Common Symptoms of Grief

The experience of loss affects different people in different ways. Whilst many people may experience the types of symptoms described below, this list is far from being exhaustive. Almost any reaction can be possible. The thing to watch out for is reactions which are positively harmful, such as drinking excessively, self harm, risk-taking or not caring about oneself to the point where it represents a risk to health or general well-being.

Coping Adaptively with Loss

Accept Practical Support

I have made the point already that the support of friends, family or colleagues is extremely important when it comes to dealing with the loss. I think there are two types of support; practical and emotional. Practical support might mean helping out with transport, finance or doing the things that the person affected by the loss is unable to do, especially for example there has been a loss of function following illness or injury. Such support helps the person concerned to feel less isolated, can reduce their anxiety and help them feel loved and cared for at a time when they themselves may be feeling pretty wretched, even worthless.

Emotional Support

The other type of support -- emotional support -- is just as important in helping someone cope well with loss.  If you are the person facing the loss it is important to express your feelings even if you are not normally comfortable doing so. Do not be tempted to "put a brave face on things". Sharing what you feel enables people to be more aware of your needs and therefore more able to respond to them. However and just as importantly, it facilitates you to move through that long process of coming to terms with what has happened. For tens of thousands of years human beings have dealt with things by sitting around and talking about them, perhaps telling stories of the dearly departed, remembering their deeds and honouring their memory.

Talk, for goodness sakes, talk!

Every time you tell your story you have to structure it into a narrative in order to tell the tale in a coherent manner which is understandable to those around you. The more you do this, the more it will become part of your overall lifelong narrative or life story. One of the things that makes loss so difficult to deal with, is the way that the events are often unexpected or at odds with our life plans. They effectively "stick out like a sore thumb" from the normal, everyday course of life events. The loss is often unplanned or unexpected and even if it is expected the ramifications are rarely fully appreciated in advance. Part of the grieving process involves dealing with this "lumpy mess" which intrudes upon our day-to-day thoughts and existence. The best way to make sense of things is -- quite simply -- to talk about them. The more you talk, the better it is, the more you will "process" your experiences. And if you are able to express and allow yourself to feel your feelings as you talk (e.g. cry, get angry etc), so much the better. Whatever you do, do not try to grieve alone. Rumination is to invite depression.

Talking about your feelings also helps you to feel connected to people at a time when you may be feeling alone, abandoned or misunderstood. The more you can connect, the more you can feel that the burden of your grief is shared. Do not for goodness sakes think that the most important thing is to "be strong" by keeping things to yourself. The strongest and bravest thing you can do is acknowledge the full impact of the loss by talking about it openly with others. That is what takes courage, not bottling it all up inside! Remember also that people can really only help and support you effectively if they are aware of your feelings and needs. Even people who care about you are not telepathic!

I know, I know. Many of us are raised to believe that we should "just get on with things", "stiff upper lip" or that emotions are for "wimps, children or girls". From the point of view of your psychological well-being, all of that is simply rubbish. See why by reading "You must be strong" here.

Faith and Belief

Loss, especially bereavement, can represent a challenge to faith and religious belief. Those who provide pastoral care understand that faith can be challenged at such difficult times. Do not be afraid to share your fears, doubts and concerns with them. a great deal of comfort can be gained from embracing religious and spiritual activities at the time of loss. Regular repeated activities like prayer, meditation or other faith activities can provide much needed structure at a time when we may feel that our lives are falling apart. Religious practice can help us to find meaning and answers at a time of seeming random events and meaninglessness.

Mutual Support

support groupJoin a support group – Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones and friends around.  Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help in a different way.  To find a support group in your area, look at the website of your local council or hospital trust.

It is very easy to feel isolated and alone at a time of significant loss. We can even feel as if we are the only person who has been through that which we are experiencing. However, you may find that others who are facing your situation have joined together in a support group. In Huddersfield area, for example, there are many excellent support groups; for instance, groups which exist to support parents following miscarriage, those facing the loss associated with a relative having dementia, people affected by loss of sight from macular degeneration, children dealing with the loss of a parent. A good place to identify support groups relevant to your needs is the website of your local council. In the case of Kirklees click here.

Could Counselling Help?

Although grief and grieving are natural processes of healing following loss, it can occasionally be the case that the bereaved person is completely overwhelmed by what they are experiencing. A counsellor can be someone who offers help to facilitate the process, particularly if you feel that you have become "stuck". Unless you have no one else with whom you can talk, following a loss, I do not usually recommend consulting a counsellor right away. I think it is more important to engage in dialogue with friends and family. However, not everyone is in this happy position of having support or they may feel that the level of support available is lacking or that their need for support exceeds what might be on offer. Similarly, you may have turned to your family and friends yet still be feeling stuck or lost. In all these cases, counselling can help.

Another advantage of counselling is that you do not have to worry about "burdening" the counsellor with your troubles and he or she will not become impatient if you repeat yourself or cover the same ground again and again. In fact, it is very often important or even necessary to do this in order to facilitate the recovery process.

Moreover, the counsellor trained to deal with loss and grief has access to specialist training and knowledge designed to help facilitate the process. We know from training and indeed experience, what helps and what does not. We are much less likely than the norm, I would hope, to come out with all those old cliches like "Time is a great healer!" Nor need you be concerned if what you say appears not to make sense, is irrational or contradictory. As a counsellor, I understand that grieving is often an irrational or illogical process, characterised by conflicting and contradictory emotions, many of which apparently seem not to make sense. Indeed, I believe it is extremely helpful to be supported to "stay with" these difficult and contradictory experiences in order to come to terms with what has happened.

NHS counselling for loss, grief and bereavement

NHS logoThe provision of bereavement counselling via your GP on the NHS varies significantly from place to place. In the Calderdale and Kirklees areas, counselling for bereavement on the NHS is available subject to a waiting list.

Counselling from the Voluntary sector

The charity and voluntary sector may offer alternatives. Cruse is probably the best-known charity offering bereavement support. They after a national telephone helpline and have branches across the UK, including here in Huddersfield. Services are provided by volunteer counsellors, some of whom are part way through their training. Click here for their website.

If you think that Christian counselling might be helpful, consider contacting United Churches Healing Ministry (UCHM) in Milnsbridge Huddersfield. This charity does excellent work, offering high-quality counselling, delivered by well trained and supervised volunteers. Clients are asked to make a donation based on their income, keeping in mind that it costs about £35 per session delivered, just to meet the running costs of the charity. You do not have to be a Christian to use the service (although if you are it represents a fantastic opportunity to receive counselling in line with your beliefs) and they also offer non-Christian counselling. Demand for counselling is such that there is usually a waiting list.

Counselling with Me, Dr Alan Priest

If you would like to contact me to discuss counselling for a loss or bereavement (or indeed any other issue) please click here to go to my contact page where you can obtain my phone number or send me an e-mail. I am usually able to offer an appointment within a few days of your contact. My fees will reflect your ability to pay and I offer a few low-cost places for clients living on very low incomes or state benefits. I also work with all the major private health insurance providers and many smaller ones. If you are a patient at Lindley Village Surgery and you are referred by your GP, the first session is free. If you are a patient at another surgery and you want this facility, ask your GP or their practice manager to contact me. Back to Top

"The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing... not healing, not curing... that is a friend who cares".
Henri Nouwen
Dutch-born Catholic priest and author of many books about spirituality.