After the loss of a loved one you may experience some or all of these common responses to grief.
- A feeling of tightness in the throat or heaviness in the
- An empty feeling in the stomach and possibly a loss of
- Aimless wondering, forgetfulness, and inability to finish
things you may have started around the house.
- Restlessness or a need for activity.
- An inability to concentrate on anything, or being easily
- A need to retell and remember things about your loved one
and the experience of their death.
- A feeling that your loss is not real, that your loved one
could not have actually died.
- A tendency to assume the mannerisms or traits of your loved
- A sense of your loved one’s presence. You may find yourself
expecting the person to walk in the door at the usual time, think you hear
their voice or see them in a crowd.
- A need to take care of other people who seem uncomfortable
around you by politely not talking about your feelings of loss.
- An intense preoccupation with the life of the deceased.
- Crying at unexpected times.
- Intense anger at your loved one for leaving you.
- Feeling that you are going crazy.
- Difficulty sleeping. Frequent dreams about your loved one.
- The feeling life has no meaning without your loved one.
These are all natural and normal grief responses, but they
often make us feel not ourselves. It is important for you to find
someone who will listen to you and make an effort to understand. Grief
counseling can help you work through and express your grieving in a safe and supportive environment.
Grief Therapy is a charming little book from the line of "elf help" publications with illustrations by R.W. Alley.written by Karen
Katafiasz. There are
35 thoughts to ponder which move one through the grieving process and each has an accompanying illustration featuring the Abbey Press Elves. I've found this book to be a very useful tool
for facilitating the grief process in my work with clients.
Grief Therapy emphasizes there's no way out of grief, only
through grief. By letting ourselves
experience grief we can move beyond it.
Beyond not meaning going back to the old way of what was once normal or
denial of our hurt, but beyond to fully integrating loss into our
life, to richer understanding, renewed
purpose, deeper spirituality and rebirth.
Moving through and beyond grief is what we hope to experience by
engaging in grief counseling.
I’d like to share with you some of the concepts from the
book and my thoughts related to the segments quoted in hopes you’ll find it
helpful and healing.
Respect the power of
grief know that it can affect you psychologically, physically, and spiritually
in intense and sometimes surprising ways.
Stay gentle with yourself.
If this is your first significant loss or it's been awhile since you've experienced a significant loss you may be surprised by the level of intense feeling and emotion that are coming up, and the affect they have on your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. It is important to take care of yourself to
the best of your ability. Get plenty of
rest, eat nourishing foods and drink
plenty of water.
Nurture your spirit by
finding comfort from family and friends, attending spiritual services, engaging
in meditation and prayer, reading or listening to spiritually
oriented books, and listening to your inner guidance. These things help us get in touch with the
source of divine love and comfort within us.
Cry. Your tears testify to your love. And tears that spring from love help bring
healing and renewal. Let your tears
express the harsh reality of your loss.
And let them begin to wash away the sadness and pain.
Crying is the natural way for the body to release sadness
and pain. In our culture we are taught
to have a stiff upper lip and control our emotions to the point of denial. Repressing our grief is unhealthy and can
lead to illness and despair. Allowing
the feelings of sadness to emerge and flow freely helps us process those
feelings and brings relief.
In some religious and spiritual traditions it is customary to hold rituals of mourning in which wailing is part of the shared experience of expressing one's
sorrow. In this way the mourners support
each other and acknowledge the power of their emotions and loss. This facilitates moving toward healing and
Be with those who are
also grieving. As you tell your stories,
you will share an understanding of the heart that is deeper than words.
It can be very therapeutic to attend a bereavement support group while you're going through the grieving process. There you will have a place to talk about
your loss and have the support of others who are going through the same
thing. You will find an atmosphere of
love, acceptance, and a consistent place to share your thoughts, feelings, and
experiences through this very difficult time in your life. You will also find inspiration and hope by
hearing from others who are further along on their grieving journey.
Sometimes your grief
can be so overwhelming because it encompasses the grieving you never did for
other, earlier losses in your life. Let
yourself feel the pain of these losses too.
Grief counseling can help you deal with overwhelming
feelings that have been repressed or forgotten from former losses. If you did not process these former losses
adequately these old feelings will be triggered and emerge along with your
current grief. A skilled professional
can help you manage overwhelm and do the work of processing the old with the
new so you can finally release the pain that has long been waiting to be heard
It may seem as if you'll never truly feel happy again. But be assured that you will—and your joy will
have richness and a depth that come from your having known profound pain and
profound healing. Your grieving is among the most sacred and the most human
things you will ever do. It will plummet you into the mystery of life…and
death… and resurrection. Honor it.
Unfortunately, loss is an inevitable part of life, we all must grieve the loss of something or someone at some point. This is a painful reality we face but we can get through it and come out with a deeper sense of the spiritual connection we have with each other and a renewed sense of meaning in life.
It may be hard to imagine now and it will take some time to
come to this place in your healing journey but I wanted to leave you with a sense of hope that what you are going through will
get better and there is some light that will emerge out of the darkness of your
All quotes by Karen
Katafiasz from the book Grief Therapy, 2004, Abbey Press
Holidays can create feelings of dread and anxiety for those who are bereaved. The clichéd images of family togetherness and the often unrealistic expectations of a season filled with picture perfect joyful gatherings can cause tremendous stress for those who are not grieving let alone those in the midst of the painful isolating experience of loss. How does one celebrate the holidays when a loved one is sorely missed? Creating new rituals and new traditions that pay tribute to the memory of the deceased is one way to survive, and perhaps even embrace the holidays when a loved one has died. Here are some suggestions on what you can do.
Decorate a wreath with pictures and items that were loved by the person who died and place the wreath at his or her grave.
Wrap a favorite keepsake of the deceased or a framed picture of your loved one, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
Tell the stories behind the ornaments on the Christmas tree and the role your loved one played in making those memories. Create a special ornament labeled with the name of the deceased and hang it on the tree.
Decorate a candle and light it at meal time in memory of your loved one. If you celebrate Chanukah recall a memory of the deceased on each of the eight nights that you light the Menorah.
Make a book of pictures and memorabilia about the deceased to give or simply to share with one another. This is a good activity for children as well.
Purchase a holiday book, perhaps a favorite of the deceased and donate it to your local library or school. Ask your librarian to place a label in the front cover inscribed, “In memory of (your loved one name).”
Bring your loved one’s favorite food to share at a holiday dinner. Mention their name in the blessing over the food or propose a toast in their memory.
Share anecdotes and favorite stories about the person who died. Sometimes others need permission to talk about the deceased. Let them know you would rather keep the memory of your loved one alive than pretend nothing has changed.
Encourage grieving children to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the deceased to give to other family members.
Decorate and hang a cut out star in your home with your hopes and dreams for the future. Thinking about tomorrow is part of your healing.
Then once you’ve remembered your loved one make sure you remember yourself. Take care of yourself. Be gentle. Do what you can do, no more and no less.
If it’s too hard to be in the same place where you spent holidays together with your loved one, opt for a change of scene and go somewhere new. If you can’t afford a vacation go to a restaurant or a friend or family member’s home that doesn’t have painful associations with previous holidays.
Although you can’t erase thoughts and memories of the deceased it may help to create a new holiday experience.
One night when I was ten years old I was lying in bed unable to sleep. I felt an uneasy sense that something was wrong. I heard a knock at the door and a moment later the sound of my mother cry "oh my God!" I knew it was very bad and was afraid to come out of my room. The next morning my mother came in and said "Timmy (my brother) has gone to Heaven." He and his girlfriend Debbie had been killed in a car accident. I felt numb and in shock. How could this be, he was only sixteen years old and in good health? Young people aren't supposed to die! It didn't seem right or fair.
This was my first experience with death and it woke me up to the reality that death could come anytime to anyone. I lost my closest brother and our family was never the same. My parents were traumatized and I watched as they struggled over what they should have done differently that tragic night, as they sat by his gravesite and cried, as they grieved the loss of their son. From that time on there would always be an empty chair where he sat at the dinner table, and his handsome form missing in our family photographs.
When we lose a loved one whether a spouse, child, relative, friend, or pet we go through an experience of emotional turmoil and depending on the circumstances of the death can take years to recover. The death of a loved one is a very difficult experience and it helps to have a person who can help you through the pain.
My approach to grief and loss counseling is to provide a safe and comfortable place for expressing the many feelings, thoughts, and emotions that come up after the death of a loved one. In grief counseling we talk about your loved one, your relationship with him/her, the circumstances of their death, and how to go on and live a happy and meaningful life.