Grief Counseling in Seattle

 

Hanna Kokko - Grief therapistMy name is Hanna Kokko, and I help people to deal with loss. Much of my professional life has centered around the experience of grief, death and dying, and the impact we feel when we lose what is important to us, whether that be another person, an ability, a wish or want, or really anything that gives us meaning, value, purpose or joy. My past and present work experience includes providing grief counseling through Virginia Mason’s Grief Services department, running group therapy for survivors of sudden and traumatic loss, working with hospice, performing autopsy and death investigation for the county, doing autopsy for Alzheimer's research, and studying to become an end of life doula. My formal training includes a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from Seattle University with a clinical focus, and I am a member of the National Association of Social Workers.

I have also lived my own very personal lifelong journey through grief and loss, so I know firsthand the challenges we experience when faced with various type of loss. I also know the power of therapy - of someone walking with me into and through this often confusing and isolating experience. 

As a Seattle grief and loss therapist, with a particular focus on sudden and traumatic loss and death and dying, I meet with individuals who are struggling in the variety of ways in which we feel the pain of grief, helping them to make sense of their experience…accompanying them in their journey of letting go…and guiding them through the changes. People who engage in the process of grief therapy report feeling more at peace with what has happened, more able to handle the inescapable waves of sadness that await them, and are generally less afraid of future losses.

The truth is that most of us are woefully prepared for the losses we inevitably face. This is no one’s fault. American culture is generally grief-phobic, and as such most of us become adults who are ill-prepared to approach grief in healthy ways. Programming within our culture for many generations before us has set us up to feel scared of loss, and to try to avoid the pain that awaits us when we must let someone or something go. But skirting around the struggle with grief and loss only makes our pain that much more painful.


The Many Ways We Experience Grief and Loss

Many of us assume that terms like “grief and loss” are reserved for the more obvious experiences of loss: the death of a loved one or a beloved pet; a breakup or divorce; miscarriages or an inability to conceive. But grief also shows up in a great number of other aspects of our lives that we may not think to recognize as such:

  • Changing jobs or careers, even if a positive change
  • Loss of hopes and dreams for the future that can’t be realized
  • Choices our children make that conflict with our wishes for them
  • The independence, freedom, and opportunity we had before having children
  • A child leaving the home
  • A social system such as a church or the company you work for failing to live up to its promises to protect or support you
  • Any change in living conditions, even if positive
  • A shift in the status of a friendship or family relationship
  • Changes in residence, schools, or recreation
  • A sense of security about your safety after a traumatic event
  • Loss of meaningful objects or belongings

 

How Do I Know If This Is Grief?

The sometimes insidious presentation of grief can show itself in a number of ways, many of which are often confused with other causes. Grieving may be experienced emotionally, physically, relationally, or any combination of those. Common examples of grief symptoms include:

  • Feelings of depression, guilt, numbness or detachment
  • An inability to experience joy like you once did
  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, or disbelief
  • Feelings of anger
  • An inability to concentrate or sleep
  • A change in eating patterns or experiencing digestive problems
  • Feelings of fatigue, soreness, or tension in the body


Sudden or Traumatic Death: A Particular Type of Grief

In addition to doing general grief therapy, one of my areas of focus is helping the survivors of sudden or traumatic loss. There are certain approaches to grief therapy that are known to be particularly helpful when addressing sudden and traumatic loss, which I utilize with the people I help. Traumatic grief can result from the experience of a sudden, traumatic, violent, unexpected or accidental death of someone in your life. These types of losses include death by suicide, homicide, overdose, Covid, accidental death, or unexpected death. Experiencing this type of sudden and traumatic loss often leaves people feeling overwhelmed, shocked, and unready to deal with their immense and often complex emotions. Common emotional and physical symptoms that specifically affect those dealing with traumatic grief include:

  • Feelings of deep despair or sadness, including that life has no meaning
  • Reluctance to trust or care about others
  • Experiencing upsetting or disturbing memories, visions or dreams
  • Feelings of isolation or aloneness
  • Feeling helpless or powerless
  • Feelings of anger, irritability, or bitterness
  • Feeling guilty that you are living and your person is not (often referred to as “survivor’s guilt”)
  • Feelings of jealousy of others who haven’t experienced your loss
  • An inability to concentrate on or complete simple tasks
  • Feeling pain in or around the same areas of your body as the deceased
  • A crisis of faith or spirituality, questioning why God or the universe would allow for this to happen

 

Death and Dying

Until about 100 years ago, almost all dying happened quickly. But modern medicine has radically changed how long the end of life can be stretched. Now many people who have access to medical care die gradually, of lingering diseases such as most terminal cancers or complications from diabetes or dementia, rather than quickly from, say, a farm accident or the flu.

And thus, for the people who love the person they are losing, there can be a great deal of time in which family and friends must struggle with truly understanding and accepting the unavoidable loss that awaits them. Those who will remain living after their loved one dies often have months, if not years, of grappling with feelings of anticipatory grief, sadness, fear, anxiety, shock, guilt, anger, regret, and loneliness. During this period it can be incredibly difficult to plan or even discuss details around someone’s dying process and eventual death, among surviving family members but also with the loved one who is dying. And many of us can be confused about how best to support each other emotionally, despite our sincerest wishes to do so. Again, most of us simply were not prepared for situations like this. But this is a period in which it’s particularly important to be able to talk openly and honestly about what is happening now, and what will happen.

These are some of the areas in which I help family and friends of the person who is dying when they come to me for therapy.

For the person who is dying, there is often a need for the help of someone who knows how to be there for them in what is often the most difficult and scary phase of their life. In addition to loving friends, family, and community members, grief counseling from a skilled and experienced grief therapist can be invaluable in helping the dying person to:

  • Prepare for the reality of death, through education and supportive therapeutic interventions about the dying process that address the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and practical needs
  • Cope with intense emotions such as anger, fear, guilt, and grief
  • Understand the physical changes and common processes prior to their death to help alleviate anxiety and diminish false preconceptions about dying
  • Address anticipatory grief, such as helping the person to redefine life as it currently is, facilitate communication about feelings of being a burden, supporting the person’s struggle with change, encouraging the search for meaning, and helping them to live day-by-day
  • Finish business in the social realm, such as interacting with important others to resolve old disagreements, connecting with long-term friends, and asking for forgiveness to facilitate peace of mind
  • Address any spiritual or religious needs related to the ending of their life

In the role of grief therapist to the person who is dying, I join with them to make possible, and assist with, some of these quite important and deeply meaningful aspects of their situation.

 

Seattle Grief Counseling

I would love to work with you. My entire therapy focus, and really my life’s work, is helping people who are struggling with the many ways in which we are all affected by the inevitable letting go of what we cherish. Loved ones, friendships, pets, abilities, hopes & wishes…anything that brings us meaning, value, purpose, joy, or passion that must at some point be grieved. There are people who are here to help - I just need to know how to connect with you, so please feel free to reach out.

*If my caseload is full and I am unable to be the person to meet with you, I know of some wonderful Seattle grief counselors with whom I can help get you started, so even if you don’t see availability in my schedule, I welcome hearing from you. Please contact me through our intake coordinator, Kristene, at Hello@ClarityCounselingSeattle.com.

~ Hanna