Dealing with a loss is a process for which the client must be granted ample time. There are essential phases to the mourning-process that can be distinguished clearly, and it is critical that the counsellor evaluates carefully whether the process is developing ‘normally’, or not.
Grief is a reaction to encountering a loss. Along with the full realisation that reality is irreversible, and that the loss is irreplaceable – it can result in acute sorrow and distress. When this emotional pain includes the loss of love, the person experiences the frustration of helplessness and powerlessness – similar to the experience accompanying the amputation of a limb. Along with a consuming longing for lost love, or yearning for the deceased, the pain is very intense and paralysing.
Underlying to this emotional crisis is man’s inherent fear of separation, isolation, rejection, and loneliness.
Grief, therefore, is a reaction to separation whereby the normal perceptual and emotional rhythms have been disturbed and interrupted suddenly.
The nature of the loss has a determining influence on the mourning process. Loss as a result of a divorce is, for the most part, more traumatic than the loss of a lifelong companion, due to the negative connotations involved. Other factors influencing the course of the mourning-process are, for example:
- The client’s general state of mind and attitude towards life
- Available support structure
- The reaction of family members
- The client’s concept of god and quality of relationship with God
TYPES OF LOSS
- Breaking up of a romantic relationship
- Death of a loved one
- Death of a pet
- Loss of a job
- Loss of social status
- Moving to a new house; leaving behind of familiar environment, friends and home
- Loss of belongings
- Loss of a limb
- Loss of health
- Loss of one’s youth
- Loss of security
- Loss of freedom, space or time
Loss can be discussed under two headings:
- Concrete or tangible loss, e.g. People, vehicles, pets or money;
- More abstract or non-material loss, e.g. Loss of status/position, self-respect or consciousness of God’s presence.
All losses (both concrete and abstract) can again be divided into three categories,
- Genuine loss
- Assumed (supposed) loss
- Probable / improbable loss
The last is the most difficult to cope with. Only when a loss has become a reality can dealing with the mourning-process commence and can healing start.
TEN STAGES OF GRIEF
- Shock and disillusionment.
- Emotional release.
- Depression and isolation.
- Physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety that manifest in hostility and anger.
- Panic and loss of concentration.
- Neurotic guilt feelings – out of proportion to the circumstances.
- Embitterment and resentment when the person overcomes depression.
- Inability to return to normal activities. Discomfort when talking about the deceased or loss.
- Hope starts breaking through gradually. The person begins to recognise that suffering stimulates spiritual growth and deepening.
- Accepts reality and shows new initiative – in the midst of tempered sorrow positive and purposeful planning begins to organise the future meaningfully, in spite of the loss.
PHASES DURING THE MOURNING-PROCESS
- DENIAL – SHOCK REACTION – this phase can only be concluded when one can admit to oneself that what has happened is genuine and real.
- RAGE – REBELLIOUS REACTION – angry with the possible guilty person, the deceased, even angry with God.
- REMORSE, REGRET, AND GUILT –GUILT REACTION – feelings of guilt towards the dead. A sense of guilt over anger towards God (during the previous phase). Acute awareness of own inadequacy follows. Experience false and real feelings of guilt.
- NEGOTIATION – SELF-ASSERTION REACTION – often unrealistic (unattainable) promises to God, and self-follow, in exchange for replacement of loss.
- SELF-PITY – PAIN REACTION – nobody else is having so much pain, is suffering so, or has it so hard. Painfully aware of loneliness and increasing fear of unknown future.
- DEPRESSION – PUNISHMENT REACTION – most painful phase of loss awareness. Self-punishing thoughts can lead to contemplation of suicide. Inner confusion. Usually, this is the point in the mourning-process after which the person proceeds towards the recovery phase.
- ACCEPTANCE – from a new position after a loss, new physical space in life circumstances. Starts planning for adjustments lying ahead. Needs to start talking about the loss.
- RENEWAL – deepening and enriching developmental process leads to renewed servitude and new depth in relationships with God and other people. Grateful for own life that has been spared, as well as those of others, and for the gift of time of grace to live.