Mourning: a natural process

 

Suffering, which we feel after the death a person close to us is a perfectly normal reaction. A person close and important to us is gone, a person, who was fulfilling our needs, perhaps taking care of us and supporting us, or bringing joy to our life or simply was listening to us and was closely connected to us. Naturally, this brings a lot of emotions, often contradictory. After death of a close person, we may feel not only sorrow and despair, but also anger, irritation, grief, comedown, disappointment, disbelief, relief, or even joy. Our emotions may change every day, every hour, or even every minute. Hilarity may be intertwined with tears, sorrow and grief that cannot be calmed down. Despair may be accompanied by anger and desolation.

Psychologia Warszawa

Even if for some reason we have not maintained close relationship in the recent time, death of a close person evokes intense emotions. When someone dies, a chapter has been closed, there will be no chance to reconcile, restore friendship or explain doubts. We will never be able to ask questions we haven’t asked before. We will never redress certain things nor receive compensation. Death is one of the few events that are irreversible. The only thing we can do is to close the process by symbolic actions, answering questions that we can only guess and work on what happens to us, with no possibility to be confronted with another person.

 

Additionally, death of a close person makes us confront our own mortality. Death of our parents makes us realise that there is no generation separating us from death. Death of friend in an accident makes us realise how fragile our own life is. Such events make us reflect on our own life, often makes us change our behaviour: slow down the pace of our life, think over the values we live by, or take decisions we have been postponing for years.

Our reactions may be especially strong when a death came unexpectedly: caused by an accident, a disaster or a crime. The mourning process may be more intensive in such case, adding also shock, disorientation, dismay, denial, disbelief to other emotions that we feel after a death of a close person. Additionally, we have to manage many practical problems, which we have not been prepared to face. When someone healthy and strong dies suddenly, we have no emergency plans: a family may lose its main breadwinner, children may lose their main caretaker, parents may lose their dreams relating to the future (becoming grandparents, seeing the next generations of their heirs).

When the mourning requires assistance of a psychologist or psychotherapist

Usually, the mourning does not require a specialist assistance. Ways of grieving may vary depending on the situation and the grieving person, but usually after the initial difficult period, things come back to the stable and efficient functioning. Obviously, nothing can return the person that has passed away and we may suffer from loss for years, even for the rest of our life, but we are able to return to our routine. The emotions slowly fade down, we become calmer, although remembering the person who passed away may still bring pain. We begin to function efficiently again: work, study, take care of our house, do business, plan for holidays. We find ways to fill in the space: find support, build new relationships, learn new skills.

In some situations, however, mourning may require support from a specialist: a psychologist, a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist. This applies to situations when a grieving person is not able to cope with the death of a close person on their own or using outside resources (help of other close persons, using available opportunities or financial means). The issues may occur at the beginning of the mourning, soon after death of a close person, when grieving is so intense that it may threaten even the safety of the grieving person or of persons close to him or her, for example a widowed mother is not able to take care of her children, or a partner of someone who died a sudden death has suicidal thoughts.

 

It may also happen that the problems with moving on with the mourning process may be observed after a long time. For example, a widowed man for many years focuses only on taking care of his wife’s grave and visiting the cemetery, while neglecting once important children or grandchildren or his former hobbies and interests.

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Another situation may happen when despite the time that passes and trying to return to efficient functioning we are not able to return to our regular routine and remembering the person who passed away makes it difficult to work, study or maintain other relationships. In such situations, it may be advisable to consult with a psychologist or a psychotherapist and commence psychological work over the difficulties we encounter.

The therapy of a grieving person always begins with psychological consultation, which allows to recognise the problem. After the consultation, the psychologist or psychotherapist will propose further work in a form of psychological assistance or individual psychotherapy, usually covering:

 

  • work over emotions and thoughts evoked by the death of a close person
  • work over motivation to overcome grieving
  • work over resources to help to cope with the situation
  • discussing what death means to us
  • or even philosophical and existential discussion (if you need it)

 

Sometimes, in special events, a psychologist may propose consultations with a psychiatrist and using pharmacotherapy.

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