Overcoming loss with the help of a Grief Recovery Specialist
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Is the way society deals with grief and bereavement damaging to recovery and is recovery really possible at all? Sheena Grant finds out about the Grief Recovery Method and learns about the six myths of loss.
When Sarah Jones’ father died she helped her overwhelmed mother with all the letters, form-filling and telephone calls that needed to be dealt with in the days and weeks afterwards, never realising what a profound effect it would have on her own life.
Since then Sarah has set up a bereavement administration service to help others like her mother, who need this kind of practical support after the death of a loved one, but more recently she has also become a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, helping people to overcome the pain of loss - and not just through the death of a loved one.
Sarah also works with people who are ‘stuck’ in feelings of grief over the end of a relationship, loss of job, moving house, empty nest - or anything else - with the aim of helping them become “emotionally complete” again.
“In a society that shies away from talking about death or grief, many of us just survive after a loss, but no longer thrive and enjoy life,” she says. “Grief Recovery is an educational programme, not counselling. Clients work through their main loss over seven sessions, with homework to complete between sessions, so they are pro-actively making the changes for themselves. I’ve seen some truly amazing transformations in people who were bowed down by their grief.”
Sarah, who has previously worked with vulnerable adults and children in a number of different settings, first learned about the Grief Recovery Method through a chance conversation with an acquaintance.
“It appealed to me because my background is dealing with vulnerable families and children,” she says. “I’ve worked with people at crisis or difficult points in life, normally always doing really practical things to help them at the same time as looking at how they were emotionally. This takes a practical, common sense approach too so I did the training and started working with groups and on a one-to-one basis straight away.
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“It’s for anyone struggling to move forward emotionally after a loss. It can help with anything that causes a change to a familiar pattern in your life, including health problems, redundancy, divorce, the death of a pet or business failure. These things can feel like a loss.”
The programme is designed as a series of small steps that “lead you to the completion of all the unresolved grief linked to your loss”, says Sarah. “It’s a practical set of actions. One of the premises is the need to be absolutely listened to 100% when grieving and acknowledging that a lot of messages we get about how to deal with grief as we grow up are unhelpful, making way for new tools and learning how to use them. We work on the biggest loss first, even if it is not the most recent, and once people have learned the skills they can use them to address other losses.”
There is also a course for parents or teachers to learn how to help children affected by loss. Sarah says she’s seen some transformational results.
“One of my clients had lost her son from a drugs overdose a year before and was desperate to find some relief from the pain but wasn’t sure if it was too soon,” she says. “By the last week she said she felt like she had him back because she was able to get out photos, being sad but being able to look through them. She could enjoy her memories again.
“The goal is that instead of just surviving, weighed down by pain and grief, you can enjoy happy memories again and live your life, rather than just getting by.”
The Grief Recovery Method was created by American John James, whose young son died in 1977. He found the help on offer was largely intellectual when it wasn’t his brain that was broken but his heart so over a period of months he came up with a process that helped him feel better, and decided to share it with others, first through a book and then by training people like Sarah, who lives near Hadleigh, and Sharon Wood, who lives at Mundesley.
Unlike Sarah, Sharon, who worked as a nurse for 30 years, focuses solely on people who have suffered the death of a loved one. She also works as a non-religious funeral celebrant and offers a range of memorial jewellery, where people can have their loved ones’ ashes incorporated into beautiful necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.
“Both the jewellery and the grief recovery training came about after talking to bereaved families,” she says. “I was aware people needed more support and more choices regarding cremation ashes of their loved one.”
To find out more about Sarah’s work visit www.sarahjonesadmin.co.uk and for Sharon go to www.sharonwood.co.uk.
The six ‘myths’ of bereavement
The creators of the Grief Recovery Method say that while grief is a natural emotion most of what society teaches us about it and how to deal with it does not help. Too often, they say, friends, family and even professionals will use rational argument to try and help fix visceral feelings. This “intellectualisation” of grief is so endemic we barely notice it anymore.
Sometimes, it leads people to make comments that can be unhelpful - or even hurtful - with the best of intentions.
John James, creator of the Grief Recovery Method, has come up with six ‘myths’ associated with loss that he says are almost wholly universal: time heals all wounds; replace the loss; grieve alone; be strong; don’t feel bad; keep busy.
“The idea that time heals is particularly cruel,” he says. “We’ve known people wait 10, 20, 30 years and more and still be in pain. How long are they supposed to wait? The truth is that all time does is pass. It is the actions you take during that time that determine how completely you recover.”