Bereavement is about loss… of any kind. Loss of a pet, home or job, health, friendship or romantic relationship. Loss is such a pervasive part of life that it challenges our basic assumptions. When what we hold dear is no longer certain, our ability to trust may be shattered. The challenge of restoring balance in life and a renewed sense of purpose can be daunting.
Let us focus on loss of life in particular, that of loved ones… family members, children, parents, or friends. To lose another can be an experience in losing a part of oneself, or alternatively, an occasion for deepened self knowledge. The capacity to listen to our internal experience calls on a different relationship with oneself. I call this inner way of knowing… discernment. Bereavement work is ultimately about discerning a new truth.
Experiencing the death of a loved one may provoke extreme emotions: fear and anger, shame and helplessness, sadness and loneliness, abandonment and isolation. These emotions may keep us from being fully present with a loved one in the last moments of life. Sadness and regrets make it difficult to find peace and rest, or to feel complete in our goodbyes.
Too often, our best efforts get derailed by newly ignited family conflict, or revelations of once tightly-guarded family secrets. All of our basic insecurities about feeling loved and valued in our families of origin come into finer focus. Translate these feelings of vulnerability onto one’s life partner and/or children, and there is more room for confusion and hurt.
Finally, a recent loss can trigger memories of prior losses often unresolved, or never fully grieved.
In my approach to bereavement counseling, I bear witness to your experience of loss: how it was shaped by your relationship with the deceased, and how that absence compels the start of a new story. I view the client-therapist relationship as a container for rebuilding safety and healing. I encourage clients to become progressively more self-directed at pacing the content and timing of themes explored in session. I, in turn, modulate the intensity of exposure to difficult feelings such as anger and rage, hatred and animosity, jealousy and resentment, gently coaxing or slowing down storms of raw emotion. This is an ongoing process that restores wholeness and trust in life, and allows one to take ownership of his/her story with renewed hope. I do this work weaving a variety of approaches informed by my professional training, spirituality, and life experiences that enable me to help restore wholeness and peace for the bereaved.
Dr. Elanah Naftali, the author of this article, is a licensed marriage & family therapist who sees clients at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley in our Haverford office. To make an appointment with her, please use our Make an Appointment page.