Grief can affect you when you’ve suffered a loss of any kind. If someone close to you dies, you may go through bereavement, a type of grief that can bring up devastating and powerful emotions.

Dealing with this type of grief can be confusing because the process isn’t always linear and there’s no exact timeline to follow. You might feel as though you can function one day only to feel like your world is crashing around you the next. Bereavement counseling can help you get through this tough time.

The Process of Grief

Grief takes many forms. It involves more than sadness. Our clients are often shocked at their own strong feelings of anger after a loved one dies. Other clients express feeling shame because they experience a huge sense of relief after a death, especially if the loved one had a long term chronic illness. Still other clients truly feel lost when their spouse dies because that spouse was primarily responsible for running the household, paying the bills, etc and suddenly our client feels lost and alone.

The 5 Stages of Grief

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who pioneered near-death and end of life research and was the first to develop her theory on the Five stages of grief, also known as the “Kübler-Ross model.” In 1969, she wrote the international best-selling book titled, “On Death and Dying” where she described in-depth details on her interviews with terminally ill patients and pushed for the dying to be treated with dignity.

The five stages of grief include:

• Denial – Attempting to convince yourself that the loss didn’t happen
• Anger – Feeling outraged at the situation
• Bargaining – Looking for a way out of your pain
Depression – Deep sadness that comes from realizing the loss
• Acceptance – Recognizing your “new normal” and moving forward

These stages may occur in a linear format. However, some people feel they move through all five stages in one day, repeating the pattern for days, weeks, months or years.

Some of the symptoms of grief that people commonly experience include:

• Shock
• Numbness
• Guilt
• Shame
• Regret
Anxiety
• Fatigue
• Nausea
• Weight changes
• Dizziness
• Insomnia

If you feel like you’re trapped in a cycle of grief, bereavement counseling can help you cope.

How Can Bereavement Counseling Help?

Bereavement counseling can help you understand the intense emotions that you’re going through. Your strong feelings affect every aspect of your life. Learning to get in touch with them, manage them and move through them allows you to continue to live a fulfilling life despite the loss.

Some people worry that grief bereavement counseling will make them forget their loved one. Bereavement counseling won’t cause you to skirt the pain or lose your memories of the deceased person. Instead, it allows you to find meaning in the stages of grief so that you can heal.

Some of the benefits of bereavement counseling include:

• Reducing the risk of developing long-term depression
• Accepting the loss
• Helping you feel connected with your emotions
• Identifying and coping with trauma
• Overcoming guilt

A bereavement counselor can also give you a chance to talk about your loved one. It’s difficult to manage grief if you’re surrounded by other people who are going through the same thing. You may feel as though you’re walking on eggshells around your friends and family because you don’t want to bring up a difficult and painful subject. The reality is that friends and family are not always the best equipped or trained to deal with the pain.

However, talking about the relationship that you had with the person who passed away is healing. Being able to express yourself to an objective counselor can help you move through the emotions that you’re having instead of stuffing them down.

Bereavement Counseling Techniques

Every therapist is different and may customize the bereavement counseling techniques that they use to your needs. However, many mental health professionals will use similar approaches to helping their clients.

One of the first steps is processing the story of the loss. The counselor may ask you to recount the story so that you can bring awareness to your feelings about what happened.

Your bond with your loved one is important. That’s one reason that processing a death is so difficult.

Humans are hard-wired for connection. When we lose our attachment to someone, we can feel disoriented and distraught. Many of our clients have been married for 30, 40 or over 50 years, so death of a spouse is often referred to by them like, “it’s as if I’ve lost an appendage.” Talking about that bond can help clients realize that they don’t have to wipe the connection out of their mind. A bereavement counselor can help you come up with ways to celebrate your loved one, and hold them in your heart while you work to create a “new normal.”

A therapist can also help you differentiate trauma from grief. If you’re reeling from the trauma of seeing your loved one pass away or learning of their death, you might have a hard time working through the stages of grief. Your counselor will help you cope with the trauma so that you can access your emotions.

Some counselors will recommend rituals to help you keep the bond with your loved one alive and allow you to function in your daily life. These rituals might involve cleaning out your loved one’s home or writing them a letter.

A mental health professional will also help you organize your daily tasks so that you can prioritize and make decisions that are based on your needs for self-care and healing. You may set goals together and set up routines that encourage you to thrive even though you’re dealing with this loss. You’ll learn to adjust to life without the deceased person while keeping your bond strong.

It’s understandable that someone might feel lost when a friend, spouse, partner or family member passes away. Many older adults have to experience life alone for the first time when their significant other passes on. There are many fears that come up during the grieving process. Working with a professional counselor who specializes in bereavement can help you get through this difficult time.

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