Navigating grief, bereavement, and loss

While it is true that many of us are comfortable discussing the topic of death, we often lack the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the aftermath of loss - specifically, grief.


Few of us are equipped to provide the support and comfort that grieving individuals need, and even fewer know how to care for ourselves during profound loss. To address these challenges, two psychotherapists with extensive experience in the field of grief and loss have recently published books that offer practical guidance and poignant stories. These resources aim to correct common misconceptions about grief, including assumptions about its duration and how it should be experienced.

One of these books, It's OK That You're Not OK by Megan Devine, takes a critical look at our culture's inability to understand and support those who are grieving. Devine's book is based on her own experience of losing her partner, who drowned while they were on vacation. The other book, Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving by Julia Samuel, delves into the different ways people cope with loss and the impact that various types of loss can have on individuals and families. Samuel draws from her work with bereaved families, both in private practice and at England's National Health Service.

Together, these books provide valuable insight into the complex experience of grief and offer practical advice for those who are struggling to cope with loss, and I would recommend them to anyone struggling with bereavement. 

According to the books, the most significant message to take away is that grief cannot be categorised as right or wrong and that we must accept grief in all of its forms, both in ourselves and others. Both authors stress that grief should not be seen as a problem that can be solved or resolved. Instead, it should be regarded as a process that requires nurturing and living through, regardless of how long it takes or what form it takes. Each person experiences grief in their own unique way, and there is no single right or wrong way to mourn the loss of a loved one. 

Grief support provided by professionals and loved ones can at times adopt an unhelpful approach by encouraging mourners to "move on" from their pain. Both authors note that unexpressed pain can turn inward and create more problems, and the way to survive grief is by allowing pain to exist and not trying to cover it up or rush through it. A bereaved mother once told Ms. Samuel, "You never 'get over it,' you 'get on with it,' and you never 'move on,' but you 'move forward.'"

Encouraging someone to "get over it" is one of the biggest causes of further suffering during the grieving process. Instead, the goal should be to minimise suffering by acknowledging and supporting the mourner's pain. Feeling dismissed or unsupported can lead to additional suffering, with the mourner being told that something is wrong with the way they feel. I often advise those supporting mourners to offer friendship without asking too many questions or giving unsolicited advice. They should also help if needed and wanted, and a listening ear, no matter how many times mourners wish to recount their story.

For those grieving, I recommend finding a non-destructive way to express their pain. If you cannot share your story with another person, perhaps you may try writing, painting, or making a graphic novel with a dark storyline. Expressing grief can be a huge relief, especially when no one is trying to fix it.

Acknowledging your pain is a crucial step in the healing process after experiencing a loss. It is understandable that you may want to push your feelings aside or suppress them, especially if the pain feels overwhelming or uncomfortable. However, it is essential to remember that suppressing emotions does not make them disappear, but instead can intensify them and prolong the healing process.

Allowing yourself to experience and express your emotions can be challenging, but it can help you come to terms with your loss and begin to move forward. Talking to a trusted friend or therapist can also be an effective way to process your emotions. Having someone to listen to your thoughts and feelings without judgment can provide a safe space to work through your grief.

During this process, it is important to be patient with yourself and not rush the healing process. Grief is a complex and individual experience, and everyone processes it differently. It is normal to experience a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and loneliness. It is also normal to feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster, with ups and downs that can be difficult to manage.

During the grieving process, it is easy to feel as though you are stuck in a never-ending cycle of pain and suffering. However, it is crucial to recognise that while pain cannot be "fixed," it can be managed. This is where self-compassion comes in. Self-compassion means treating yourself with kindness and understanding, even when you are in pain.

One way to practice self-compassion is by keeping a journal to record situations that either intensify or relieve suffering. By doing this, you can identify triggers that make things worse or better. For example, you may find that spending time with certain people or engaging in certain activities brings you comfort, while others make you feel worse. By recognising these patterns, you can make conscious decisions to engage in things that help and avoid those that do not.

It is also important to find a non-destructive way to express your grief. This could be through journaling, painting, or even talking to the trees in the woods. Expressing your feelings in a non-destructive way can be an immense relief, and it can help you process your emotions in a healthy way.

I understand this may be a difficult time. I want you to know that you do not have to go through it alone. If you need to talk, vent, or just need a listening ear, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I am here to support you in any way I can. 

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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Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, EH8
Written by Aaron Kelly, MSc, MSc, MA (Hons) MBACP
Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, EH8

Aaron Kelly is a psychotherapist who is deeply committed to helping people overcome mental health challenges and live happier, more fulfilling lives. Aaron is known for his compassionate and empathetic approach to therapy, working closely with clients to understand their unique needs and challenges in order to help them achieve their goals.

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