It may be counterintuitive, but as a counsellor I’m not very keen on counselling and support groups. I see myself as an introvert – but it wasn’t until I was working with a couple of clients around loss I recently became aware that whilst therapy is useful for confidential support, a reflective space and an outlet, for some folk other forms of self-expression, other than my voice, feel just as comfortable.
Don’t get me wrong - I believe in what I do, and talking therapies have their place. They can help us to learn to cope silently if we are not the sort who feel comfortable with ‘talking things through’. We may not be ready. Or may simply not be one of those who can easily share loss with others.
Silent coping is not the same thing as bottling things up.
Take Marcia. She has had a challenging relationship with her daughter, who has decided she no longer wants anything to do with her mother. Marcia finds this hard to deal with, but also acknowledges there is little she can do. She considers the way she feels about the situation and her relationship with her daughter. So, she has decided to write a letter about how she feels about the situation. She intends it to be carefully crafted and well-thought out. She may or may not post it, but thinking, writing and reading it through may bring some peace and perspective and perhaps provide an ending of some sort. Writing can help: it can organise thoughts, calm us down, as well as de-stress, relieve anxiety, help us confront our losses and process our emotions. It can help us recognise where we get our support from and what opportunities are around us to help us feel less empty.
Take Jenny. We discovered in therapy that what seemed to be holding her back was her seeming inability to grieve for her Grandad who had died eight years ago. Everyone else in the family felt able to talk about his death. Her Mum posted a ‘celebration’ of his passing on Facebook and couldn’t stop talking about her loss. Jenny was horrified by her mother’s actions. We discussed how we all grieved for our losses differently. Jenny realised she had put her need to grieve aside because she had to be strong for her Mum who was very public about her loss.
She had bottled her loss up. Not one for talking about her loss, she brought along a photobook and talked me through the memories of her grandad. She had not been able to get beyond the first page before, now we sat together and flicked through the pictures of key events. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.
She realised she had not only lost her grandad but with him her support system, someone who was on her side, someone who believed in her.
As the anniversary of his death approached, one of the things Jenny planned to do on this day was to come to therapy. A private, reflective space where she could safely acknowledge the passing of her grandad. She may not talk about him, but we can be present together remembering him. And Jenny can feel thankful for having had him in her life.
Both Marcia and Jenny show how grieving for their losses can take place quietly within themselves. They have discovered their own unique form of coping with loss. And having learned, by coping silently, they had found some release and relief from their own emotional pain.