Coaching can aid in the grieving process.
All humans experience loss in one way or another at various times of life.
When a loved one commits suicide often the griever experiences survivor’s guilt. This feeling that they could have done something to prevent the death of their loved on complicates the grieving process. This feeling arise because the individual chose to end their life rather than allowing nature takes its course. Often as result of sever depression, the survivor often feels as though they could have some how stepped in to prevent the death.
Coaching can be beneficial in aiding the griever through the process and release them from their guilt, helping them see that the suicide was the choice of the individual and something they shouldn’t feel responsible for. By releasing the guilt they can better move through the grieving process. Coaching can be a powerful tool in moving most grievers into a place where they are no longer weight down by their loss.
Complicated Grief in Suicide
The author’s personal experience with the unique type of grief that accompanies a suicide. When her father committed suicide when she was 19 years old. The author believes that the experience of this complicated type of grief affected processing in later family deaths. And stilted her development in other areas of life.
A valuable resource on grief is J.W. Worden’s book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner.
I believe that the person who commits suicide puts his psychological skeletons in the survivor’s emotional closet—he sentences the survivors to deal with many negative feelings, and, more, to become obsessed with thoughts regarding their own actual or possible role in having precipitates the suicidal act or having failed to abort it. It can be a heavy load. (Worden, 119).
Due to the stigma that comes with suicide sometimes the survivors experience shame from others. Individuals in their support group struggle on how to treat the survivor. One woman said “No one will talk to me,” and “they act as if it (the suicide) never happened.” Proving that our society still struggles to accept the mental illness that accompanies a suicide. By extension this leaves survivors feeling alone to cope.
The author believes that guilt is one of the most challenging aspects to overcome when experiencing this type of grief.
Survivors have a gnawing feeling that there was something they should or could have done to prevent the death.
Often survivors punish themselves in some way. Children may turn to delinquency and drug use. Adults may overeat to the point of obesity. Alcohol is often used in a way to numb the grievers feeling and detach themselves from what they are experiencing.
There are certain manifestations of normal grief. Sadness, anger, anxiety, loneness, helplessness, yearning, numbness to name a few. And guilt, which presents a particular complication for suicide survivors. They have a
feeling that there was something they should or could have done to prevent the death (Wordon, p. 20).
A movie that displayed different reactions to suicide. In the Big Chill college friends are reunited after one of their group take his own life. Even though the audience suspects the tragic death considering the group of 30-somethings. The reality and the affect on the friends isn’t clear until about two-thirds of the way through the movie. In this we see the unique relationships every person had to the deceased before we know the reality behind his sad and selfish choice. One night each in turn shares their regrets over letting him slip away. The following are a few exerts from their conversation.
He didn’t leave us a suicide note, do you think he could have summed up his reasons in a note. Harold, Kevin Kline.
What do you think this is funny. One of our best friends has decided to kill himself and we don’t have a f**king clue as to why. Sam, Tom Berenger…
The only person able to give a recent account of him is a young 20-something girlfriend.
We had some good times. I haven’t met that many happy people in my life. How do they act. Chloe, girlfriend played by Meg Tily.
So what do you think if you had been in touch with him you could have saved his life. You have that kind of effect on people in your life you keep them all jolly do yah. Wise up folks we are all alone out there and tomorrow we are going out there again.’Nick, William Hurt.
Realistic cynicism and a display of the struggles that effect us all.
Hey for some people it isn’t a question of why you kill yourself but why not? Nick.
That’s healthy (not letting things go), the only way to avoid pain like that is to pretend you don’t care. I know I have left more places than you will ever go to. Michael, Jeff Goldblum.
In the author’s opinion an example of people that think happiness is in the next location, and fail to admit that the unhappiness is in them and will follow them wherever they go.
When they start to turn on each other the obvious is stated.
This is happening cause we all really miss him and we are all really hurting. Karen, JoBeth Williams.
The scene ends on a hopeful note.
Yes I do believe you can help other people, Nick. Meg, Marykay Place.
I do too, Nick, not that you can save them. Probably not but you can do what you can do. That is how I feel. Sarah, Glen Close.
By the end of the long weekend some peace has come over the group and they part way in laughter and not the tears that brought them together. However as we all know that is just the beginning journey of healing.
In the author’s experience there is some comfort knowing that the loved one is released from the pain that their mind and sometimes body caused them. However dying by choice as a disease of the mind feels a lot different for the friends and family, than for the loved ones left to grieve from a death caused solely from and disease or old age.
In cases of suicide it is clear that the grieving experience can be complicated and therefore moving on and clearing out the intense grief and guilt can be challenging for the griever. So how can coaching methods help release the client from their grief and move them into thriving in a life after loss.
The basic premise of coaching is to aide a client in moving to the future they want, often this means that there is a certain goal in mind. In the case of life after loss coaching, it is more that the client wants to feel an absence from the negative emotions dragging them down.
Utilizing Coaching to Heal from Grief
Modern researchers have concluded that instead of stages of grieving there are more phases of mourning. There are four tasks that the mourner uses to move through the phases of mourning. The first task is
to accept the reality of the loss (Wordon, p. 27).
Coming to an acceptance of the reality of the loss take time since it involves not only an intellectual acceptance but also an emotional one.
Denial in various forms can stilt this process. Some individuals preserve the loved ones room the is common in the cause of children. While others may immediately remove all belongings on the individual. The funeral often facilitates the bereaved in moving towards acceptance. However if arrangements of the funeral the griever may delay their grief until the ‘right time’ to deal with their emotions. The second task:
to work through the pain of grief (Wordon p. 30).
The mourner may experience literal physical, emotional and behavioral pain. Often mourners try to deny that their pain exists in an attempt to avoid it. Anxiety, anger, guilt, and loneliness are common affects that may arise in this stage that must processed.
The third task is
to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing.
Robert Kastenbaum wrote,
distress does not end with the first wave of shock and grief. After the realization that a loved one is dead often comes the realization that life is suppose to go on. (Kastenbaum, p. 138).
This is were coaching enters after the individual is struggling to figure out how life needs to return to normal. This can include how they interact in situations with work, family, friendship and relationships.
It is the marvelous human capacity to squeeze in brief moments of happiness and joy that allows us to see that we may once again begin moving forward (Bonanno).
Despite these moments often the sorrow lies underneath.
For example, Worden (2003) identified four tasks that the bereaved faced following a loved ones death. These tasks are:
- To accept the reality of the loss.
- To experience the pain of grief.
- To adjust to the new environment where the deceased person is missing.
- To reinvest energy in life, loosen ties to the deceased and forge a new type of relationship based on memory, spirit and love.
In Heartbroken: Coaching clients in Crisis, by Aurora Winter.
According to a study reported in Time magazine, people typically suffer five to eight years after a devastating emotional blow such as a death of a spouse or a child or the loss of a career. In my experience, heartbroken people benefit enormously from coaching. They can regain a sense of peace and wellbeing within a matter of months, saving them years of pain.
Five to eight years is a long time to be over shadowed by grief. In the author’s experience other aspects of life my get put off to the side while the individual is affected by the grief. It may affect the individuals ability to develop new relationships, romantic or frienships. The grief has the potential to affect working relationship and work proformance if the individual allows the grief to form depression.
Following are three key steps to enable you to have an initial conversation with someone who is in emotional crisis.
Step 1: Acknowledge
Step 2: Listen without fixing.
Step 3: Give Hope and Encouragement
In my experience, grief responds beautifully to coaching, and I typically see profound results in just nine specific grief coaching sessions. (Winter).
As coaches duty is not to view the clients as broken, but as individuals that require a bit of guidence to help release them from there grief.
Another aim of coaching is to move the client from focusing on the cause of pain to focusing on what moves them forward in a positive way (Kauffman, 2006). As Robbins (2009) points out
it’s never the events of our lives, but the meaning we attach to the events – how we interpret them – that shapes who we are today and who we’ll become tomorrow.
Not only can a coach help move the individual through some of the unresolved stages of grieving, but can help the individual work through any unresolved issues that may be lingering from the relationship they had with the deceased. The author believes that through coaching principles life can be better than it was before. The individual may discover a deeper life purpose that is stemmed from the grief.
Bonanno, G. (2009). The Other Side of Sadness:What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us
About Life After Loss. Philadelphia: Basic Books.
Kauffman, C. (2006). Positive psychology: The science at the heart of coaching in Stober, D. and Grant A. M. (Eds) Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook. New York, Wiley.
Kastenbaum, R.J., Death, Society, and Human Experience (New York: Mosby, 1977): 138.
Lawrence Kasdan. The Big Chill, 1983. Columbia Pictures Corporation (Hollywood).
Winter, A. Heartbroken: Coaching clients in Crisis. (June 2011) Choice Magazine Vol 9, Number