Do you feel stuck in your grief? Has it been months since your loved one died and you feel you should be feeling better? Do others close to the deceased seem to be adapting more quickly than you? Has the pain gotten worse? These are questions with very individual answers. They may or may not indicate outside assistance is necessary.
Be assured, the vast majority of people mourning the death of a loved one do not need professional assistance. On the other hand, a professional counselor who often works with the bereaved, may be able to open new avenues for adjusting to the absence of your loved one. Here are some items to consider in deciding to look for assistance.
1. You believe you have lost your sense of identity as a person. In some relationships, the mourner's identity before the death was totally associated with the beloved. That person may have done many things for you that you should have been doing for yourself. Or you had few friends. While establishing a new identity is one of the usual tasks of grieving, sometimes the degree of dependence on the deceased now means your identity formation is a major need that must be initially addressed.
2. You have suffered from several significant losses in a short period of time. Sometimes within a matter of days, weeks, or months a mourner can suffer the deaths of more than one friend or family member or a combination of the two. Or, a death may have been preceded or followed by a divorce, a major fire in the home, an incarceration of a family member or the betrayal of a friend. The result of bereavement overload can be too much to handle without assistance.
3. You have suicidal thoughts. It is not uncommon for suicidal thoughts to pass through your mind as a way to silence the pain. Many mourners report such thoughts. Most of the time suicidal thoughts leave as they have entered. See someone immediately if you begin to think of a method or methods you might use. It is one thing to have a thought. It is quite another to start hatching a plan. The pain will gradually lessen, but don't wait to discuss your dilemma.
4. For weeks or months you have harbored extreme anger or hatred toward another associated with the death. You are convinced you will never forgive and you think about that person or situation every day. Such volatile emotions create a huge drain on your energy stores and your physiology each time you entertain these thoughts. Once more, anger and hostility curtail productive thinking for dealing with your loss.
5. You are alone without a loving support system or grief support groups in your area that you could join. Isolation is the arch enemy of adjusting to the death of a loved one. It is a nurturing person or community of persons whose presence and listening skills are at the core of keeping hope alive. Mourners need to express what is happening inside. If no one is consistently available or you feel stuck in your grieving, find a professional.
6. You are drinking more alcohol and using more sleeping medication or other drugs than usual. This is not an uncommon reaction to the pain of loss, especially when you live alone and evenings alone become unbearable. However, excessive use inevitably leads to various physical problems, sometimes a reduction in self-esteem, and often the inability to firmly establish needed new routines.
7. Your depression seems to persist. Normal reactive depression is a common response to the death of a loved one. It comes and goes often when grieving. Nonetheless, when it persists to the point where you are missing work, starting to seclude yourself, or feeling unable to deal with common chores or responsibilities, get help.
How do you find a competent grief counselor or therapist? First ask friends you know and trust. Call your local hospice to ask for recommendations. The same approach can be used with your local hospital or parish nurse at your church. If possible, look for a counselor who has dealt more with grief and is not into too many specialized areas. After your first visit you should have a feel about whether or not you feel comfortable with this person. If not, it is advisable to look elsewhere.
Finally, remember that it is not a sign of weakness to seek assistance in coping with the death of a loved one. We all need each other at various times throughout life. When grieving, it is one of those times.