What Is Bereavement Coaching?

Is it possible to avoid the pain of loss? It is, but only if we want to go through life avoiding love and connection. Being human means we will experience loss throughout our lives. The key is to remember that the grief we encounter is a direct result of the love that we had for someone.

Everyone at some point has managed or will manage the pain that comes from the loss of a loved one at some point. Successfully surviving bereavement depends on how we face our emotions and engage with the ebbs and flows of loss.

What is Bereavement Coaching?

Bereavement describes the experience of mourning and grief that occurs after the death of a loved one. Though people may use grief and mourning interchangeably, the reality is that they are two sides of the same coin. Grief is the natural reaction to a loss, while mourning is the outward expression of grief. How we mourn is impacted by our culture, society, and customs. Professionals in the grief coaching and counseling space specialize in bereavement coaching to specifically address grief that comes from the death of a close loved one.

Bereavement coaches specialize in helping people discover actionable ways to manage grief and mourn loved ones in the midst of the day to day. While therapists can help you understand why you may be feeling specific emotions, coaches encourage you to find healthy avenues to engage with your grief and mourn in ways that resonate with you.

What are the benefits?

There are several benefits of bereavement coaching. Speaking with a bereavement coach provides a neutral option for you to work through your  experiences, feelings, and relationships outside of your friends and family. Everything you talk about between you and your coach is completely confidential (except in the event of any  urgent safety concerns), so you can feel at ease sharing.  

Coping with Complex Emotions

Bereavement coaching offers a safe, non-judgemental place to express and process the complicated emotions that occur in grief. It also provides a dedicated space to help you focus on your well-being. Grief is not an emotion; it is an experience that describes a wide range of feelings. A person grieving the death of a loved one might feel anger and regret one day and then feel sadness, anxiety, exhaustion, or numbness the next. Many grieving individuals say that they feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster. Speaking with a bereavement coach provides a place to process the various emotions experienced in grief.    

Decreasing Isolation

Let’s be honest. Our society does a poor job of supporting grievers beyond the initial days and weeks following a loss. You might receive a steady stream of noodle casseroles, fruit baskets, and flowers immediately after a death only to hear crickets from your community a month or two later. After the funeral is over, people grieving the death of a loved one can feel alone in their pain. Having a bereavement coach to lean on can help decrease feelings of isolation while receiving valuable and positive support.

Reducing Suffering

Bereavement coaching cannot take away the pain of a loved one’s absence, but it can reduce the suffering a person experiences. Pain is a normal part of grief, but suffering can occur when you harbor guilt about a person’s death, engage in negative ways of coping, or have people in your life who may pressure you to “get over” your loss. Oftentimes grieving individuals can obsess over any “what ifs,” like things they may have done differently or words left unsaid.

In other cases, grievers may try to soothe their pain by binge watching TV, pouring an extra glass of wine, or clicking that “add to cart” button too many times. As mentioned earlier, some well-meaning friends or ignorant family members can say hurtful things like “At least they aren’t suffering any more” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Bereavement coaching allows a person to face their pain in a healthy way and find productive and actionable outlets for coping.  

Recognizing and Managing Secondary Losses

The death of a loved one is considered the primary loss, and the primary loss often triggers a multitude of secondary losses. Secondary losses can include the loss of:

  • Financial security
  • Community
  • Faith
  • Identity
  • Dreams or hopes about the future
  • Safety
  • Social status

For example, the surviving partner, after the death of their spouse, may grieve the vacations that they had planned on taking as a couple. An adult child may grieve over the hope of having her parents walk her down the aisle at her future wedding. Secondary losses can often cause just as much pain, if not more, than the primary loss. Bereavement coaching can also help you identify and manage the pain from secondary losses.

Anticipating and Coping with Grief Triggers

Sometimes grief can catch you by surprise. You may have a handle on things, only to get waylaid by a deceased loved one’s favorite smell or song. Grief triggers are anything that reminds a person of their loss and brings up complicated emotions. An individual may experience intense waves of grief on a specific holiday because a loved one is no longer able to participate in traditions such as preparing a special dish or decorating the house.

Hearing a specific song on the radio might trigger sadness because it connects you to a special memory. Some grief triggers come unexpectedly, but working with a coach can help a person prepare for experiences that may trigger grief.

Finding Ways to Honor Loved Ones

Bereavement coaching can help you find ways to honor your loved one and preserve memories. It is crucial to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Bereavement coaching can support you in identifying how you want to preserve your relationship with the person who has died. That might be as simple as eating your loved one’s favorite food on their birthday, creating a playlist of their favorite songs, completing an act of service on their behalf, or making an album of treasured photographs.      

When is the best time to seek bereavement coaching?

The right time to seek bereavement coaching depends on the individual person and their circumstances. Some people might choose to pursue bereavement coaching three to six months after the death of a loved one after support from friends and family decreases. For others who have experienced a traumatic or untimely death of a loved one, they may choose to seek support sooner.

There is no right or wrong time to seek support. Even if years have passed since the death of a loved one, you can still benefit from bereavement coaching. Grief is the flip side of love, and grief will always continue in some form as long as our love for someone lasts. Coaching can help you discover how to carry your grief in a way that feels less painful and heavy.

Liz Kelly, LICSW is a licensed clinical social worker in the Washington, D.C. metro area specializing in grief and loss.    

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