Prince Harry helps to raise awareness of delayed grief
Last week, Prince Harry shared how he sought counselling, 20 years after the death of his mother, Princess Diana. By doing so, helped to raise awareness within the public's consciousness of delayed grief.
Delayed grief is something that can affect many of us following a loss of someone (or something) we cared deeply about.
What is Delayed Grief?
Our grief responses can be delayed when we do not sufficiently work through and release them at the time of the loss. Instead, they then happen in the future, as described by Prince Harry. Prince Harry explained how, 20 years after his mother's death, he found himself angry and full of anxiety in social situations. Unfortunately, the reactions can then seem disproportionate to the situation and to those around us...
For many reasons, when we are ill, grieving or suffering, there can be a strong internal push to 'keep going' and carry on as normal. In the case of grieving, this means that that our natural healing cycle is interrupted: our bodies want to heal and have an intelligence that knows how to heal, but our 'heads' get in the way. We tell ourselves to get over it, we feel shame about our pain and in doing so, we prolong the suffering.
Because, the emotions are still there, and they may emerge at a later date, as in the case of Prince Harry.
We can look further into the death of Princess Diana to understand delayed grief. Whilst Prince Harry was suppressing his own response, Diana's death triggered an outpouring of emotion from the British public, who, it seems were able to tap into their own feelings and express grief that they had suppressed in their own lives.
The death of public figures and celebrities is one way we are able to connect to the grief we've not worked through. We can also release suppressed grief when watching particularly emotional films or TV programmes. Many of us have had the experience of crying – sometimes unexpectedly – during a particular scene in a film or in response to an emotional moment in a TV show.
The role of crying and how counselling can help
Crying does much more than make us feel better; it heals grief, and does deeply and powerfully.
Often, we put energy into suppressing our emotions, perhaps confusing the pain (the grief in this case) with the healing of the pain. We think that when we cry, it's a sign of how much we are hurting. However, it is a sign that some of the hurt is being released.
The sadness is the pain, and the crying is the healing of that pain.
We mistakenly believe that if we stop ourselves crying (by “cheering up” for example, or by “taking our minds of it”), that we will feel better. But we don't.
We’ve interrupted our healing process, and left ourselves with all the same pain we started with. Pain that can return in the future.
The good news is that crying is built into our biological make up.
We don't need to be taught how to do it, we just need to allow ourselves the space and time for it to happen.
Counselling gives us the space to sit with and feel our emotions. Often this can allow us to be heard, to truly cry, and therefore release and heal emotions.
At the time of the loss, these emotions might have felt overwhelming, for example when faced with a particularly traumatic death, or there might have been a lack of social support.
A skilled therapist can help us to connect the grief reaction to the earlier loss and work through our feelings.
Grief can be a more straightforward experience if the relationship with the person who died was 'OK'. If this is not the case, then some of the more complicated emotions can be worked through in therapy, and counselling can draw on a number of ways to help this process. For example, we might talk to a counsellor and decide we want to write to the person who has died, to express our thoughts and feelings.
Another way of communicating is to use something called the ‘two chair’ approach, where our counsellor will ask us to talk to the person as though they are in the room. Although to many people this may sound strange, when this is sensitively done at the right time it can provide an emotionally cathartic healing experience. A skilled counsellor will work to find ways for us to cope outside of the sessions too.
Different types of grief
There are many different types of grief, and complicated grief (such as delayed grief) may be more likely to occur when a death is sudden – in the case of suicide for example, a result of a violent crime, or when we have witnessed a death – such as in the event of a car accident. In this situation, we may experience shock and trauma, as well as grief. Certain types of counselling can help to treat the shock and trauma first of all, so that we can then move on and connect with the grief.
We may also experience complicated grief whilst a person is still alive, for instance if a loved one becomes ill and we become their carer. We may find ourselves grieving for the relationship that we have lost, grieving for the freedom we have lost or for the things we used to do together. After the person dies, we might feel a sense of relief and this can bring with it feelings of guilt.
Death and dying can offer the opportunity to look afresh at life – when the time is right. Some people find that their priorities change, and that some things which previously held a lot of importance no longer do. Animals are a great source of comfort to some people. Even though animals do not speak they are often profoundly tuned in to emotions on a body level and will use touch and proximity to bring comfort.
Relationships with others can deepen, and some find that they develop a more active spiritual life or deeper connection to nature. The important thing is to work with your counsellor to explore the ways that work for us as individuals.
Want to talk?
If, having read this article you would like to talk to someone about any aspect of grief or grieving, then please do get in touch by calling us on 01270 764003.
Wishing you well, thanks for reading
Image courtesy of Maxwell Hamilton