- Have you lost someone important to you, such as a parent, a spouse a friend, a partner, sibling or a beloved pet? Have you experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth?
- Do you feel distant and withdrawn, as though you just can’t connect with people and to events around you?
- Are you experiencing chronic anger, irritability, exhaustion or worry?
- Are you feeling afraid of close relationships because you dread a potential loss?
- Does guilt plague you, making you wish you could have done something differently to prevent the loss or alter your last interaction with your loved one?
- Do you wish you could find a way to live your life again?
Losing someone you love can be a devastating, life-altering experience. You may feel weighed down by your pain and struggle to picture yourself ever experiencing joy or excitement again. It may feel shocking that the world continues to go on around you after something so devastating has happened. Perhaps you’re having trouble sleeping or, rather, you may not want to do anything but sleep. Maybe you keep replaying your last moments with your loved one, wishing you could go back and time and say or do something to protect your loved one or express how much you care. You may have seen something that frightened, shocked or confused you. You might feel as though life itself is out of control, and you have begun to ask challenging questions about mortality and the meaning of human existence. Or, if a great deal of time has past, you may be wondering why you can’t just “toughen up” or “get over it.”
Perhaps you find yourself crying unexpectedly, whether you’ve woken from a nightmare at 3 AM or you are in the grocery store, staring at a food item that has brought up sudden memories. Maybe as you are in the halfway point between sleep and awake, you expect to find someone next to you in bed – but when you reach over, there is nobody there. You may have gone to pick up the phone to call your loved one and then remember you can’t. Maybe you’ve kept voicemail recordings and listen to them incessantly. Or, alternatively, you might have hidden away old photographs or other mementos because the sight of them causes such a deep echo of pain. You may think you should talk to somebody, but you don’t want to bring anyone down. Maybe those closest to you have seemed uncomfortable with you grief, leaving you feeling even more isolated and alone.
If Grief Has Shaken You to You Core, You Are Not Alone
After the loss of a loved one, it is incredibly common to feel confusion, anger, helplessness and hopelessness. You may even feel numb or “in shock”. You may worry about “who is next” or think about your own mortality. This can lead to existential doubts for some. While it’s true that all life comes to an end, you have experienced the beauty of deep connection and love. While it may be difficult to imagine that you can ever feel “normal,” let alone secure and happy again, it is possible for you to reengage in life.
When we grieve, we often judge ourselves for our emotions. Society seems to set out a timetable for an “appropriate” grieving period. But, there is no set timetable for coping with a loss. Directly after a loss, especially if it is sudden or unexpected (as with suicide), people often experience an acute period of pain. However, you may have felt pressure to “deal with” your feelings quickly, either because of what others have said or because of your own internal voice telling you to get back to your responsibilities. Maybe others have told you that “time heals all wounds,” but you find that you are still suffering months, years or decades after your loss. Perhaps you lost a parent or loved one as a child, and you are starting to realize that you were never given a chance to fully process that event because well-meaning adults tried to shield you from difficult events or emotions. Regardless of your personal experience, you are not alone, and the way you are grieving is not “wrong.” While every person and every loss is profoundly different, there is a way to see a bright future again.
Grief Counseling Can Help You Process Your Pain
While I do not know the intricacies of what you are going through right now, I have suffered my own experiences of deep and destabilizing loss. I know what it feels like to wonder if the tightness in your chest will ever go away, to question things about the way your loved one died, and even to wonder if there is anything more you could have done. If you had told me when I was 20 or 30 that I would survive the significant losses I experienced and still be able to savor life – let alone experience it more richly – I would have thought you just didn’t understand me.
Your friends and family members, no matter how much they love you and wish to support you, may be struggling with their own grief or simply unsure of how to deal with painful conversations. You may hear things like “Well, you have to move on.” Or, “Just keep busy.” Talking to an experienced grief counselor gives you the time and space to be open and honest about your doubts, fears, anger and guilt. I would never judge you for anything you have done or said prior to or after your loved one’s death. Grief counseling is an entirely safe, supportive space for you to explore your every emotion and question, no matter how large or existential they may be.
Though the passage of time can help make the pain of a loss less fierce, time itself does not heal all wounds. Grieving is not a passive path or something to be waited out. Working through healing is an active process. In part, this is because grief is a continuation of the relationship you had with your loved one. Though your relationship has changed through physical separation, you continue to carry those you have lost inside of you. Their memory continues to change your way of interacting with or being in the world. This is especially important to remember if your loss occurred long ago – you may still be facing the invisible effects of grief in your fear of intimacy, in your insistence on serving as a caretaker, refusal to count on anyone or in many other ways. Regardless of when your loss took place, bottling up emotions only allows them to grow. When you try to go around grief instead of through it, it sets up house in your unconscious mind. That’s when the monkey – your unconscious mind – gets to drive, and you don’t make conscious choices about where you are going.
During grief counseling sessions, I can teach you tools to cope with your sadness and other emotions. As you are ready, we can begin to unpack memories of your loved one that you are carrying. I can help you to piece things together and see events in a new perspective. I can offer you guidance and support as you revisit the mementos you may have hidden away. You can begin to grow comfortable with positive memories while you prevent negative ones from having undue power over your thoughts and actions. And, you can let go of guilt and fear so you can begin to reconnect with your passions, form deep bonds and find happiness and hope in your life again.
Although it seems that grief counseling could help you through this devastating time, you may still have questions or concerns…
I should just be stronger and tough this out on my own.
While you may believe that you should just reach into your inner resources and make yourself feel better, grief does not function this way. In order for you to really excavate painful feelings and begin to live again, you must engage in an active role in your own process. An experienced grief counselor can help you acknowledge and accept deep hurts in a safe, supportive environment. Denial or self-judgment only compounds emotional, mental and even physical pains, and you deserve to take the time to nurture yourself.
How could grief counseling possibly help me? You can’t bring my loved one back.
You are absolutely right. What you are experiencing is extremely painful, and I cannot erase your pain or bring your loved one back to you. None of us have a choice about loss, but we do have a choice in how we address and handle that loss.
During grief counseling, I will listen to your experience with compassion and patience. You may even be incredibly angry right now. If that’s the case, I will listen to that anger without judgment. Even more importantly, I can help you reconstruct your memories and find a broader meaning in this experience. With an increased understand of the broader meaning of loss, you can become more comfortable with frightening questions and begin to reconnect and love again.
I miscarried or my child died in utero or soon after birth. Can grief counseling help me?
Often, I hear parents who have experienced miscarriage or a stillbirth say that they feel like people don’t understand their grief. A woman who miscarried said to me, “ It’s not as if I knew my child. Why do I feel this way?” A parent who experienced stillbirth explained to me how people actually turned away from him when he tried to talk about what it felt like to hold his child. Of course, these types of losses are deeply painful. My office is a safe place to be with your grief and unpack you dreams for your child while figuring out how to accept that your baby is not with you. You may find yourself having feeling with which you are very uncomfortable. Perhaps you resent your friends with healthy children or though you want a child, you are terrified of trying again. There are feelings we can discuss and sort through. I will support you and not judge you.
If you are ready to begin the process of moving through your grief into your future, I invite you to call me at (415) 294-5007 for a free 15-minute phone consultation to ask any questions you have about grief counseling and my practice.