A counsellors experience of grief and loss
Updated: May 25
Unfortunately, I have known many losses in my life. I have experienced the death of close family members (grandad, nanna, mum, brother), the death of friends (I have lost 7 close friends since 2011, including one to suicide),the break-up of relationships/friendships, redundancy, children leaving home, divorce and many more. Throughout the years I have discovered that when we experience a loss it can throw our lives completely out of balance and create total havoc. For me the grief over my losses became preoccupying and depleting and it was a mixture of raw feelings such as sorrow, anguish, anger, fear and also physical symptoms such as exhaustion, emptiness, tension, sleeplessness, etc.
Grieving without support
I was ten when I experienced my first major loss (grandad died, and dad left home) and remember being in total shock and disbelief about the bomb that had gone off in my life. Although I knew that I was hurting I felt as though I could not share the burden of my feelings as my friends were to young to understand, my parents were dealing with their own emotions and schools at the time didn’t offer support. My grief was therefore not acknowledged, addressed or worked with and my devastation turned to anger and resentment. However, the loss receded and shifted to a hidden section of the brain, but it continued to influence me and the choices I made in life. I was acutely aware of the void left in my life and spent most of my teenage years and early adult life trying to fill the void of loss.
Grieving with support
I was an adult (38) when my mum died and although I gave her ‘permission’ to go, following her hard-fought battle with cancer, I still felt like I had when I was a child, and that was abandoned. I not only lived each day in grief, but lived each day thinking about grief. I was “on the rocks” and felt with intensity the pain and physical symptoms of grief. I could still hear her voice and sense her touch and at any given moment the grief could turn me into a whimpering child. I was totally devastated that my mum had gone! However, this time around I sought help and with the support of professionals I worked through the stages of grief and I was able to love again. I will never find a substitute for my mother, but I have finally accepted the reality of her absence.
I believe that for many of us it is the fear of loss, and the grief implicit in loss, that prevents us from fully living our lives. It takes courage to grieve and having the courage to grieve leads to having the courage to live, to love, to risk, and to enjoy all the fruits of life without fear or inhibition. What I have also learnt is that bereavement effects the mourner for the rest of his or her life, people are changed by the experience; they do not get over it they just learn to accept it. I have managed to move beyond the pain of losing my mum, but this should never be taken as a sign that I have forgotten her or that my grief has ended. I still hold my mother in my memory, I weave her into conversations with others, I keep a picture of her by my bed and I talk to her when I need advice. I function nicely in life but through a continued bond my mum is still a part of my life.
I will continue to miss all the people in my life that I have lost. My mourning never ends, it just erupts less frequently and for shorter periods of time.
Can counselling help?
My personal and professional experiences have taught me that during loss there are experiences that most people go through, namely numbness, shock, denial, anger, yearning, depression and acceptance. Bereaved people need to engage with their loss and some enter into counselling because their social network is no longer interested in discussing the deceased anymore, or because they cannot talk about the deceased, or because they want to look at themselves, at their whole life to question what it’s all about. I think that if I had been offered support as a child, with someone to listen to me and acknowledge my feelings my life could have followed a different path and I would have not built my defensive wall so high, or stayed in some dysfunctional relationships like I did. I believe that loss is one of the most difficult human experiences that faces us and that the ability to manage the experience of loss depends on the
individual and the nature of the support available to them.
How can I help?
My role as a therapist is to offer my clients the space to behave in any way they need in order to make sense of their loss. I allow a person to be themselves, hostile and demanding without judgement. I allow a relief of the burden, a place to ventilate some of the rage felt as I know how important having this space is. By listening to my clients, I hear them describe the world they once knew and the world they now find themselves in. Every bereaved person is unique, so there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is no time limit on how long grieving should last, each person has to find their own way of coping with the loss.
My hope is that I can help my clients share the pain of their loss so we can work together to identify what they need to move forward.
If you, or any one you know, is suffering with bereavement or loss, please feel free to contact me.
With thanks to and Clive. S Lewis (1961) and Judy Tatlebaum (1997) who shared their own grief journeys and whose thoughts on grief resonated with me.