The death of a loved one is the most difficult loss one can have.

It presents us with a kind of suffering that challenges our own mortality that often creates a search for the meaning of human existence. Grieving is one of the hardest and the most painful experiences a human can endure. Yet the fundamental tragedy of death brings out the best in people as well, because when death touches us in some way, we are inevitable altered by this process.

Yet death, often too painful to contemplate, can spur us to value life with a passion that helps bring about new and significant changes, outlook on life, personal meaning, and a deeper understanding of our selves and changes in worldview.

It is a given that sooner or later most of us have and will suffer from the death of someone we love. To lose a loved one is one of the most painful experiences we endure and the hardest from which to recover. If the death comes suddenly (as in an accident) shock and numbness is often the first response we feel. Even when death is anticipated (as in long-term illness) there may be disbelief at its finality.

If the death was sudden or anticipated a person may feel numb, or like a robot, to be able to go through the motions of life while feeling little. Some individuals report that they are unable to cry when their loved one died. They might not have cried for days or weeks after. Those who have been through the shock of losing a loved one often describe this period as going through the motions or doing as if everything is fine.

Shock and denial is nature's way of softening the immediate blow of death. This often follows after the initial shock. People know that their loved one has died, but a part of them is unable to accept the reality of the death. It is not unusual to fantasise that the deceased will walk through the door as if nothing has happened. Some people will leave bedrooms unchanged or make plans as if the loved one will participate just as in the past.

Each individual’s journey is unique and yet the experience of grief is drawn from a common well of pain, anguish and distress that seems unbearable at times. Many people report feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, hopelessness or anxiety. Others experience weepiness, moodiness, loss of control and feeling withdrawn.

Sadness, anger and loss are the most inevitable emotions of grief. Anger is a normal response. It may be directed at the deceased for leaving and causing a sense of abandonment, or at the doctors and nurses who did not do enough. Anger may be directed at oneself for not saving the life of the loved one. Such feelings can be especially difficult if there were problems that had not been resolved before death.

Many people experience some or all of these feelings for months and sometimes even years. Few people escape from the feeling of guilt and regret.

"I should have done more."
"So many things could have been done differently."

Words that haunt many people are:

"If only I had known."
"I should have done this way or that way."
"If only I had been a better wife, husband, father, mother, friend, colleague and so forth."

Other individual's experience a decreased ability to carry out activities of daily living. Together with difficulty in sleeping and physical distress such as pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and muscle tension or symptoms such as confusion and loss of appetite.

The death of a loved one can turn our world upside down which can lead to feelings of confusion, fear and anxiety. Allow yourself time to adjust to your changed circumstances and give yourself space and time to grieve.

Grief affects people in different ways but many people (at the depth of their suffering) speak of feeling lonely, empty and isolated. It can be useful to express how you feel by reaching out to family and friends. Express your thoughts, feelings and emotions to others who understand what your needs are.

If you feel that you need more help, speak to your family doctor or consult another health professional. You can also get in contact with a trained counsellor who will be able to provide (in confidence) the opportunity for you to share the grief you and others feel.

The loss of a loved one is not something that you will ever get over entirely and that time alone will not heal the intensity of the depth of suffering. But acknowledging the loss and experiencing the pain may give way to a new perspective about the future.

It is easy to find ways of stepping around grief but if you have the courage to walk right through the middle of it there will come a day when you recognise yourself again. For instance, you notice that you take part in social and leisure activities, or realise that you have been enjoying yourself with family and friends.

Acceptance does not mean forgetting, but rather memories to create a new and meaningful life without the loved one.

Death can be a permanent loss experience. Death takes away, but facing it and grieving can result in peace, new strengths, meaning and purpose.

"Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them" (Tolstoy).


The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Soulbury LU7 & Olney MK46
Written by Janet Joosten, BA Hons Psych. AdvDip, PgD.
Soulbury LU7 & Olney MK46

Janet Joosten is a BACP counsellor, UKCP psychotherapist and CBT therapist. She has a special interest in health related issues and depression.


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