A brief description of grief

Grief is a natural reaction to loss.  It involves feelings, thoughts and behaviours and often causes pain and suffering.  It is both an individual and universal experience and affects people in different ways depending on the relationship to the deceased and the circumstances surrounding the death.  Mourning is the process of moving through the loss and there are different models which suggest the process people go through.  This article will look at William Worden’s 4 Tasks of Mourning as a framework for understanding the different stages.

In this article we will look at

  • Emotional and physical signs of grief
  • Tasks of mourning
  • How counselling can help

What are the signs of grief?

Emotional signs

List of the emotional signs of grief including sadness, anger, shock, loneliness, longing, numbness, anxiety, relief, guilt and helplessness

Physical signs

Physical signs of grief including muscle weakness, dry mouth, lethargy, shortness of breath, loss of energy and a tight chest

Behavioural signs

What are the tasks of mourning?

I. To accept the reality of the loss

The shock of losing someone may leave you finding it hard to take in the reality of the loss.  You may find yourself repeating ‘I can’t believe it’ either in your thoughts or out loud or you may feel numb for some time.  Accepting the loss can take time.  It is often easier to accept the loss intellectually than it is to accept it emotionally.

II. To process the pain of grief

The list above is a snapshot of some of the common thoughts, feelings and behaviours you may experience.  The pain can be overwhelming and sometimes it may feel easier to try and block out the pain.  However, grief is patient and avoiding mourning can make it harder to deal with later on.

III. To adjust to a world without the deceased

Adjusting to the loss involves 3 areas

  • External
    • What are the changes in practical aspects of living without the deceased?
    • Are you taking on a new role or roles?
    • What new skills might you have to develop?
  • Internal
    • Self-esteem – how do I feel about myself?
    • Self-definition – who am I now?
    • Self-efficacy – I can’t do this.  I feel helpless, incapable, inadequate
  • Spiritual
    • Have your assumptions of the world been shaken?
    • Have your values and philosophical beliefs changed?
    • What direction will your life go in now?

IV. To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life

This task is about finding a place for your loved one in your emotional life, having an ongoing relationship with them (if that is important to you) AND about assimilating the changes within you and moving forward with your life.

How counselling can help?

Mourning is natural and time is needed to work through it.  How much time ranges from person to person and it is important to try and honour your individual process even if people around you seem to want you to ‘move on’ or ‘get back to normal’.  It is important to move through the tasks of mourning at your own pace but if you feel you are stuck, perhaps the effects are having a detrimental effect on your life or perhaps you’ve been struggling for longer than feels OK, seeking out counselling can be beneficial.

A counsellor can help you to talk about, feel and express the variety of emotions you have been experiencing.  You can talk through any thoughts and questions you may have.  It is often a helpful place to be able to talk about anything which might feel ‘off limits’ when talking to friends and family.  Some time exclusively for you.  Counselling can help you to accept the loss, process the pain, adjust to a world without the deceased and help find an ongoing connection to the deceased (should you wish to) whilst at the same time moving forward with your life