How do I know when I need bereavement counseling?
What does a bereavement counselor do?
If you find that the normal symptoms of grief such as sleep disturbance, change in appetite, intense emotions, feelings of regret or guilt, or excessive ruminating about what happened are interfering with your daily functioning, then it may be helpful to talk to a bereavement counselor.
Bereavement counselors provide education about normal grief and share suggestions about what might help you through the grief process. They can help you figure out ways to help other family members, including children, through grief. They can give you specific techniques to help you make it through the lonely days and nights. They can help you plan for difficult days such as birthdays and holidays, and talk about ways you can honor the memory of your loved one. Bereavement counselors can help you cope with anxiety and negative thinking. They respect your grief and listen to it, hearing about the person who died and the experiences you had with that person. They can help you figure out how to go on with your life and connect you to useful resources in the community. They can help you let go of the pain of the loss without letting go of the person. When you feel alone in your grief, bereavement counseling can help.
Each person has a unique reaction to the death of a loved one. The stronger the relationship was with the deceased, the stronger is the grief reaction. “Stronger” does not necessarily mean loving. It could mean intense, dependent, loving, ambivalent, or conflicted.
The length of grief also depends on one’s personality, the history of past losses, and the available support system. Grief doesn’t get easier day by day. It is more of a roller coaster of reactions. One day may seem almost normal; the next may be an intense grief day. Often the first few months after a death are busy with the details following a death such as cleaning out a house and doing financial and legal paperwork. This can be a time when the bereaved person copes by keeping busy. When the “to do” list is finished, the emotions of grief often become more intense.
Grief takes a natural course. For some people and some relationships, this will be a matter of months. For others grief may take longer. Even when grief lasts longer, it tends to become “softer” over time and less overwhelming.
Normal grief affects every aspect of one’s life. It is normal to have trouble sleeping, to eat more or to have no appetite, and to feel exhausted for several months. Grief is often felt physically as pain, weakness, or restlessness. Often the immune system is compromised by the long period of stress, so people are more susceptible to illness. It is normal to have trouble concentrating and making decisions. It is normal to have a range of emotions, from sadness, loneliness, fear, and anger to relief, confusion, regret, and guilt. Spiritual faith can become stronger, but some people find themselves questioning their faith and being angry at God. Social patterns can change, especially those connected to the deceased.
If you are a crier, you will probably cry; if you are not a crier, you probably won’t cry much. Often when the illness was a long one, people have done anticipatory grief, grieving before the actual death. In these cases, sometimes people do not grieve as intensely after the death because they have done much of the grieving during the illness.
The answer to this question depends on several factors, including the age of the child and the relationship the child had with the deceased. Usually the best course of action is to explain to the child what happens at the rituals after the death and ask if he or she would like to attend. Children often like to be part of the rituals, helping to make the photo collages, putting a letter or something special to them in the casket, etc. If there is a wake, it is useful to have a place the child can go to take a break and to have a supportive friend or relative be with them.
Sleep patterns following a death are often disrupted. This is sometimes due to a pattern of caregiving which involved getting up during the night, and of light sleeping because of listening for the ill person calling for assistance. In the case of the death of a spouse, the bereaved often stays up lale because it is so hard to go to bed alone, or goes to bed early because evenings are so lonely. Some people also find themselves waking in the middle of the night thinking of things they wished had happened differently and going over and over the events leading up to the death. It is best to set a regular sleep schedule and have calming routines before bedtime. Avoiding caffeine after lunchtime and avoiding excessive alcohol intake is also helpful.
Grief typically comes in waves and feels like a ride on a roller coaster. As such, it is not a process easily within our control. However, taking good care of oneself and allowing outlets for grief – talking, writing, artistic or musical expression, memory books and other ways to actively allow the grief process to occur – can help you work through your grief. Avoiding the grief or suppressing it does not work and sometimes even results in physical pain or illness. Figuring out what has helped you cope with losses and crises in the past can help you figure out what can help you through the current loss. Allowing others to provide support is a very important component of healing.
There are some general patterns in male and female grief, although the stereotypes do not apply to everyone. Women usually want to talk more about their feelings and about what happened during the illness and death. It helps them to tell the story over and over. Men often do not feel this need; they may tend to grieve more internally and more physically. Women tend to seek more support while men often feel they need to go through their grief on their own. Every person has both feminine and masculine characteristics, so these stereotypes will not fit everyone. It is best to realize that some people are more solitary and quiet in their grief and others are more emotional and expressive.
This is one of the most normal feelings of grief. Your world has changed in so many ways because of the death, and each day you find more ways that it has changed. Every time you feel like you have a handle on your grief and are coping well, you end up having an intense grief day that overwhelms you yet again. It can help to talk with others who have been through a similar loss or to read about grief to validate your own experience.
Many people describe feeling the presence of the person who died, hearing his or her voice, or feeling comforted by dreams of the deceased. Others have described a feeling or warmth or even a physical feeling of being touched or hugged. It is normal to talk to the person who died. Many people talk over their day or their problems; if the relationship was a long one and the pattern was to talk things over, then continuing this pattern can be helpful. Often the bereaved works out problems by thinking about how their loved one would handle things.
Most people find the important days such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays intensify grief. Many of those going through grief say they would rather avoid the holiday season altogether. Some people choose to honor holiday traditions; others find that changing traditions make the holidays easier. Some choose to go away, others to stay home. Most find gift giving hard; simplifying this by using catalogs, gift cards, and ordering gifts online can ease this difficult process. It does help to have a plan for the important days; knowing who you will be with and what you will do for those days can alleviate some of the apprehension as the days approach.
Current losses often bring to mind past losses. The death of one parent often causes children to remember and grieve for the first parent who died. A death as an adult can bring back the experience the bereaved went through with a death in childhood and the grief is reworked on an adult level.