Grief Therapy

 

Are you grieving a loss or anticipating one?  Could you use someone to support you who won’t just hand you a tissue and tell you you’ll be all right?

Do you wonder how you might hold on to your connection with someone who has died or left, but let go of the ways grief is holding you back?

 

When you are coping with grief it can seem like you are under water while everyone around you is going about their business up on land where you used to be.  Grief, whether fresh or long standing, pulls the rug out from under us in a way that is difficult to explain to those who have not lived it. Grief affects our entire system and feels like Hell; it is literally life-altering.

The grieving process is a bumpy road. 

Grief isn’t just an alternative universe, it’s the nastiest, cattiest, meaner-than-a-slighted-and-jealous-mean-girl snake. . . Grief is a cobra.  It is fierce, hides, lurks, strikes, and it can be brutal or even fatal.  And it is lived in the body; it can be seen and felt and touched.  It is not an intellectual experience; it is a bodily one.      
-Emily Rapp, The Still Point of a Turning World

Grief can be like a roller coaster on a track that never goes the same way twice.  In early grief our minds play tricks on us, rocketing us between the past and the present—leaving us with a sense of emotional and perceptual vertigo.  As reality sets in we may have “good days” and “bad days,” vacillating between our old, “normal” selves and our grieving selves—acutely aware that Life will never be the same, with little patience for the small stuff.

The idea that there are stages of grief can be helpful in navigating the experience, but those of us who have grieved know that the process is anything but linear.  Though you may have gotten to the point of leaving the house, going back to work, and even thinking or speaking of your loved one without crying, when stress or reminders comes up, maybe you fall apart a little.  You may have lost someone years ago, but a transition, like becoming a parent or coping with a new loss, has stirred up grief again.

Loss is one of the hardest things we are faced with in this life, but in our culture we don’t get a lot of grief support.  In a society obsessed with positivity and “moving on” it can feel like the collective message around us is “get over it.” 

But we don’t “just get over it,” do we? 

 Tombstone for a beloved pet dog named Rag

At times, feeling sad and ruminating on the details of the death or separation can feel like the only ways we have to stay connected to the person or pet we’ve lost, and we couldn’t stop if we tried.  We may feel that when we try to step back from the pain, even for a few hours, it is a betrayal of our loved one. . .and then confusion and guilt often descend.  Sometimes we feel guilt and confusion because we are not feeling “enough" guilt and confusion!  Or we feel nothing.  Each person has a unique mix and intensity of feelings in the wake of each loss experienced. 

On a personal level, when I lost my mother at twenty-four, I floundered in a morass of painful and confused emotions with little support at first.  I tried to journal, write poetry and letters to my mom, and I talked to friends and family, but until I found a very special art therapist who helped me grieve my mom and sort through my feelings with art, I felt I couldn’t get back into the flow of normal life and my pain made it difficult to move forward in my life.  When I trained to become an art therapist and counselor soon thereafter, I was determined to use what I had learned about grief and grief therapy to help others who are grieving.  Today, as a specialist in bereavement with 15+ years of experience in the mental health field, I understand the unique challenges and even rewards of grief.

Griefwork works. 

. . .This desire to make sense of the chaos is a natural part of healing. . .We must guard our own internal responses, trust our own sense of things, and allow the process, like birth, to guide us.    
–Nancy Cobb, In Lieu of Flowers
 Woman with long brown hair sitting in a field

If we can linger with the grieving process for a while, trusting it without escaping or suppressing it, we can survive our pain and integrate loss—even the biggest of losses—into a life well-lived.  Oftentimes we need others to help us through this process, and people close to us are not always the ideal supports.  This is where grief therapy can help.

If you are facing an impending loss, grief or death counseling can help as well.  When someone in your life has a life-limiting illness, you are caught between worlds, struggling to support the ill person and hold hope, while at the same time trying to face the possibility of death and how you will cope when or if your loved one dies.  This is anticipatory grief and though your focus may be in caring for someone else during this time, caring for yourself is immensely important for both of you and anyone else who may depend on you.

But you may still wonder if grief counseling is for you. . .

 

"I’ve heard about “the grief process,” but it feels like it will never end.  How exactly will I finish “processing” my grief?"

The pace, sequence, and intensity of the grief process is different for everyone, but there is a general sequence of stages that is typical.  You may get stuck in a stage or return to previous stages for many different reasons, but if you can allow grief to unfold naturally with curiosity, tell your story to someone who can listen without judgment, and receive support, the process will proceed.  While grief may never feel “finished,” the pain will diminish and you will relate to it in a way that doesn’t keep you from doing what you need and want to do in your life.

"What will I do in grief therapy?  It's too hard to talk about my loss."

In grief counseling with me you will heal and grow by sharing your experience of loss, connecting with the importance of your loved one’s impact on you, and learning to defuse the power grief has to become an obstacle to values-based living.   It will hurt, but you are hurting anyway and by facing and expressing your experience, healing can happen.  If you are open to it, you may also use the creative arts with me to capture aspects of your loss and the one you have lost.  Art-making, writing, and other forms of creative expression can help put the surreal mess that is grief into a form that is, if not comprehensible, at least externalized so that you can get some amount of perspective on it and relief from it.  Art can help you memorialize the one you have lost and be its own form of mourning.

If you would like to schedule an appointment or discuss any questions you may have about grief counseling, please call me at 720-336-5852 or contact me here.  I am happy to offer a free, 30-minute in-person or phone consultation.  I do my best to return all voicemails and emails within one business day.