Loss and Grief
Who Says It’s Not the End of the World? Coping with Loss and Grief
The death of a loved one can feel like the end of the world. Indeed, in many ways it is, at least the end of the world as you knew it. During the mourning process, people close to the bereaved (whose intentions are good but whose execution is often imperfect) may urge them to carry on with life and move on. The mourner often experiences this attempt to speed up the process as unbearable, and it ends up intensifying the distress.
People might implore the bereaved person to go out, smile, and not give in to the pain – even though sometimes, giving in to grief feels like connecting with the departed loved one. Often the mourner will be urged to live a full life because “that’s what they (the deceased) would have wanted”. But wanting is not enough: the tearful eyes and the pit in the stomach don’t go away, it feels hard to breathe, and time stands still for the mourner while the world around carries on as normal.
Through grief counseling and grief psychotherapy, I provide an empathetic, accepting, and non-judgmental space where any kind of emotion can be expressed exactly as it is experienced – without fear that the listener will not understand, will get angry, or will try to speed up the mourning process and expect the mourner to go back to normal. I let my patients know that I am with them in this difficult time and explain why so many people are unable to empathize and to be with them in this sad place.
My extensive experience in these processes, which are very close to my heart, means that I am prepared to deal with the ups and downs – because the stumbles are an integral part of the journey. I deeply understand the reasons behind the powerful emotional upheaval that comes with the loss of a loved one, and the wide range of emotions that it brings in its wake: grief and deep sadness, loss of control, guilt, loneliness, confusion, emptiness, meaninglessness, anger, and anxiety.
We Don’t Forget – We Do Carry On
It would be impossible to forget the person you have lost, and there is no need to do so; but still, when the time is right, you will be able to find new meaning in life and go back to taking an active part in it. During the therapy, we work together to consider what meaning can be poured into life after the loss, and how to heal and build a new life and a new world out of this shattered place.
As Professor Shimshon Rubin demonstrates in his Two-Track Model of Bereavement, mourning is a lengthy process, characterized by ups and downs and alternating periods of progress and regression. Despite the expectations of the people around us, healing is not a linear process. During periods of regression, the mourner’s ability to cope is reduced and the pain sometimes intensifies and becomes overwhelming, even to the point of impaired function and depression. Contrary to popular belief, the grieving process does not necessarily involve continuous and sequential improvement. In practice, there are periods of emotional and functional progress, and others of increased preoccupation with grief.
Over the many years I have been treating loss and grief, I have repeatedly witnessed how the emotional journey of processing grief and the pain that accompanies it is a vital part of overcoming the crisis. Ignoring the grief and trying to move on without emotionally processing it is likely to worsen the psychological state.
What Is Complicated Grief? Am I Suffering From It?
Persistent complex bereavement disorder (also known as complicated grief disorder) is the condition in which someone who has lost a loved one experiences guilt, depression, anxiety, and anger that do not diminish over time. The disorder manifests itself in impaired daily functioning and damaged relationships, while the grieving person is immersed in incessant, repetitive, and intrusive thoughts about the deceased.
The mourner refuses to acknowledge the finality of the loss, often feeling angry that the death was not prevented and experiencing survivor’s guilt. This is a situation where the intensity of emotions has not abated even a year after the loss, and life has not been rebuilt on any level.
The symptoms of complicated grief are similar to those of clinical depression and include a persistently bad mood, an inability to experience pleasure, difficulty forming new social connections, isolation, and as mentioned previously, a lack of interest in life and impaired day-to-day functioning. The mourner feels no confidence in their ability to cope with the grief. It is very important to seek treatment to diagnose the grief response and help the bereaved find better ways to manage the pain for maintaining function and quality of life.
Some might think that difficult emotions that fail to lessen or abate even after a long time mean that they have become an inescapable fact of life. This is an unbearable thought; but even complicated grief can and should be treated with psychotherapy. One step at a time, we will learn how to handle the grief, gather up the shards of a shattered life even if they “cut” us along the way, and use them to build a new world where smiles and joy are no longer foreign concepts.