sink in, especially if you are the sort who finds it difficult to deal with your feelings openly to start with. Feelings need to be expressed or they are repressed and surface in all sorts of unhealthy ways – avoidant behaviour, anger, snappiness with others etc.
I have a picture of my father on my desk at home. I have dealt with much of the grief but have not ended the process yet. I am being gentle with myself as it unfolds.
As counsellors if we are to deal with the emotions of our clients, we need to be in touch with our own and not block, avoid or deny them. To do so would make us poor counsellors. I am currently discussing my feelings and issues around the death of my father with a trusted colleague and have found it both unburdening and enlightening. I am used to dealing with people who have suffered loss or bereavement and would be happy to work with you should you wish to book a session with me. As a person-centred counsellor, I am trained to be empathic and supportive, and with my existential leanings, I know that loss is an ever present issue in our lives (days, people and things come and go through our lives as a constant, and this is sometimes painful and hard to deal with).
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified 5 Stages of Grief. She developed ideas which are of great and compassionate help with those who suffer the emotional suffering brought on by loss, death and trauma. The five stages are all relative and all interchangeable. They are all perfectly normal and human. They can come in any order over different lengths of time and in different strengths, and some may be revisited. The stages are: denial (refusing to accept that the loss has happened – this is a useful and natural defence mechanism, but ultimately it is a stage that needs to be moved though for healing to take place), anger (this can be directed at life, God, oneself for not doing better, or the lost person or thing), bargaining (perhaps with God or a boss – “if you give me back this lost thing, I will....”), depression (a great outpouring of sadness which is often a beginning of accepting what has happened), acceptance (when some objectivity about carrying on and moving forward happens – and often a dying person will reach this stage long before those they leave behind).
All of these stages are not easy for any of us, and, to say the least, I have not found it easy to write this blog...but is all an inevitable part of life.
Often one part of the process is very hard and another quite easy. It depends on the individual. For me, the stage I find the least difficult is denial. I am not an avoidant or denying person and prefer to at least start to face and deal with things. One way I have found of expressing my feeling is by writing poetry. You may have other ways – art, an angry outburst, tears, religious faith, walking in nature, or perhaps something less healthy like drinking too much alcohol over a long period. Counselling is also a very good way of moving through the process.
With my father, there was so much that was never done or said that we both intended to work through, though he himself was partly in denial about this right to the end. I was quite frustrated by that as well as greatly upset. The following poem is one of many I wrote after his death, expressing the anger stage more than any other – this is a stage that many find difficult as they may think that their anger is unreasonable - but it is normal and to be expected. Since anger is a strong emotion, it is great fuel for poetry and helped me reach some of the peace I have now.
The end is always hard,
grief crawls an inch then jumps a yard.
There is no thing that can assuage
a falling leaf, a turning page.
Life took your legs, your voice;
our legs, my voice,
and now gives me words
that go nowhere
and that I do not want.
We deal with things in our own way,
this truth is old and new each day...
That life rolls on with no regard.
The end is always hard.
David Seddon 2011
David is a fully qualified and BACP registered Person Centred Counsellor. You can book a session with him by ringing 07578 100256 or emailing him at David@eastcheshirecounselling.com