BEREAVEMENT COUNSELLING: IS IT FOR ME?

 Bereavement Counselling gives us a safe, confidential space in which our grief is allowed and encouraged to unfurl itself from our heart, mind, body, spirit. It’s hard work. With the wise companionship, skill and encouragement of a Bereavement Counsellor we’re able to shed the burden of our grief, find healing through this, and be rewarded with renewed energy for life.  While Bereavement Counselling is a great resource to help us work through our grief after the death of someone close to us, it can also be used to help us come to terms with other sorts of losses.  Bereavement Counselling can help with such things as the loss of your job through redundancy or being sacked; the loss of a relationship when you’ve split up with someone; the loss of your Pet, the loss of the home you love but which you have to leave. Bereavement Counselling is very effective after the first 2 – 3 months of bereavement, following the immediate shock of the loss and at a point when we (and others) might think that we should be further on than we are (what’s that all about?) or dealing with this loss better than we feel that we’re doing.  Many of us carry long-buried grief, grief that's been pushed down, out of sight, mind, feeling, until the day when our inner dam wall begins to crack and the grief seeps out, runs, floods.... Then, Bereavement Counselling provides not only a strong life-jacket in the first instance to keep your head above the waters, but later on, also a sturdy boat equipped with all mod cons of emotional resources to help you navigate any future flood waters.  We might believe that Bereavement Counselling is just for the ‘emotionally flaky’ (not me!) and certainly not for people like you...like me...who’ve always coped with just about everything else that life has given us, so why not this? So! Is Bereavement Counselling for you?  Why not take a look at these examples? Do any describe how things are for you?  You’re bottling up your feelings and under pressure (possibly from others, possibly just from yourself) to seem to be getting on better with your grieving than you are. Who’s judging?Your feelings are all bottled up, you know they’re there, but you find it hard to connect with your emotions or even to cry.Your loss happened a long time ago, but you’ve never really recovered.You feel stuck in your grieving, going around in circles in your emotions and thoughts, returning again and again to the day your loss occurred, and how it came about.You’re feeling increasingly isolated with and in your grief. People have stopped asking about you.  You feel that everyone else is getting on with their life while you feel stuck in a pit of grief and don't know how to get out of it.You feel angry that people are getting on with their lives because you just want everything to stop and acknowledge your loss: “Stop all the clocks...” (“Funeral Blues” by WH Auden)You feel angry with yourself for not being able to ‘deal with my grief better.’ You feel that you ‘should be strong’ when you feel weak, bowed down.You keep yourself very busy to avoid having to feel much and to deal with your distress.Your sleeping, eating, and drinking habits are all out of kilter. You no longer know which way is up.  If any of these examples rings a bell for you, instead of ‘just getting on with it’ (treading the hard grief road stoically) or ‘putting on a brave face’ why not take another look at Bereavement Counselling? It could be one of the best things you’ve ever done.​

To grieve

To grieve: to weigh down, to burden, to oppress, to cause us to feel angry, to make us worried, depressed. How accurately this powerful word describes how many of us feel when someone we love is absent from our lives through death, or other major loss. How often do we feel that we have to carry this weight, to be burdened, be oppressed - to grieve - for ever and a day? It's possible to be relieved of this weighty burden, this grief, when we talk to someone deeply, unravelling the threads of our sorrows and loss little, by little. This doesn't mean losing our relationship to and with the 'lost' and loved one, but crafting it anew, and in the process, to rediscover our sense of self and purpose.

Woman crying

grief what it is....and isn't

 Grieving is an experience that few of us are prepared for when it comes knocking on our door. Grief affects us inside-out, outside-in when someone we love dies, or for other reasons, leaves our life once and for all. Grief is normal, natural...and can floor us, turn our lives upside down, challenge everything we know and understand about ourselves and about life in general.  Grief affects us when we no longer have a job we love, or we have to move from a place we love, or we have to leave behind those we love when we relocate to a new place far, far away. Grief arrives when a pet we love dies or has to be rehomed if we can’t care for it any longer. Grief is something we’d would prefer to ignore (naturally!) because its powerful energy is strong enough to knock us off our feet and render us rather incapable – for an unspecified amount of time - of living fully in the life we knew before it came upon us and not yet capable of living in this different life which has been flung at us without warning. Grieving is not a mental illness.  There may be complex elements to our grief if the loss we experienced was traumatic to us in any way. Sometimes we can get stuck in our grieving at which point some outside help can get us unstuck. Grief is something we feel we need to hide from others, to apologise for and to minimise in any number of ways in order to carry on as if nothing (much) has happened. Grief is the normal emotional response when we experience a significant loss. Grief and grieving are nothing to be ashamed of.  Grieving does not mean that we are weak. Grieving does not mean that we have to be strong all the time. Is it time to loosen that stiff upper lip? While grief is universal – it affects everyone to some degree – our response to it and engagement with it is unique. It’s deeply personal. The way I grieve and the way you grieve will have some things in common but there’ll be many aspects of our experiences which are different.  That’s why it’s not such a good idea to compare one person’s experience of loss and grief with that of another. Grief presents us with an alien landscape through which we must go in order for the necessary re-shaping of our inner landscapes to take place, so that we may emerge richer, deeper, wiser. Grief seems to be our enemy but, if we can look closely, we may discover that grief is our companion, and our wise teacher, for an important time in our life. Grief is not like the heavy, impenetrable rock or lump of concrete we may have imagined. It can weigh us down so that we’re utterly exhausted.  It can feel as if it’s solid, as well as being located in particular parts of our body. Grief is subtle. It changes its mood, force, potency. One day we’re rendered senseless and overwhelmed by it, just about drowned.  Another day, it’s peaceable, quiet, just present, undisruptive. Grief does not maintain its frightening intensity for the rest of our life following a loss.  As our emotional hearts and minds begin to heal from the wound that our loss has caused us, so our experience and understanding changes. Our response to grief also changes.  Grief will not feel or be the same in 5, 10, 25 years’ time.... nor will we be the same in 5, 10, 25 years’ time .... We change, that’s natural. We change our minds, our behaviours, our perspective, just as we may change our jobs, our partners, our country of residence. By itself, time does not heal. Time lends us opportunities in which, if we wish, we can attend to our healing. The choice is ours. Grief will represent itself to us in various ways in the years to come following our loss. Through anniversaries of many kinds, Birthdays, celebrations, milestones, it will be present. As we become attuned to it and become familiar with its moods and patterns, so we’ll be able to work with it. We’ll be able to acknowledge it as an old companion rather than the alien we felt it to be at the start.   We tend to hang on to grief for dear life because we believe and feel that it's the last thing which connects us to the one we love who has gone from us. As we allow grief to draw close to us, and as we work with it and not push it away, so we may begin to realise and experience that we can craft and shape a new, different relationship with the one we love which isn't focussed just upon the loss. Grief and Resilience. Resilience is an important inner resource we can nurture and strengthen in and through our grieving. In my therapeutic work I encourage my clients to lean into their grief rather than put up heavy defences against it. Leaning into grief enables our emotional resilience to develop as we learn about how grief affects us, how we respond to it, and, importantly, what we’re learning in and through it all. Resilience and learning together equip us richly to face other life storms in the future.  “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” Nelson MandelaPost Text

Shamanic Healing : Unpeeling the layers of woundedness

 In March this year, as lockdown set in, I was contacted by a woman who asked me for Shamanic Healing. Mandy, as I’ll call her, had found me online, in some desperation. She asked me to bring an end to her spiritual. emotional, and mental distress caused by a close member of her family (I’ll call him Jim) over a period of 30 years. Jim exerted malign influence and power over Mandy in many ways to the extent that she felt that her own identity was shut down. Mandy was very keen to work with me through Shamanic Healing, attracted to my practice as a Shamanic Healer and because I’m also an Anglican Priest. Mandy felt that my being a Priest would be important in the Shamanic Healing she sought through me.   She’d spent lots of money over many years in seeking spiritual help from a variety of people, many of whom told her what she already knew: that Jim’s power over her was not of this world and was very strong, and, that in order to be free, the bonds would need to be severed. Mandy knew this: she hadn’t yet met someone who would bring this severance into being and set her free.   Mandy’s situation was complex. Over many years she’d experienced psychic intrusions generated by Jim. These took the form of psychic appearances of him in her home to demean her and to emphasise the control he had over her. Throughout these long years Jim spread malicious rumours about Mandy throughout the neighbourhood accusing of her – among other things - of being a ‘loose woman’ and unfit to know, when, in fact, she never had a boyfriend. She’s remained single because of Jim’s power over her. Mandy spoke of how blocked she’d felt by Jim all her life and how her self-esteem and self-confidence have always been very low as a result.  When Mandy asked me for Shamanic Healing and began to share her complex and mysterious story with me, I wasn’t sure that I was the person for this particular job. I would need to work remotely with and for her. Although I’d undertaken some Shamanic Healing remotely, with some good outcomes, Mandy’s circumstances were particularly challenging. I wondered whether to suggest that Mandy approach another Shamanic Practitioner, but something checked me.  My task was not to understand everything in fullest detail; my task was not to engage in Counselling with Mandy. My task was simply to put myself in the slipstream of Spirit and trust that I would be enabled and guided to release healing for her so that she could begin to thrive without being dogged by Jim’s malign energies and for her self-confidence and self-esteem to blossom. I agreed to undertake a Shamanic Healing for Mandy and we agreed a time for this to take place, when Mandy would be at home and able to focus her fullest attention on it. We agreed that I would call Mandy after the Healing, and that I would send her the Narrative of it for her own reflections. Mandy’s healing journey with me lasted 7 months during which I’ve undertaken 7 Shamanic Healing Journeys for her. Each of these has been profoundly powerful, and utterly unique to Mandy and her circumstances. Some of this Shamanic Healing has focussed on Mandy alone, while on other occasions the Shamanic Healing has focussed on Jim. As you might guess, the severance of negative bonds has appeared in these Shamanic Healing Journeys, but there’s been a lot more besides this. Cats, flames, Eagles, Volcanoes and Doves have all appeared, along with Allies connected to me. At times this Shamanic healing work has felt extremely dark and full of threat, at others, full of light that illuminates every part of our being. The last Shamanic Healing for Mandy took place recently and was the most powerful Shamanic Healing I’d undertaken for her. The Journey was dramatic and short. At the end I knew that the Shamanic Healing work for her was complete and, on this particular matter, nothing more needed to be done. The negative bonds and all other malign influences were well and truly severed, once and for all. Many Shamans use story in their Shamanic Healing with their own people. Our stories are crucial to our healing: the old stories which, through healing, we can leave behind us, and the new stories which Shamanic Healing offers to us as building blocks for a new life. In and through story, our imaginations are kindled. We become confident to be artists of our own lives in tandem with Spirit. My experience of working with Mandy in depth over several months through Shamanic Healing endorses my understanding that Shamanic Healing isn’t a ‘quick fix’.  This healing work with Mandy was rooted within her complex stories which she shared so generously and trustingly with me.  Little by little the dense layers of her story, of her woundedness, were peeled away.  Little by little, through profound Shamanic Healing Journeys, Mandy’s sense of self, of her identity, and of her autonomy have been restored and strengthened.   I’ve only ever heard Mandy’s voice, although, early on, she sent me a photograph of herself to help me make a strong connection with her for the healing. My complete attentiveness to her and to her story, and my provision of a secure framework for our work together have been highly important. When Mandy first contacted me, she was frightened, subdued, captive to her fears and to the malign influence of Jim. Her voice, the words she used, and her emotional expression endorsed all this. After her fourth Shamanic Healing both us of knew that deep healing was taking place. Mandy’s voice gained strength, she spoke with greater confidence in herself, and for her future. She grew in her sense of self, of her autonomy and her identity, and that she is loved and loving. The other day, a week after her final Shamanic Healing, Mandy told me that she knows in every way that the malign bonds which Jim threw around her many years ago are no more and that her life is fully her own.  xt

Our bodies hold our story

If you were to describe your feelings about your grief, how might you do this? Paint? Write? Dance? Shout? Lie down in a darkened room? Lash out? Curl up in a ball...? All of the above and more?When we feel happy, overjoyed, excited... our bodies reflect this don't they? We smile, laugh, sometimes cry with happiness. Remember the phrase 'jump for joy'? It's the same when we feel angry: we might get red in the face, see red... we might want to or actually throw something or break something, or we might suddenly feel very cold, ice cold... When we grieve, our bodies also reflect how we feel. We can feel utterly exhausted, our limbs feeling heavy, and every physical movement is a massive effort. Meanwhile we want to eat everything, or, more commonly, nothing at all, with any food we eat turning to dust in our mouth. Sleep becomes something that everyone else has but us, with the effects of sleep deprivation adding to our distress. Dizziness, general disorientation, feeling and acting in a dazed manner: all these are physical expressions of our grief and its impact upon us. Our bodies communicate to us in authentic ways how we feel. Our mind usually tries to control how we feel, especially when we've learnt to keep our feelings in check, well pressed down, and we ignore the messages which our body is sending to us. Tuning in to our bodies through simple activities such as breathing deeply, or going for a walk (for starters...) can help us engage with our feelings, so that they begin to less like a great lump of distress, and help us to heal. ​

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Susan Hollins Counselling, Life Coaching, Shamanic Healing in Exeter, Devon​

I’ve taken a long time to arrive at this point. There have been many twists and turns along the track. Sometimes I’ve been in the desert, surviving on bread and raisins, drinking ice-clear water. At other times I’ve feasted and  been made plump with happiness.

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The Healer Foundation
British Complementary Medicine Association
acto Member
Susan Hollins
Susan Hollins

Tel: 07375 925296 Email: susan@susanhollinscounselling.co.uk​