Loss is a natural part of life but the pain and sadness after loss can feel overwhelming. 'Loss' might mean bereavement, but it might also mean the end of a marriage, children leaving home, or another 'ending'. Many therapists specialise in supporting people after loss of different kinds.
Losing a loved one or a relative is painful, and can leave people feeling depressed and isolated. If a loved one dies suddenly, the memory of things said or done (or unsaid and undone) can feel impossible to bear. By contrast, losing a loved one after a long illness can raise uncomfortable feelings of relief and peace; nonetheless, bereavement still hurts deeply.
Bereavement can also be difficult if the person who died was estranged or abusive, or if grief provokes conflicting feelings. It can be difficult to share ambiguous feelings with friends and family, particularly if some memories of that person are private.
Losing a son or daughter at birth is a bereavement that defeats description. But the nature of this loss can leave parents feeling that it is impossible to know where to start or how to cope. It can also leave partners, friends and family speechless or distant. It seems inevitable that any comfort or consolation, however well meaning, will fail.
Seeing a therapist after stillbirth can help express a sense of loss, particularly if feelings seem overwhelming, lacking or ‘wrong’.
Loss of an unborn baby can feel disorienting, lonely and near impossible to discuss with friends and family. When a pregnancy ends before term it can be a significant bereavement, but might be one that we don’t have space for when it happens. Still under a significant stigma, the pain of miscarriage is gradually coming to light. Seeing a therapist can make space for grief, even if the world can’t.
When a relationship ends, for good or bad, it can leave people with unpredictable or surprising emotions. Divorce still carries a stigma, which can make it hard to talk to friends and family about how it feels, what the relationship was like, and the way that it ended.
Divorce might also raise doubts and questions about a person’s own values and desires, and the way they’re expressed. Therapy can help address questions in a safe and confidential environment.
Leaving a job or being unable to pursue the work we wanted marks a significant change in life. When a job or vocation forms part of who we think we are, or thought we were, our identity fractures – it can be hard to know how to go on without the role, title or sense of purpose that was lost.
Losing a job is a common reason to seek therapy. While this type of loss is not comparable bereavement or relationship breakdown, clients can benefit from talking about their experience of redundancy in order to find a way through this difficult period.
Loss and grief are not clinical problems, but people experiencing loss and grief are at higher risk of mental health problems such as depression. If you are worried that you are becoming depressed, talk to your GP about changes that you’ve noticed, and how your loss has affected how you feel.
Feelings of loss and grief are normal, and there is no ‘correct’ way to grieve. There is no timeline for grief, and no-one can tell us how long to spend mourning the loss of a loved one, relationship, or part of our life.
There is no hierarchy of suffering. No loss is bigger, worse or harder than another. There is no way to measure one pain against another. There is no way to know how long the pain of loss will last, which is part of what makes it so difficult and frightening.
Loss and grief can also be overwhelming and disruptive. It is normal for bereavement, or a serious change in life, to affect our ability to live ‘normally’, but when people experience chronic distress or despair after a loss they may need help and support.
People report feeling tired, losing their appetite, sleeping badly, and feeling physical symptoms like chest pain and nausea when they are grieving or coping with loss. Feelings like these can make it hard to work, see friends, and to go about life as it was before.
Sometimes, after a person dies their loved ones might not feel the loss immediately. A person might feel numb, struggle to cry, or feel out of touch with those who are able to grieve openly. They may judge themselves, or face others’ judgement, but delayed grief is just as normal or ‘right’ as any other kind of grief.
Grief might be delayed until a relevant trigger event, such as an anniversary or significant date. Delaying grief might feel like a way of coping with overwhelming loss or pain, protecting one’s own grief from others’, or a way of remembering a loved one after death.
Discussing grief with a therapist can help people look without judgement at what they feel might be ‘missing’ from the way they are grieving, describe how life has changed after their loss, and make room to remember the person who has died in a way that feels truthful and honest. How long does grief last?
There is no right or wrong way to grieve any loss, and even in one lifetime a person might grieve losses differently. Sometimes, at the end of relationships, people have already felt and recognised the experience of loss or ending – in a few cases, this can make the grief easier to cope with.
For others, sudden bereavement can feel overwhelming. Grief is also not ‘a problem to be solved’ – it can be closely interlinked with memory and love, something to be honoured and protected rather than resolved and itself ‘lost’.
People who are bereaved often describe grief as ‘coming in waves’, as if endless. Working with a therapist can help people feel less alone in their bereavement.
Talking about loss can be a way to share the pain you’re in. Psychotherapy helps explore experiences, feelings and memories about the person or part of life that you’ve lost, or the end of a relationship.
In particular, bereavement counselling can help people explore loss and grief, and ways to cope with the pain of loss.
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After the death of his father, photographer Simon Bray began making portraits and interviewing others about their loss.
This free counselling services specialises in helping people recover after major loss.
Doctors and counsellors offer free counselling to people who’ve been bereaved by cancer and Covid-19.
For people in distress or despair, especially for people experiencing suicidal thoughts, Samaritans is open 24 hours a day by phone (116 123) and email (email@example.com).