Do you feel stuck in your grief? Has it been months since your loved one died and you feel you should be feeling better? Do others close to the deceased seem to be adapting more quickly than you? Has the pain gotten worse? These are questions with very individual answers. They may or may not indicate outside assistance is necessary.

Be assured, the vast majority of people mourning the death of a loved one do not need professional assistance. On the other hand, a professional counselor who works with the bereaved may be able to open new avenues for adjusting to the absence of your loved one. Let me emphasize the importance of finding someone who works primarily with the bereaved. Here are some items to consider in deciding to look for assistance.

1. You believe you have lost your sense of identity as a person. In some relationships, the mourner’s identity before the death was totally associated with the beloved. That person may have done many things for you that you should have been doing for yourself. Or, you had few friends. You socialized mostly with the person who died and now you need a nurturing community. While establishing a new identity is one of the normal tasks of grieving (we all have to do it, knowingly or unknowingly), sometimes the degree of dependence on the deceased now means your identity formation is a major need that must be fully addressed.

2. You have suffered from several significant losses in a short period of time. Sometimes within a matter of days, weeks, or months a mourner can suffer the deaths of more than one friend or family member or a combination of the two. Or, a death may have been preceded or followed by a divorce, a major fire in the home, an incarceration of a family member or the betrayal of a friend. The result of bereavement overload can be too much to handle without direction from a grief expert.

3. You have suicidal thoughts. It is not uncommon for self-destructive thoughts to pass through your mind as a way to silence the pain. Death seems absurd. Many mourners report such thoughts. Most of the time suicidal thoughts leave as they have entered, rather quietly. See someone immediately if you begin to think of a method or methods you might use. It is one thing to have a thought. It is quite another to start hatching a plan. The pain will gradually lessen, but don’t wait to discuss your dilemma. Talking is crucial.

4. For weeks or months you have harbored extreme anger or hatred toward another associated with the death. Anger is a normal human response to a variety of situations and grieving is a big one. You are convinced you will never forgive and you think about that person or situation every day. Such volatile emotions create a huge drain on your energy stores, clear thinking, and your physiology each time you entertain these thoughts. Once more, anger and hostility postpone work on dealing with your great loss and the new routines you have to develop in order to adapt.

5. You are alone without a loving support system or grief support groups in your area that you could join. Isolation is the arch enemy of adjusting to the death of a loved one. It is a nurturing person or community of persons whose presence and listening skills are at the core of keeping hope alive. Mourners need to express what is happening inside and generate hope through connection and relationship. If no one is consistently available or you feel stuck in your grieving, find a professional or call the bereavement coordinator at your local hospice for advice on who can fill this need.

6. You are drinking more alcohol and using more sleeping medication or other drugs than usual. This is not an uncommon reaction to the pain of loss, especially when you live alone and lonely evenings become unbearable. However, excessive use inevitably leads to various physical problems, sometimes a reduction in self-esteem, and often the inability to firmly establish ways of looking at your loss and the changes you need to make.

7. Your depression seems to persist. Normal reactive depression is a common response to the death of a loved one. It comes and goes often when grieving. Do not confuse it with being sad. Nonetheless, when it persists to the point where you are missing work, starting to seclude yourself, or feeling unable to deal with common chores or responsibilities, get help.

How do you find a competent grief counselor or therapist? First ask friends you know and trust. Call the parish nurse at one of your local churches (you do not have to be a member) to ask for recommendations. The same approach can be used with your local hospital or social services agency. After your first visit with any counselor or support person, you should have a feel about whether or not you feel comfortable with this person. If not, it is advisable to look elsewhere.

Finally, remember that it is not a sign of weakness to seek assistance in coping with the death of a loved one. We all need each other at various times throughout life. When grieving, it is one of those times. Reach out and you will make it through this difficult transition.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice and Palliative Care of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His monthly ezine-free website is www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com.