Bereavement counselling tackles something most of us avoid thinking about. The death of a loved one may be as inevitable as life itself, but few are prepared when it comes. Even the passing of an elderly parent can be a traumatic and life-changing event, while an unexpected or premature loss can seem too much to bear for even the strongest individuals.

Some dismiss bereavement counselling because it can’t take away the loss. But death’s very inevitability makes it a universal issue for all of us. By confronting it full-on, we can learn to appreciate how precious life is – and the joy brought by those who have passed on.  

Some avoid bereavement counselling because they think that confronting this loss may be too painful. They may not be ready to break that connection with their loved one. Denial perhaps avoids facing the unpalatable reality of what’s gone. It’s a natural reaction, but one likely to prolong the heart-ache and grieving. For this reason, the bereaved are usually advised not to enter counselling until a suitable period – often six months – has elapsed. This allows some acceptance of the event and varies between people and circumstances.

Recovery is often delayed because some mourners confuse being happy again with a disrespect or lack of love for the departed. Most of us say we wouldn’t want our loved ones to be unhappy when we are gone – but we often feel society may disapprove of us getting back to our normal lives. For all these reasons, it can be hard to let go of our grief. Many old customs exacerbate this – wearing black for a set period is one – particularly in societies where the death of the head of the household is given greater emphasis.

Getting Help

People often talk of stages of bereavement. In rough order, these usually involve acceptance of the loss followed by adjusting to life without the deceased, and a subsequent easing of the mourning process. The final stage is our readiness to start living fully again.   

The associated symptoms are often shock; overwhelming sadness; and apparent emotional and physical exhaustion. It’s also common to feel anger or guilt. These are human responses to what feels like an unacceptable loss. Blaming anyone or anything: yourself, the departed, the medical authorities, an illness, God… is part of a messy process before moving on.

It’s a cliché to say time heals, but also a rule of life. Each passing day is one closer to embracing life fully again. You won’t forget your loved one, but you can learn to be grateful for all they gave you.

Mourning is best done with support. Friends and family are obvious sources of comfort – particularly those who share your memories. But sometimes they are scarce or unavailable. Few want to be a burden or risk upsetting others. Similarly, many intimates avoid discussing your loss to avoid upsetting you further. But the more you discuss it – the easier the mourning process becomes. The loss can be integrated into your normal life rather than becoming taboo.

Religious beliefs can provide comfort particularly from a supportive congregation. Some cultures embrace the end of life more positively than in the West. Whatever your beliefs, the common factor for all the bereaved is the need to adapt to this irreversible change.

Outside help is invaluable when you don’t want to lean too heavily on family and friends. Reminders such as anniversaries or significant events may be painful initially; you may find yourself neglecting yourself or others. These may be signs to ask for help.

Modern society now provides free help with specialist bereavement services – such as Cruse – or NHS counselling services. Further support is often available in groups where you can meet others in similar circumstances to help you move on. Feeling compassion for others may put your loss in perspective and awaken you from your private world of pain. It can be easier to talk with someone outside your own personal circumstances. Counselling services offer compassionate help from experienced professionals. With their help, you can sooner see how the departed have enriched your life and appreciate instead how much better your life has been with them in it.

Useful contacts

Your GP and local counselling services – represented in Hounslow by Anchor Counselling – can offer 6-10 sessions of free counselling and put you in touch with further local services.

These include Cruse Bereavement Care (www.cruse.org.uk – tel: 0808 808 1677), whose trained volunteers offer face-to-face, group, email, telephone, and website support. Its nearest centres are found in Ealing and Purley.

You can also contact specialist organisations for specific illnesses e.g. Macmillan for cancer at www.macmillan.org.uk.  

General information is available at www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/coping-with-bereavement