It’s said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

So it is only a matter of time before every single one of us will experience the devastation that comes with the loss of a loved one.

With the great strides taken in health and medicine over the past century, many of us can reach adulthood relatively unscathed by loss – and may never even have attended a funeral. So when the inevitable happens, and a loved one passes away, we have no idea what to expect or how to handle it.

Grief is a deeply personal experience. Some can attend a funeral and maintain their composure; others dissolve into tears. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Grief: What to Expect

In the weeks following your loss, it’s common for your emotions to be all over the place. While most of us expect to experience sorrow, sadness and tears, the reality is that grief can give rise to a whole range of emotions, such as:

  • Anger;
  • Frustration;
  • Irritability;
  • Anxiety;
  • Guilt or remorse;
  • Numbness and detachment;
  • Shock; and
  • Apathy.

If you have recently been bereaved, it’s important to be patient with yourself, and to prioritise your own self-care.

Experts are divided on whether that self-care should include grief counselling as standard. However one thing they do agree on, is that for those individuals struggling with extreme or complicated grief (said to be between 10-15%), grief counselling can be both beneficial and effective (1).

When to Seek Grief Counselling

So how do you know if grief counselling is appropriate?

If the bereaved person is overwhelmed by grief, to the point where it is having a significant impact on their daily life, and there seems to be little to no improvement despite the passing of at least 6 months – it is time to seek professional help (2).

Signs of complicated or extreme grief may include:

  • Insomnia, or conversely, sleeping too much;
  • Changes in eating habits – over-eating, or lack of appetite;
  • Feelings of hopelessness;
  • Inability to focus on tasks;
  • Withdrawal from friends and family;
  • Neglecting personal hygiene;
  • Avoiding social occasions;
  • Lack of interest in activities which previously brought enjoyment.
  • Feelings of hopelessness.

In cases like these, grief counselling by a mental health professional can help the bereaved person by:

  • allowing them to talk about their loss (at a time when their immediate circle is no longer as sympathetic);  
  • work through their feelings;
  • equipping them with strategies to better cope with the loss; and
  • providing emotional support.

While the experience of grief and loss is never a pleasant one, it is something we all have to face – and there is no shame if you should be one of the small percentage who needs a little extra help to cope with it.