The complicated journey of grief

Dealing with grief is overwhelming.

As you try to come to terms with your grief it can feel so hard to do. Being able to verbalise what you are feeling and experiencing can be so difficult to accomplish that many people never process their grief to that depth.

Grief is complex, overwhelming and unsettling.

The 5 stages of death belief

Back in the 70s it was thought that grief was processed in a straight line. There was a five stage process that you went through in that order. According to this theory you were supposed to experience the stages of:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Later an extra stage was added:

  1. Meaning

This was a theory formed to describe the process of dying, not the process of grief.

So much harm was done to people who weren’t grieving according to the rigid stages structure. Even today, there are those who adhere to this long defunct theory.

The effects of grief are more complex than a simple linear theory.

The tasks of grieving

There have been many theories of death proposed since then. In many of the theories it was suggested there were “tasks” to be completed during the grieving process.

One of the most popular theories gives four tasks:

  1. Accept the reality of the loss
  2. Process the pain of grief
  3. Adjust to a world without the one you lost
  4. Find an enduring connection with the person in the midst of embarking on a new life.

The tasks in themselves aren’t wrong. But a rigid adherence to them is not helpful when you are grieving.

Oscillating between grief and life

More recently the Dual Process Model has become popular. In this theory you oscillate between loss oriented mode and restoration oriented mode. This model has great validity. You need to keep living so you do have to live in the real world and there are tasks of living you still need to do. Additionally you need to learn how to live in the world without the one you love. You also need to process the loss so you need to spend time and allow yourself to experience and accept the emotional pain of your loss.

But there is more to understanding grief than oscillating from loss and restoration.

Multidimensional Grief Theory

In 2023 a paper was released describing Multidimensional Grief Theory (MGT). This theory relates to children aged 7-18 who are grieving. According to the theory there are three dimensions of grief. They are:

• Separation Distress

• Existential/identity distress

• Circumstance-related distress

Although this is aimed at children, my reading of the theory is that it can be applied to adults as well.

Separation Distress

Separation distress is not just an emotional reaction. It also involves areas of the brain where attachments to other people form. When someone close dies, there is a time of that area of the brain removing and altering neural networks connected to that person.

The big issue with separation distress is finding a way to feel connected to the person you are grieving for, even when they are gone.

Existential and Identity exploration

Every time you lose a loved one, there is a period of redefining yourself. This happens because every person you are connected to helps you define who you are. When one person dies, especially if they were very important in your life, you have to redefine who you are.

Every loss is a challenge existentially. I have found this is greater when it is the first time you have encountered the death of someone you know.

The way they died

The last dimension of grief relates to the circumstances of that person’s death. How do you think and feel about the way they died? How do you learn to accept that?

These three dimensions of grief have a major impact on how well you process grief and incorporate it into your life.

The importance of understanding what is happening to you

You may wonder why I am giving you all this information.

It is important you understand what is happening to you. When people talk about you being in denial or anger you can understand this is an outmoded theory on dying that was misapplied to grief.

If someone talks to you about tasks you must complete you can understand what they are referring to.

You are more likely to hear about the dual process model if you visit me and I will explain how you sometimes are overwhelmed by grief and other times focused on daily tasks and learning to live after your loss.

As for MGT, I am also likely to discuss with you the impact on your brain of the separation from the one you love. I will also at some stage explore the existential and identity aspects of your loss. You may also want to talk about how your loved one died so I will most likely explore your perception of that with you.

To Summarise

Grief is a complicated journey. There is a lot to process and a lot of physical changes in your brain to be completed. You need to learn how to live in the world now they are gone. You need to learn who you are. You also need to process your feelings around the manner of their death. Sometimes you will want to talk, other times cry, and maybe other times process your feelings through expressive activities such as poetry, painting, sandplay, or journalling.

This journey takes time, so don’t rush it. Be okay for it to take as long as it needs to.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief journey, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

5 things to do to help work through your grief

Frequently people come to see me because they are concerned they are not “over their grief” fast enough.

There hasn’t been a lot of research around what people believe is the time span of grief. In Britain researchers discovered that 30% of British people believed grief should last 6 months. Most people considered 2 years was as long as grief should be. And 30% of younger people believed it was possible to ‘get over’ grief. Men were three times more likely to believe grief should be brief and was something you could get over.

Research in America found that the majority of those interviewed believed grief should be over in 2 weeks!

If that is the attitude of British and American people, I imagine if Australians were to be surveyed they would come up with similar unrealistic ideas around how long grief lasts.

Unrealistic expectations make grieving harder

The difficulty with such unrealistic ideas is that if you are grieving, people can stop making allowances for your grief and instead express the attitude that you should be over your grief by now. This is very isolating.

When you are grieving, the last thing you need is to be pressured to stop grieving by others.

Grief is universal

It mightn’t seem so, but everyone is going to experience grief at some stage in their lives.

Some people are so expert at shutting down their feelings they can convince themselves, and others, that they are “over it”. But there are often signs that the grief is still there.

Poor health, high stress levels, depression, addictions, unstable emotional reactions, avoidance of memories of their loss and isolating themselves are some of the signs that grief is still there.

One thing that research shows is that allowing yourself to feel those hard feelings is the best way to move through the worst of the painful times.

Grief is …

Grief can be confusing. It can be overwhelming. It can be depressing. It can cause you to be unable to sleep, or to sleep too much. It can cause you to lose appetite or to want to eat too much. It can be cause you to lose your sense of self. It can be so many things you never expected.

One thing about grief is that you will be a different person after your experience with each grief event in your life.

How do you work through your grief?

5 things to do to help work through your grief

  1. Rituals

There are many rituals around death that are really helpful when dealing with loss. Other types of loss don’t tend to have rituals around them so you may have to devise your own. Rituals add meaning to the experience of loss. They help you to focus, acknowledge and process your grief. There are many cultures that have formal mourning periods. These are usually from one to three years.

  1. Talk.

It is really helpful to talk to someone about how you are feeling. Some people find no shortage of family and friends willing to listen and sit with them. For other people it is much harder. This is where a counsellor can help. A grief trained counsellor will be able to offer you a safe space where you can just be with your grief. No judgement. No problem solving. Just the space to express whatever you need to express.

Talking is really helpful to allow you to express what you are feeling, no matter how inane you think it is. Grief impacts every aspect of your life as you adjust everything you do to a life without the person you have lost.

  1. Journal

Journalling is another great way to express what you are feeling. For many people, the act of writing their thoughts down is really helpful. It allows them to put the cacophony of thoughts they are feeling into some sort of order that makes sense.

Often, seeing the words on the page can reveal things you weren’t aware you were feeling.

Writing down your thoughts can be a wonderful way to express to the one you have lost things you wanted to say to them.

Journalling can be a useful adjunct to counselling sessions as a counsellor can help you process things your writing has revealed.

  1. Reflect

Grief shatters your sense of self. This is very challenging when you are trying to move forward and you are feeling a great sense of loss.

Reflecting on what you have said or written can be extremely helpful. Such reflection can reveal the answers to things that have puzzled you. It can help you to understand things that have happened and make sense of your pain.

It can also be helpful for you to identify the many strengths you have. Strengths that you may have forgotten you have due to the trauma of loss.

  1. Release

Cry, scream, shout, throw pillows, walk into the bush and scream into the trees, stand at the edge of the waves and yell your hurts, fears, frustrations, anger and terrible devastation. Howl and moan until you feel there is nothing left.

Tear up what you have written. Burn it, throw it away.

All these and more are ways you can release the emotions you are feeling.

And finally:

Researchers have found that the intense feelings of grief peak at about four to six months after the loss and then gradually decline over a number of years.
When others tell you that “you should be over it by now”, remember that many cultures have formal mourning periods that last years. After a few years the pain may ease and you will become used to it and able to function in life. But it will never end. It will just get easier to live with.

Can I help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How Grief Helps With Your Loss

Did you know that you have a wonderful, highly effective tool to help you when you lose someone you deeply love?

Inbuilt.

Always available.

Requires careful handling and to be able to do its thing.

What is it?

It is Grief.

Grief is a tool that allows you to change your identity in light of your loss.

It is also a tool that allows you to get to know yourself, the Who Am I self, better. Because losing someone will change who you are and you need to know who you are in order to live.

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

Loss of someone you deeply love is disorienting, devastating, painful, confusing, life upending and self concept destroying.

How do you recover from that?

You do that through grief.

Yes, grief is distressing.

But it also motivates you to work to live. To learn how to live with the reality of the loss of the person you loved so much.

A NOTE OF CAUTION

To live after someone you love dies does not involve ending the relationship with the person.

You will most likely continue to relate to that person.

• You will remember them,

• You may allow yourself to be influenced by their interests, values and the way they loved to live their life,

• You may find your own way of being, recognising the benefits that person brought to your life.

Of course, they are no longer there so you will not be able to go places with them, or do the things together you used to do.

But you can remember the things you did together and the places you went. And you can learn new ways of being.

HOW DOES GRIEF HELP?

The pain of grief, the emotions you feel, help you to understand the things about your relationship with that person that mattered.

It helps you to understand what was important about that person.

Loss takes away your sense of who you are, because who you are was related to the person who is no longer with you.

Grief allows you to explore who you are now. It allows you to consider the things that matter to you including your values, life plans and way of living.

Grief allows you to restructure your life so that you can continue living.

NOTE: GRIEF IS NOT EASY

The pain of losing someone you love will always be hard and hurt.

Grief is not easy. But then change never is.

Learning to live without the person you love is change.

Living is something you are going to continue to do.

Learning how to do that is Grief’s gift to allow you to explore how to live.

GRIEF IS A JOURNEY BEST WALKED WITH OTHERS

Remember this journey is not one you will do on your own.

You may have family and friends who will support you.

You may also wish to get more specialised help from a Grief Counsellor.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The Paradoxical Purpose of Grief

Having encountered a lot of grief throughout my life, personally and professionally, I have had ample opportunity to explore the philosophy of grief.

Grief is hard. It is stressful. It involves often months at least of emotions that are turbulent and disruptive. There is a lot of sadness and misery. There are also negative feelings such as anxiety, anger, even guilt. These are all well recognised as being present in grief.

HERE IS A CHALLENGE.

As part of my exploration of grief, I have read a lot of articles looking at grief philosophically.

From a philosophical perspective an exploration of grief and its purpose is not about looking at losing someone/thing we love but looking at how we perceive the grief we feel as a result of this.

Grief is horrible. It is devastating. It is intense. It is also stressful.

The tumultuous emotions of grief include sadness, sorrow, fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger and so on.

Here is the difficulty.

DEATH IS INEVITABLE.

You are unlikely to get through life without losing someone you love.

Grief is the inevitable result of the death of someone you love. You grieve because you love and that loved one has died.

Grief is not bad. It is inevitable.

What would your life be like if you didn’t grieve?

What if someone you loved died and you didn’t feel anything?

Isn’t that worse?

We live in a society that is uncomfortable with other people’s emotions. Talking to a grieving friend and having them cry is something most people find hard to handle.

On the one hand you feel at a loss to know what to do to help them. On the other hand you feel uncomfortable. You feel uncomfortable at your friend’s emotions, which you may not usually see. You feel uncomfortable at their pain. It is natural to want to alleviate their pain.

What usually happens is that the response to another person’s grief is to shut them down. To shame them into hiding their grief. You may tell them their loved one is in a better place. You may avoid any discussion of their loved one. You may make their loved one’s name taboo. You may tell them they should be over the grief by now.

Of course, these approaches do not help.

THE PARADOX OF GRIEF

The result is what I have often heard referred to as the paradox of grief. The paradox is the result of two conflicting facts around death:

• Grief feels bad so you should avoid it.

• Grief has a purpose and a value so you need to allow it and be grateful that you can grieve.

Being grateful for grief? How can you be grateful at your loss?

After all you grieve the deaths of the people whose presence in your life have been extremely important. Whose absence will cause you great pain. The loss of someone you built your life around. The loss of someone whose presence in your life gives you identity and fills you with a sense of great value in your life. The loss of someone whose value as part of your past and your projected future is infinite.

13 THINGS TO BE GRATEFUL TO GRIEF FOR.

• It allows you to honour the person who died.

Yes it hurts to feel grief. But if you love someone that much would you want it any other way? Would you want to just get up and get on with life without shedding a tear, or feeling sadness at their loss?

The emotions of grief such as sadness are inevitable. We have lost someone important. Feeling sad is important to honour that.

Likewise sorrow is important in honouring the one you have lost.

• It allows you to rebuild your lost identity.

Losing someone that important in your life also causes a loss of the identity you built around that relationship. So losing that person causes you to lose your identity, to lose part of yourself.

If you don’t grieve, how do you rebuild your identity? What push is there to cause you to seek and build a new identity? Grief supplies that push. Nothing else will.

• It allows you to identify what you have lost.

Sadness and sorrow give you important messages. They allow you to know what you have lost. That may not seem important but they are. It is part of understanding the place that person had in your life.

• It allows you to identify what you want to commemorate in that person.

Part of understanding the place a person had in your life is understanding the things you loved about them. Maybe they are things you admired and would love to emulate. Maybe they are about things they were passionate about. These might inform ways of commemorating them. Maybe that person was the reason you chose a particular path in life.

• It allows you to put your relationship to that person into perspective

Another part of understanding is being able to understand the things you didn’t like about them. Those are important to. They make your loved one human. They help to put them into perspective.

• It allows you to identify important values and ways to rebuild your life,

Fear and anxiety are useful to help us identity the things we value that we may lose. They highlight the areas of life that need to be reimagined.

• It allows you to identify what you need to resolve.

Guilt and shame highlight the unresolved issues that existed in that relationship or occurred around the time of death. They help identify what we need to resolve.

• It allows you to identify unresolved issues in the relationship or around the death.

Anger highlights the hurts and frustrations around that death. It helps you to explore the things that can trap you in your anger.

• It allows you to find a purpose in life.

Anger can also help you to find a new purpose and meaning in life. For example: if your loved one was killed by a driver who was speeding you may find new purpose in your life campaigning against speeding drivers.

• It allows you to understand your loss.

Without the pain of grief it would be virtually impossible to understand your loss.

• It motivates you to process your loss.

Without the pain your would less likely to strive to process what you have lost. You would not struggle to work out how you can continue living in light of that loss.

• It allows you to form a new relationship with the one you have lost.

Without the pain you find it extremely difficult to continue a relationship with the one you have loved.

• It allows you to find a way to live in the future

Without the pain you would find it hard to know how you want to live your life in the future. Grief helps you to understand your values around your loved one’s memory and allow you to make choices going forward. These choices start with decisions around which of their belongings to part with and which to keep, even where to live.

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T AVOID GRIEF

Grief is devastating and horrifically painful. You will wish it could end and things could go back to the way they were. But your life will never be the same again. You will not return to the person you once were. Your life will always be tinged with the trace of sadness at who is physically missing from your life.

Despite this, life is possible. You can go on. You can find a way to live. You can be happy.

This terrible tangle of emotions contained in grief help you to recognise the things you value in your life. This allows you to rework your identity moving forward in life.

As a result of your grief you will develop a clearer understanding of who you are. It will give you the tools to live your life without your loved one.

Grief gives you the power that allows you to adapt to your loss.

SUPPORT IS OKAY TO SEEK

As you move through grief you sometimes you the support of a counsellor to help you with that process. You need someone who understands grief, does not pathologise it, and will listen.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz