The things I learned in the counselling room

How long does grief last?

Registered counsellor Tiew Ee Jing

The counseling room, a woman who lost her partner, a counselor.

She cried and spoke about her reluctance, heartache, regret and self-blame for the loss of her partner; how life seemed like it lost its meaning, and how she goes through each day like the walking dead. She was extremely distressed and used all her strength to ask the counselor, “How long will my grief last? I really can’t go on like this!”

She looked at the counselor with pleading eyes, as if expecting the counselor to be able to provide the answer that can make her grief disappear immediately and return her to her original happy self.

In the grief care counseling room, “how long will my grief last” is a common question posed by clients. Whenever this question comes up, it always tugs at my heart. I am aware of the emotional core behind this question; it isn’t because they don’t want to grieve or love, but they love and grieve so much they become overwhelmed. Survival is a basic human instinct. Knowing that they are consumed by grief, only by asking for help can they pull themselves out of this abyss and to find acceptance in an existence deprived of their loved one. This is a very normal journey with grief, although the journey is a very painful one.

“Grief is like sticky molasses; it may stick to us for the rest of our lives or it may stick to a certain portion of our lives – simply refusing to leave” is another insight I’ve recently had about grief. Just when we start to think that life is getting better, an event, person or object will remind us, “Ah, so you’re still here!”

It turns out the stubborn and sticky goop had never left, but just stuck somewhere we couldn’t see.

“I am not going to spend my entire life like this, won’t I go mad?”

I always smile gently and respond, “Perhaps grief will follow us like sticky molasses throughout our lives, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t live our daily lives or go mad because of it.”

When people get caught up in grief, it causes us to feel like we’re going mad, confused, powerless and weak. However, that isn’t the case because remember how we all possess basic survival instinct? We will slowly become stronger – so strong that our hearts eventually become strong enough to contain that sticky mess that is grief, keep it hidden somewhere we won’t notice, and occasionally take it out to have a look whenever we feel the longing. Keep in mind that behind the grief is a great love and longing, and that neither is in conflict with going about our daily lives. We can love, we can miss, and we can live as usual. This is the best way to gently manage our grief and love.

“But I see that so-and-so recovered quickly from grief, am I more problematic?”

It’s true, not only are we naturally self-critical, but we also look at our grief in the context of those around us. It’s not that we particularly want to compare, but we desperately want to be the person we perceive is better. In many psychological studies, several factors have been found to influence our grief, including the relationship with the deceased, the cause of death and age of the deceased, environmental factors, and so on. Just because many people seem to recover from grief quickly, it doesn’t mean the grief in their hearts has disappeared – much like the analogy of the sticky molasses mentioned earlier. If we haven’t been able to recover from grief as quickly as others, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean we have a problem; it’s just that the factors affecting our grief are different from others, and this is how we need to view the basis of our grief.

If a wife loses the love of her life, and likewise loses the pillar of the family and greatest support in her life, her grieving process to find acceptance will require more strength than most people to adapt to a new existence. Remember that everyone has their own unique journey in grief. Perhaps we may unconsciously compare ourselves to others along the way, or the people around us may urge us to get out of it quickly simply because they do not understand. However, at this moment, please gently tell yourself, “It’s okay. I can walk this path slowly at my own pace, because only I know my feelings best, and only I can treat myself well.”

“So what can I do about grief now?”

We can do a lot about grief, but we don’t really need to do anything special. I really like this quote by Mr Fong Yee Leong: “grief is for grieving”. From this quote, we can understand that in the face of grief, we always hope to stop and recover from grief as soon as possible. However, we tend to ignore the fact that grief also needs its space to grieve properly. At the first stage of grief, what we can do is just allow ourselves to mourn, grieve and cry. Maybe you will feel like a zombie, helpless, useless and like you’re going mad. That’s okay; we allow ourselves to wallow in such a dismal state for a while, and accept our own failures and weaknesses. By completely releasing all the emotions that ought to be released, you will find that our grief can flow, and this flow will become our strength to support us when we pick ourselves up to move forward. When we reach that stage, we can think about what we can do about our grief.

In my past experience, when I was asked the question, “How long will my grief last?”, I’ve always wanted to give a professional reply to calm the client. What they needed most was a space to grieve and talk about their grief. Thank you to these individuals for teaching me this in the counseling room.

“How long will my grief last?” I will tell you, “No rush, just have a good cry first!”

Introduction of Nirvana Care Grief Care Department

Nirvana Care Grief Care Department

Nirvana Care – Grief Care department, cares your grieving journey… We provide individual counselling, group support and life education awareness. 

Contact us at griefcare@nvasia.com.my or 010-9896954 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm) for appointment or phone and email enquiry.

 
Author

Tiew Ee Jing, K.B.P.A.; certified and registered counsellor under Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia. She is passionate to promote life education to the public awareness and caring for life.

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