What You Need To Know About Grief Coaching

A break-up, the loss of a job, or a loved one receiving a difficult diagnosis can make getting up in the a.m. feel like an impossible task. You’d like to talk to someone but no one in your life really gets what you are going through. Unexpected losses can feel overwhelming, but there is hope. You don’t have to be alone in your grief.  

What is Grief Coaching?

Loss is a natural part of life, but the grief that follows can feel all-consuming. Grief coaching is a specific kind of actionable support to address the complex emotions and reactions that result from the loss of a person or thing. It is not limited to the death of a loved one, but also unexpected situations that can cause suffering. For example, grief coaching can attend to losses like the death of a loved one or pet. It can also support individuals handling losses such as a loved one receiving a difficult diagnosis or managing the stress of infertility.

Types of Grief

Grief can take on different forms. While you might go through some “expected emotions” or feelings, situations can have a way of shifting the ground on our feet. You may have been preparing yourself to grieve the loss of a loved one who died from Alzheimer complications, only to find yourself more exhausted and even relieved after their passing.

This is totally normal, but you could be feeling shame or suffering in secret due to these unexpected feelings. This is an example of anticipatory and maybe even disenfranchised grief. Anyone can experience grief that is ambiguous, anticipatory, or disenfranchised.    

Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous loss occurs when a person is physically present but psychologically absent. Ambiguous grief can happen in situations such as continuously supporting a loved one diagnosed with dementia, someone experiencing severe mental illness, or a family member managing a debilitating drug addiction. This type of grief can also occur when someone is psychologically present but physically absent. People worrying about a missing person, or family members left behind in another country may also experience ambiguous grief.  

Anticipatory Grief

If you have a loved one receiving hospice, you may already know about anticipatory grief. The anxiety of wanting to be prepared for an upcoming loss, combined with crying jags and exhaustion from handling said emotions is an example. This can happen when a person knows that a loss is coming–hence the word anticipatory. For example, someone caring for a  loved one diagnosed with a terminal illness or having to move away from a close-knit community may be saddled with anticipatory grief. In many cases, anticipatory grief can be common among caregivers and is complicated by the stress and exhaustion that caregivers experience.

Disenfranchised Grief    

When a loss is not recognized by our society or the loss carries a stigma, this is known as disenfranchised grief.  You won’t find a sympathy card at your local Hallmark store for these types of experiences. Individuals experiencing disenfranchised grief often feel like they have to mourn privately or in secret. Examples of disenfranchised grief include miscarriage or infant loss, infertility, the death of an ex-partner, death by overdose or suicide, losing a job, divorce, and loads of other experiences. Whatever type of grief you are experiencing, having support can help.

What are the benefits?

Speaking with a grief coach offers you a designated space for you to focus on your own well-being. Grief coaching can offer many benefits ranging from ongoing support to greater insight and self-esteem.

A Safe, Non-judgemental Space to Talk About Your Experiences

Experiencing grief is a lonely and isolating experience. It can be difficult to find a supportive person who won’t try to talk you out of your feelings or feel like they need to fix things for you. Well-meaning friends and family members often say things like “You can always have another baby,” or “But you have so many other great things going for you!” Working with a grief coach gives you a chance to feel and accept your emotions without judgment.

Greater Insight

Experiencing grief can be a transformative experience. Dealing with the loss of someone or something important to us can shift our priorities and how we view the world. As a result, we often have to take on new roles after a loss. For example, after a loss of a job, a person may need to focus on the importance of being a parent, friend, or community member. Working with a grief coach allows you to reflect on the changes to your identity and priorities.

Improved Self-esteem and Self-compassion

We all have an inner critic, that voice in our head that can be critical and even down right mean. The inner critic says things like “Nothing ever goes right for you” or “You aren’t enough.” After a loss or significant life change, the inner critic can be particularly loud.

Working with a grief coach can help you become more aware of your inner critic and counter those negative thoughts with something more beneficial. By reframing and shifting those negative thoughts, you learn to treat yourself with more kindness and self-compassion. You increase your overall sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Increased Ability to Identify and Cope with Emotions

Grief isn’t a single emotion. Rather, grief describes the range of emotions experienced following a loss. A person may feel sad and lonely one day and then irritable, angry, and frustrated the next. Working with a grief coach gives you the opportunity to name what you are feeling and cope with those emotions in a productive way. It can be incredibly tempting to do things to numb ourselves when we feel overwhelmed, like scrolling on our phones or binge watching TV.

A grief coach can help you brainstorm activities that help you find true comfort and restoration, like improving the quality of your sleep, engaging in physical activity, spending time in nature, or doing something creative.

A Greater Sense of Meaning and Purpose

Dealing with a significant loss can be incredibly painful, but it can also be a chance to reflect on your values and how you want to make your life meaningful going forward. There are countless stories of people creating something beautiful and impactful out of grief and loss. Working with a grief coach gives you the space and encouragement to identify your own core values and the courage to take positive action.

When is the best time to seek grief coaching?

There is no right or wrong time to seek grief coaching. It’s important to get support to ease symptoms of grief, anxiety, and depression, just like you would see a doctor when experiencing a physical illness. You don’t have to wait for a crisis to get support!

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

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