Grief support groups and individual grief counseling can make the difference in whether the mourner spends a long time struggling with the troublesome, often painful aspects of his or her loss and the grief that follows or the mourner begins and maintains a healthy grief journey toward emotional, mental and spiritual healing. That is, if the grief counselor or grief support group facilitator has a good understanding of the nature and purpose of grief and effective techniques that support, comfort and help the mourner to launch into healthy grief.
Unfortunately for many reasons, some counselors are unwittingly and unintentionally prolonging mourners’ grief, causing them secondary trauma and making the grief journey much harder than it needs to be. Below is a list of statements often made by well-intentioned counselors, support group facilitators and comforters to mourners they are truly trying to help. Instead these statements can cause further “grief” and emotional struggles for the mourner which are totally unnecessary.
Avoid counselors or consolers who give you any of the following pieces of advice or guidance for grieving in a healthy manner:
- These are the stages of grief. Everyone will go through them.
Most of us have heard of the five stages of grief according to Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. This model of healthy grief stages and other models have been stressed so much in our culture that we have begun to believe that grief is an orderly, predictable process which can be navigated by measuring our progress through each stage or level.But grief is anything but orderly and predictable. Each grief is different and unique to the person experiencing the loss and unique to the relationship the mourner has with the loved one who died. Although all of those aspects of grief may be present – denial, anger, bargain, depression and acceptance — they don’t happen in an orderly or predictable fashion. Sometimes there are commonalities in grief in general, but every grief and every mourner is different. The helper to the mourner must be willing to learn about the unique aspects of each mourner and their grief in order to support and help them according to their individual needs.
- These are the rules for grief. Everyone must follow them to be successful in their grief journey.
There are no rules in grief because every grief is different. So following a cookie cutter or one size fits all approach to grief support or counseling is not the best approach to dealing with each individual mourner.
- Grief beyond this time period should be considered complicated (or pathological).
Grief takes as long as it takes, and grief runs on its own timetable. Depending upon the loss and its complications, the early part of grief which is intense, overwhelming and all-consuming can last for months or years. Again, every mourner is different. And although grief can change, the mourner will always miss their loved one. It is natural for the mourner to think of the loved one and react in an emotional way, even years after the loss happened.Also grief is not a pathology. It is not a disease or mental or emotional disorder. Grief acts as a natural transition period and measure to move from life with the person physically present to life without the loved one present. Counselors and grief facilitators and comforters companion the mourner through this transition period of grief.
- Grief will end at some point.
The mourner will always love and miss their loved one. Therefore, there is no getting over grief. There is only going through grief. There is no end or conclusion to the love we have for people after they die. Grief and the mourner change over time, but the grief journey continues as long as the mourner loves or misses the person.
- You must be openly expressive with your grief emotions in order to be healthy and heal.
There is no one set way or right way to grieve. Some mourners are expressive and others are stoics. The important thing is that a mourner find his or her style of grief that allows them to deal with the emotions of grief that does not hurt them or anyone around them. As long as the person is relieving the emotional tension of grief inside them and progressing in their grief, they are healthy mourners.
- You must “detach” or “let go” of the loved one. Say “goodbye” to your relationship with them.
Death ends lives, but it does not kill or end relationships. The mourner must say goodbye not to the loved one, but to the relationship with the loved one as it was before the death. The relationship with the loved one does not end at death, it just changes from being one that is based on physical presence of the loved one. After the death the relationship with the loved one becomes one that is based on the emotional and spiritual ties the mourner has with the person who died.
- Keeping busy to forget about the loss and your loved one is one of best things you can do.
Being busy to take short breaks or vacations from the intense work of grief is healthy but becoming busy to avoid the work of grief completely is not healthy for the mourner. The grief will always be present whether it is processed by the mourner or not.
- Don’t waste your time asking “Why?”
No. Mourners need to ask questions including “Why?” These questions help mourners to measure the full impact of the loss upon their lives in order to move on to the questions about what is to be done next to prepare for living into the future in a healthy way.
- Grief is the price we pay for loving people.
This statement makes grief sound like an onerous obligation or debt or punishment we have to pay for making the “mistake” of loving someone. No. The mourner’s loved one is a valuable person who deserves to be remembered, honored, loved and grieved over after their death.
- Everything happens for a reason.
This is a trite cliché which can raise troubling questions and emotional struggles for the mourner. This cliché often comes across as a glib or smug dismissal of the emotional turmoil and grief journey that comes after the death of a loved one. If my loved one died for a reason or purpose, then why am I still mourning? A more bothersome question can be “What possible reason could there be for the seemingly unfair death of my loved one?” And “When I finally determine the reason or purpose for the death, will that end my grief?”
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.
Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.
FOR INFORMATION ON SCHEDULING COUNSELING SERVICES WITH LARRY BARBER Click here.