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What Does Grief Support Look Like?

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

When we experience significant, on-going symptoms of grief that interfere with our adjustment to the reality of our loss, it can be time to seek professional help. It can be difficult to know where to find help and what grief support options are available.

Begin by asking for a referral. Maybe your family or friends have received good grief support they would recommend. Your doctor can typically provide a referral or you can conduct an internet search. When you find a grief support program on the internet, take time to examine the website thoroughly then connect by email or telephone to ask any questions you have before deciding which support might be the best fit for you.

Types of Grief Support:

Individual counselling with a therapist. A professional who has experience and knowledge in the area of dying, death and grief will listen to your story without judgment and then co-create a plan for healing that feels comfortable for you. The time you spend in counselling should be dedicated to your grief, with a focus on helping you find your way through your experience using information, insights and skill of the therapist to help you through the complex feelings and tasks.

Group therapy. This type of support may be led by a professional, or may be offered by peers who have experienced a similar loss. Groups can offer a rich support experience that lets you know you are not alone, and offers you the opportunity to learn from several others living with a similar loss. The time you spend in group will be shared and with a focus on topics relevant to the group’s purpose rather than any one group member’s situation. It’s important to learn about how the group works and what types of activities you’ll experience as you decide whether to try attending a group. If the group is run by peers, ask what type of training and support they received to ensure they’re delivering quality care.

On-line forums. There are many groups and forums focused on grief education and support on the internet. These are easy to access and allow you to participate at your own comfort level, either by simply reading posts or actively sharing your own situation, seeking support and offering support to others. A forum can create a sense of community among its membership, providing a great source of information and support from others who have a similar experience of loss who share what they have learned. In public internet forums there is always a risk of interference by people who post to cause trouble, but private, members-only, moderated forums can significantly reduce this risk.

Remember, whatever type of grief support you try beyond family and friends, don’t be afraid to quit if the style or structure of the support doesn’t feel comfortable or helpful. If you’re still experiencing the symptoms that led to your decision to seek additional help, please don’t stop trying to find the kind of support that can meet your needs. There are many different types of counsellors, groups and forums and it can take some time to find the one that’s right for you. Your healing is worth it!

Grief and Secondary Loss

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

Grief and Secondary Loss

Secondary losses are those that often accompany the death of a loved one and may go unacknowledged beside the more recognized experience of that primary loss. Secondary loss includes such things as role, family structure, support systems, identity, faith, purpose and security. These connections are related to the relationship between the griever and the deceased, and will be different for every griever.

Secondary losses are complicated because they vary so much, and because they are often unspoken. It can be difficult to understand and accept these losses as they are often intangible. People are less likely to acknowledge that the griever might feel pain because of a loss of confidence related to the death of their loved one. We tend to see these issues as challenges to navigate rather than as losses worthy of grieving.

What can help?

Identify these losses. Recognize the many intangible ways that the death of an important loved one changes your life. When we acknowledge these losses it helps us understand why we’re feeling such deep pain and finding it hard to heal.

Seek validation. If your family and friends can’t accept that these losses are just as real and have a significant impact on your grief, look for other avenues of validation. Talk to a grief counsellor, or find a grief support group or an on-line forum where your thoughts and feelings about your secondary losses can be understood and accepted.

Take time to grieve these losses, too. You’re expected to grieve the absence of the person who died. Give yourself permission to feel this grief, too. Create rituals to honour the changes in your life and how they are impacted by and impacting your grief process.

Trust yourself to carry on. You can carry the grief you feel. In time, as you adapt to this reality, it will shift and you will feel ready to develop new strategies, roles and identities. You will create support systems that meet your needs as you are now. You will find a way to rebuild your confidence and re-establish security in your life.

Grief is all encompassing. Understanding secondary losses opens a door to a deeper appreciation of the complex layers of grief that we experience when someone we love dies. Although it can be a challenge to identify these intangible losses, the time we take to consider them may help us understand the ways that grief touches us in so many personal ways and that can help us have patience with your unique path to healing after loss.