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Grief is a commonplace response to loss.  We normally associate grief with the death of a loved one but grief can be experienced after any significant loss in someone’s life.  This might be the loss of a job, a divorce or end of a long-term relationship.  Although a painful experience, it is rare for anyone not to experience grief regarding a significant loss in the course of their life.

There are many theories as to what grief actually is.  Some claim that it is the mind’s way of adjusting to sudden or unexpected change.  Others believe that grief is a way in which experiences create memories from which we learn vital life lessons.  For example, someone who undergoes a traumatic separation from their partner might learn to be more wary in relationships in the future.  When looking at grief from the theory of attachment, it can be seen to be as the painful by-product of the human capacity to form close relationships.  However one chooses to look at it, grief is a natural, inevitable part of life.


A popular approach to understanding grief and the stages of grief was introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying”.  Kübler-Ross wrote of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), the ways in which people deal with grief or tragedy in their lives.  Whilst the five stages have undoubtedly helped bring theories of loss and grief into the mainstream, not everyone experiences all five stages when going through the grieving process and many people find that they do not experience the five stages in order.  As with so many things in life, we all experience grief differently.

Kübler-Ross’ five stages might highlight some of the things people experience when grieving, but it is not a definitive or comprehensive guide that perfectly encapsulates the experience of grief.

One of the most important factors when coping with grief is that you shouldn’t suffer alone.  Although it may be difficult to talk about the way you are feeling, a beneficial part of the grieving process happens when we are able to talk about our loss.  Turn to friends and family for emotional support and companionship.  Support groups can be a useful way of making contact with other people who have experienced a similar loss.  The group can become a place where one’s own story of loss can be shared and advice can be sought from people in the same situation.  If your grief feels too much to bear, therapy or grief counselling can help you work through the powerful and difficult emotions.

Most important, grief takes time.  Grief is a process that one needs to work through.  It might take months or even years to work through.  During this process, it is important to look after yourself.  As mentioned in an earlier post, exercise is known to have a positive impact on one’s mental health.  Avoid self-medicating with alcohol or drugs; numbing the pain won’t make it go away.  Finally, understand that grief is complicated.  You might feel a whole range of negative emotions (such anger, sadness or disappointment) but you might also experience moments of laughter or joy amidst the unhappiness.  It can feel like a rollercoaster with all the ups and downs and twists and turns.  It will, however, come to an end.  Whilst the pain of losing a loved might never go away entirely, it is unlikely to remain at the centre of one’s life.  There will come a time when the grieving process plays itself out and you will be able to get on with living.




Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy


Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy


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