Emotional & Mental Wellness
What Is Grief? The Grief Process & Counseling
By Ipseity Counseling Clinic, Therapists in Denver, Colorado
My Own Experience of Death And Grief
I have a long history with grief. My first conscious memories are of death and loss, my earliest memory being a death when I was the age of 2, and my first traumatic death-loss being when I was 5 years old.
To date I have been to over 30 funerals or funeral-related ceremonies of family and friends during my relatively short life, and I am aware that there are more to come.
Having a life laced with death, initially I learned a sense of survival, emotional distance, enduring the pain and finding ways to continue moving forward.
With time and through my own grief support and counseling, I’ve been able to acknowledge more openly my past pains and suffering and find healing and growth.
Throughout my training to become a grief counselor in Denver, I’ve learned a deeper sense of how grief is a companion, and how we can utilize our grief as a continued connection with those we’ve lost to death.
It’s in the grief counseling process that there’s opportunity for you to be supported with navigating what it is to survive and continue life in the wake of significant death losses and other loss that impacts your life wholly.
The process of grief is not linear, it’s wild and unpredictable.
What is Grief?
Grief is something that everyone will experience during their lifetime.
With grief come feelings of disbelief, despair and sadness, feeling lost and confused, feelings of anger, irritability, regret, and a general sense of being constantly overwhelmed.
The only thing that could “cure” grief is if the loss were undone – for instance, if the person who died came back. After a death loss or other types of loss, life is no longer the same.
Normal is turned upside-down and you have to figure out what the “new normal” is and how you can move forward in the face of grief.
This is the heart of grief counseling, working to support you as you move through the darkness you now find yourself in.
Death and loss also come with life and new beginnings. The wounds will never completely erase, but with proper care there can be healing and new life that can grow from this immense pain.
You will process your grief, learning and accepting that it is not a passing event but instead that it will be with you forever moving forward.
The process of grief is not linear, it is wild and unpredictable. Bessel Van Der Kolk said it best when he said “We can only process our experiences if they don’t overwhelm us.”
Grief Is A Process
Grief can feel similar to a raging river, the currents and waves rapid and fighting, violent and treacherous, mercilessly tossing around in a fury and capsizing anything in its path.
The concept of “time heals all” comes into play for some, in that processed grief can lessen pain over the years and that moving forward in life can come easier with time and support.
By learning ways to regulate your emotions, to honor the relationship to who or what was lost, and meeting yourself where you’re at emotionally with patience and acceptance are important tools in the grief process, helping to calm the raging river to a more manageable flow.
Unprocessed grief, however, can continue to carry a huge burden to your life, causing more difficulty and resistance in moving forward in life.
Outcomes can be a continued raging river filled with heightened emotions, a frozen unmoving river that is stiff in denial or suppression of emotions that may still be turbulent under the surface, or a worn out, dried up river bed that is tired, deflated and collapsed. (Lawrence, 2019).
How you process grief can make a significant difference in your overall wellness and ability for moving forward.
There’s No Right or Wrong Way To Grieve
When you grieve, it can feel very out of control and that there is something “abnormal” and “wrong” about you or your grief.
This adds to the American culture where often the initial response to grief is to avoid it, suppress it, contain it and control it.
Culturally there is a tendency to not know what to do with grief, or how to act toward someone who is grieving.
We are groomed to “get over it” in the wake of grief, that sometimes you really can’t tolerate your pain and don’t know how to approach it.
A vital element of the grieving process is for you to share your story and to be truly heard as part of healing, but talking about death in our culture can feel uncomfortable, fear that there’s a sign of weakness in your tears.
We apply pressure to ourselves with the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” and other standards – I “should” be over it by now, I “shouldn’t” be crying so much, they’re no longer suffering so I “shouldn’t” be sad, if I don’t “grieve right” then it means I didn’t love them.
These pressures can feel very dismissive and contradictory to the emotional experiences you’re going through internally during your grief process. This pressure can come from yourself, but can also come from outside forces.
Unfortunately, there are many times that grieving feels unsupported, unheard, and that even people viewed as being incredibly close to us will not show up when you need them most or will say well-intended but hurtful things in an effort to comfort.
That pressure from others can sound like “quit talking about it so much” or “only focus on happy things” or “be strong, they wouldn’t want you to be so sad”.
Often these types of statements come from people who don’t want to see suffering from those they care about and want desperately to be able to help, however the result can be that you feel dismissed and cause you to question if you’re okay and grieving “correctly”.
What Does Grief Look Like?
It’s difficult to define “normal grief”, some physical expressions that are “normal” can include crying, headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping.
There can be emotional expressions such as sadness, yearning, as well as feelings of worry, anxiety, anger, irritability and guilt.
Social expressions can include isolation or feeling detached from others. And spiritual expressions may include questioning religious and spiritual beliefs and trying to find the meaning or purpose of pain, suffering, life and death.
Everyone will experience grief differently, and your relationship to the loss also impacts how you will experience grief. Everyone won’t grieve the same way every time they experience a death or loss, the process is shaped by the relationship to what was lost or who died.
As a grief counselor in Denver I help people on their journey toward new life, their new identity without the physical presence of the person who died or from what has been lost, maintaining a sense of connection to that person, place, or thing, and help you process the myriad of emotions you’re experiencing.
A vital element of the grieving process is for you to share your story and to feel truly heard.
What Is Grief Counseling?
Grief counseling often utilizes things such as ritual, validating and normalizing what you’re experiencing, exploring questions about life and meaning, grief education, narrative and creative expression of what you’re feeling, and empowering you with coping skills such as setting healthy boundaries and self-care.
Not all grief therapists are the same, and not all are trained within grief counseling.
I encourage you to do research to get connected with the right grief care and interview counselors to make sure it’s a good fit so that true healing can occur.
The rapport between you and a counselor can be everything to feel safe and supported in the therapeutic process.
Through grief counseling work you should find increased resilience and strength, the ability express healthy emotions, increased self-awareness, feeling successful with your growth and uniting with grief as part of a new connection.
Everyone deserves grief support and the ability to honor your individual unique experiences. Grief counseling can provide compassion and a safe supportive space for exploring experiences on your grief journey.
Allison C. Gary, MA, LPCC, NCC
Allison is a therapist in Denver that specializes in helping people working through challenges related to grief or loss, and finds grief to be an element in a lot of therapy. She also has a unique background in working with dementia and Alzheimer’s care.
Connect With Allison Here