9 June 2016: How to cope with grief and loss

Grief can be about anything: the loss of a relationship, job, financial status, house or loss of a friend, a family member, a spouse. Grief can also be related to loss of youth, beauty, strength or independence. A perceived loss can cause grief. Grief can prove to be more difficult if we have previously experienced unresolved grief in our lives, which compounds our losses.

What are the different types of grief?  

Normal Grief (the five stages of grief) denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance (although not necessarily in this order), Unresolved Grief or Anticipatory Grief, Complicated Grief (absent, inhibited, delayed, conflicted, chronic, unanticipated and abbreviated).

How can we help the grief process?

What happens to your body and mind during grief? Why is it hard to sleep during grief? How do you help a person who has just lost someone? (Physical help) What NOT to do when supporting someone who is grieving? Why is talking/listening helpful for grieving person? (Mental/Emotional help, initially and then in coming months.)  What is the difference between depression and grief?

What are some helpful additional techniques for working through grief?

Use of symbols: Photos, videos, sharing thoughts about loved one. Writing: Write unspoken words to deceased. Write feelings/thoughts in journal. Drawing: Draw pictures of how you are feeling (good technique for children).

Cognitive restructuring: (With counsellor) Test irrational thoughts for accuracy.

Memory Book: Stories, events, memorabilia, to help integrate the loss.

Directed Imagery: When working with a counsellor, the client sits opposite the empty chair and visualizes the loved one with eyes closed, and says what they need to say (It is a very powerful technique to talk to the loved one and not just about them).

The Five Stages of Grief by Phoebe Hutchison (Based on the Kubler- Ross Model by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler)

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance The stages of Grief have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as we are. The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with our loss. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not pit stops on a linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order. Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of grief’s terrain, making us better equipped to cope with life and loss. People often think of the stages of grief as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion as mentioned above. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.


This first stage of grieving helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are knowingly beginning the healing process. You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade. But as you proceed, all the feelings you were denying begin to surface.


 Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this?  Underneath anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor; giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first grief may feel like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person who didn’t attend the funeral, maybe a person who isn’t around, maybe a person who is different now that your loved one has died. Suddenly you have a structure – your anger toward them. The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it. The anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love.


Before a loss, it seems like you will do anything if only your loved one would be spared. “Please God,” you bargain, “I will never be angry at my wife again if you’ll just let her live”. After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others? Then can I wake up and realize this has all been a bad dream?”

We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what it was; we want our loved one restored. We want to go back in time; find the tumor sooner, recognise the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening…if only, if only, if only. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt.


After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone. Why go on at all? Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of. The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually depressing. The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual. When a loss fully settles in your soul, the realization that your loved one didn’t get better this time and is not coming back is understandably depressing. If griefis a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way.


Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a lovedone. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physicallygone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We willnever like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn tolive with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live. We must tryto live now in a world where our loved one is missing. In resisting this newnorm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved onedied. In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that wecannot maintain the past intact. It has been forever changed and we mustreadjust. We must learn to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others or takethem on ourselves. Finding acceptance may be just having more good days thanbad ones. As we begin to live again and enjoy our life, we often feel that indoing so, we are betraying our loved one. We can never replace what has beenlost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships andinter-dependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; wemove, we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others andbecome involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in ourrelationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so untilwe have given grief its time.Reference:


Ultimately, we need to incorporate a loss into our lives, taking the time to heal and remember, and eventually move forward on this journey of life!

May your love for yourself, your life and your children, deepen daily.

Phoebe Hutchison (Author/Counsellor)

 Dip. Prof. Couns. M.A.C.A.

 Maj. (Relationships & Conflict Resolution,

Childhood Development & Effective Parenting, Grief & Loss)