The Benefits of Grief Therapy:

In recent years I have developed a specialty in grief therapy, particularly individuals, couples, and families, dealing with the grief related to a recently deceased relative or friend. This is grief therapy focusing on the “end of life” death and dying of close family relatives and friends.

At a time like this grief can seem overwhelming, with little hope about ever feeling happy or “normal” again. It can seem like one is drowning in an endless sea, or sinking into a deep, dark pit. Or maybe you are sucked into the quicksand like in some Tarzan movie. Perhaps even begin squeezed to death by some powerful python.

If the deceased person was dearly loved the loss experienced can be challenging because it means moving forward into your life without their love and support . What does it mean to move on in your life without your wonderful mother or father, or sibling? What changes will need to be made after the loss has subsided somewhat? Where will you find helpful, healthy support in your life? What is your current support system? Conversely, even though you lost a dear person perhaps you were too dependent on them. Maybe now as you embrace the grief and loss you will continue your own process of maturation. Perhaps there are people you can support in a healthy way? Begin giving in ways you never did before. So many questions, and it takes a process of time to work it through to the “new you” and new answers. Welcome to your “new normal”.

Sometimes we discover the deceased had “secrets” that are very painful and traumatic. Perhaps your spouse had a double life, or was involved in criminal activity. For example, finding out your spouse had a mistress, children with other women, squandered all the family's resources, and left huge debts that must be paid, etc. Nothing but a huge pile of problems to solve and clean up can leave one extremely angry and hurt. Once again, there is much to work through in order to arrive at a new sense of healthy control in your life. Grief therapy helps you to learn that you can move on and make better choices for yourself, meaning your future can be infinitely better than your past. This work will help you gain wisdom and strength from some very difficult people, situations, and outcomes. It is important to learn how not to get lost, or stuck, in endless grief, but to harness its lessons for growth, healing, and development.

Maybe even the deceased relative sexually abused and exploited you as a child , even turning the family against you in order to prevent them from ever taking any responsibility or accountability. Even though they are gone there can be much work to heal from sexual abuse and exploitation, and sometimes the character assassination that can go on in families who do not want to deal with the fact that long-term sexual abuse has been going on for generations. So much pain, abandonment, and neglect to work through and process. But facing the truth and dealing with it head on is grief therapy, meaning you can forge a healthy future with a wisdom you never asked to have. New skills, new perspectives, new direction in your life!

Quite often the entire family can seem to either implode or explode upon the death of an important family member or friend. Fighting over who gets what can really hurt and devastate people as we watch certain family members get very controlling and greedy. Maybe relatives begin to sue each other for the inheritance money because the deceased did not do a proper job of creating an accurate will.

Supernatural aspects of losing a relative or friend:

Also, part the death and dying process of a relative or friend can entail experiencing out of the ordinary experiences, that some would say are supernatural and deeply spiritual. Experiences you would rather not share with those around you because you think they will think you are crazy, or losing touch with reality, or maybe the grief and loss is doing something to your mind.

For example, your aging, soon to die mother, may start pointing to invisible people on the sofa across the room, speaking to departed relatives, thinking you can see them too. Many times someone who is dying can be experiencing some unusual experiences which do not fit into the normal routine. We must learn how to support them and realize what they are experiencing is very real indeed, a preparation for their death, and eventual leaving of this world.

Also, for many people they may experience powerful dreams where the deceased has come back to say good-bye, to tell them that everything is fine. For example, one of my clients, a wife whose husband died suddenly of cardiac complications after a 40 year marriage, had a powerful dream, a visit from her recently departed husband. Their 40 year marriage had their trouble spots, but when she took him to the airport, for what would be his final trip back east to help with construction for his nephew's new home, he looked at her with a look and a love that was profound, a statement that defined their entire marriage. He said, “Elma, you are the most beautiful woman ever.” Then during this trip when he called home he told her he was having dreams of running through lush fields of grass and flowers that seem to go on forever, without knowing these dreams were beckoning the heaven he did not know he was awaiting. Then after the funeral she has a vivid dream where her husband walked into their bedroom and just stood over her bed looking at her while she slept. He said no words but the feeling conveyed said he was ok, happy, and he would be fine. She never had a dream or experience like that ever before, or after.

Throughout their marriage this couple was so utterly devoted to each other. She waited on him hand and foot as a wonderful and attentive cook, and he also responded immediately to any request she made of him for repair items, or really anything she needed. Elma never had to nag her husband but there were tough issues, and seasons, in their marriage as well; however, that final parting at the airport, with her husband's message of a lifetime together, the marriage was now complete and resolved as there were areas of long-term lasting torment.

I enjoy working with clients to resolve and work through grief and loss. Elma (not her real name) had suffered from much anxiety and fear her entire life, and with her husband gone she had to press through and become more whole and stare down the fear that had dominated her life up to that point, as she was adopted at 18 months old from her biological mother. She made important decisions, sold their condo, bought a new condo back east, and then moved close to her daughters and grandchildren. She now has a peace she never had before.

When I am working with my grief and therapy clients I will ask them about any dreams they have had, any experience of their deceased family member or friend. Intense supernatural experiences can be a very normal part of death and dying, of letting someone go, giving them permission and support to die and move on as well. I do not attempt to make these experiences fit into any particular religious framework, but work with the client to understand the meaning of these experiences for themselves.

For example, when my father died over 25 years ago I came back to Portland , Oregon from the funeral back east. It was about a week after his funeral and my husband and I were standing on our front deck looking out over our canyon in our newly built home. All of a sudden a freak electrical storm roared through the canyon in the middle of summer. Both of us had the intense impression that this was Dad's soul leaving us, leaving the earth. He was saying good-bye.

Another one of my clients recently lost her elderly older brother in his low 80s who suffered a violent death. After about a week or two after the funeral she was in her front garden trimming her roses, which were still in bloom in an unusually warm fall in northern California . It was like she could see a fleeting look of his face looking down at her with a smile above her rose garden, a sense that he had finally found out where she lived because he had not known her new home with your new husband of five or six years. This client reported the experience was extremely fleeting and quick, like a bird flitting through the garden, gone before your know it, but make no mistake about it, it was her brother saying good-bye to her, giving her the sense of thanking her for her support of his life, and communicating a general sense he was ok, doing well, and would be fine.

In general these supernatural, unusual experiences tend to cluster around the time of death and a little bit of time afterward, perhaps up to two years after death. These experiences appear to be transitional in nature, and certainly not some dark obsession where a person is haunted by a long lost relative or friend. It is important to note this distinction. People that are talking to dead people on a regular basis are a whole different matter and concern, and are not within the confines of the work I do with the death and dying of relatives and friends.

In summary, death and dying requires serious grief therapy. I am dedicated to working with you to get to the bottom of what is true and accurate. Healing so that the effects of the past lose their power and ability to control and direct your life.

Also, this type of grief therapy will help you acquire some new skills to make for healthier relationships, better boundaries, and more realistic expectations of others. I will work with you to utilize the recent death of a loved one, so that you come out of your time of grief and mourning with a new lease on life. When someone close to you dies it will reveal things about yourself you did not know were there. You discover feelings, thoughts, perhaps hidden resentments, coping styles that were unhealthy, and many other things that need your focused attention. With good support you can use a time like this in your life to reinvent yourself anew! We all have to get older, but why not utilize the storms and trial situations to forge the emerging “real” you. Deal with the grief and loss of a very special or important person in your life, whether they enhanced your life, or brought destruction!

Make the decision today to begin moving beyond the storm.


Caroline Gearing, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
"moving beyond the storm"


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