The death of a loved one often brings people to seek help from psychologists. Below are the most commonly asked questions about grief as answered by the Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement.

How long will this go on?

Your Questions on Grief Answered - Part 1

The journey through grief is a highly individual experience. So rather than focus on a timeline, it is perhaps more helpful to focus on its intensity and duration. Initially, grief is overwhelming and people can feel out of control. With time, however, people find they have more ability to choose when they access memories and emotions.

Am I going mad?

It may certainly feel like it at times! Particularly if the your need to grieve is out of step with your social and cultural expectations.

Grief affects people physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. For example, you may be required to make adjustments to your life and learn new skills at a time when you feel least able to do so. So, receiving validation and permission to grieve is important in the recovery and healing process.

Do I have the right to inflict my grief on others? What can I expect of them and they of me?

Others may feel intensely uncomfortable with your emotions and pain to the point of feeling helpless. The anxiety this causes may mean that you may feel that you are being avoided – increasing feelings of isolation. It is important that you are assertive about your needs and wishes. And it is helpful if you communicate with family, friends, and colleagues rather than leave them guessing about what would be useful and comforting. People should never underestimate the power of listening and being a warm presence around  you.

Is there a right way and a wrong way of coping with grief?

People are individuals with personalities and life experiences that influence the way in which they deal with grief. People’s style of grieving must be respected and in this sense there is no right or wrong way of coping. However, the amount of support people receive can reduce some of the impact of grief and facilitate recovery. People often have an awareness about what they need to do to feel better but feel inhibited or judged and don’t act on their inclinations. Talking about what is happening, what they are going through, expressing emotion and being in a supportive and accepting climate is generally helpful.

How do I know when I need help?

Reassurance from others who have experienced grief, and an understanding of what people have gone through when grieving can be a helpful yardstick. Any continued fears or anxieties about your wellbeing or thoughts of self-harm should be addressed by seeking help. Prolonged intense emotion or obsessive thoughts or behaviours that make functioning difficult may also require help.

Stages of grief

Grief does not follow a linear pattern. It is more like a roller coaster: two steps forward and one step back. Ultimately, people manage to integrate the experience to the point of having a new life arising from the old. The loss remains and is always remembered, but the intensity is no longer disabling.

Does counselling help?

Grief is a normal response to loss and people can often work through the loss with the loving support of family and friends. However, for a variety of reasons it may be necessary to seek professional help in the form of counselling.

Counselling may initially intensify painful feelings as the external distractions are removed, and you are able to focus on your experiences and explore them fully. You may need to talk about your story over and over again and may be concerned about the ‘wear out’ factor on family and friends, especially if details are very distressing. Equally, you may find that others have unrealistic expectations of your recovery or experiences. If you have to continue on in roles as a parent or carer, counselling may provide valuable time-out for your own needs—to grieve and receive support.

A supportive, safe and accepting environment and time set aside regularly can make a great difference. It may provide comfort and hope at a time of great confusion and crisis.

More questions on grief will be answered in our next blog.  Additional information on grief is available at http://www.grief.org.au

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