Death is nothing at all? Learning to grieve well.


The Western world has a lot to apologise for when it comes to bereavement. Our approach to dealing with death actually makes it more painful for some people. There is some societal expectation that we can just “get over it”, and that “closure” is our objective. We live in fear of our own deaths, as if death were an option and not a reality. We even fear the corpse – as if it were somehow separate from our once living body, not simply another step in the life cycle.  Is this healthy?

The seminal book, “On Death and Dying” was written by Dr Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. I had the pleasure of attending her workshop on the five stages of grief following death and was changed forever. Dr Kübler-Ross reminds us that since we never know when we or others will die, we should never leave a loved one unsure of our feelings for them, and never let your last words be those filled with malice.

In our counselling practice, clients come to us trapped in their grief over the passing of loved ones, angry at their own impatience that they just can’t get past these feelings.

Dr Kübler-Ross was one of the first researchers to analyse an individual’s response to death. Each person’s grief is unique and depends on their personality, the relationship with the deceased, the quality of death (sudden, long, quiet, violent), the emotional style of the bereaved, their mental health, and the social and cultural perspectives on death and the afterlife.

Your personal experience of grief might be some of the elements that you could address with a counsellor in therapy. In addition to your individual expectations, we would also explore how, as a product of  society and culture, you can experience  bereavement in different ways

The societal and cultural views of death and grief

There are three basic cultural beliefs about death. First, there are those cultures which death is to be defied. They  believing that death can be vanquished and is temporary, such as the beliefs held by ancient Egyptians. Second, there are cultures that accept death, including those of the Pacific region, such as the Fijians, believe that death is simply a stage of life. Death is a stage of life, and therefore discussed openly. Finally, we have a western view – the death denying. We behave as if death can be avoided and that grief should to lead to quick and convenient closure. This approach can exacerbate feelings of shock around the experience of death. Suddenly someone you love is gone, and society expects you to just move on. When we struggle we start to wonder if there is something is wrong with us, rather than the expectations of our society.


Rich in rituals

The use of rituals at the time of death may help or hinder the experience of grief. The formal funeral common in the western world is a far cry from the Maori Tangihanga – a three-day grieving ritual with gathering, storytelling, beer and tears a plenty. The same could be said of the Irish tradition of a merry wake. These highly emotive celebrations lament death and mourning as a rite of passage, normalising the expression of pain. It is not sombre, quiet and with restraint. All emotions are explored and experienced.


Connecting to the echo

Staying connected to those who have passed helps people to grieve. Celebrating a loved one’s birthday with their favourite food or wine, or enjoying one of their activities, continues to keep you connected to those who have died. In her wonderful book for children, “The Invisible String”, Patrice Karst reminds us that we remain connected to the dead through our shared love and remembrances. Rituals and celebrations are a great way to maintaining connectivity. The Mexican celebration, the Day of the Dead invites the departed to revisit the earth and join their families. The Chinese traditionally improve the afterlives for their loved ones by burning paper objects such as iPads, new clothes and even cars so that their ancestors are nice and comfortable. These rituals keep the departed loved, remembered and, most importantly connected to the living.

I close with the wonderful poem Death is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland, who speaks eloquently for the departed.

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without affect,
without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you,
for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.




If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from death, mental health and wellbeing, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:


Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce.

Dealing with the death of a pet – accepting and managing grief

pet death

Paws to make time for grief.

It is wonderful to have a pet. Unfortunately, like all living things, they die. Sometimes we need to end their suffering; sometimes they pass away from old age. Loss can be particularly traumatic if your pet dies suddenly in an accident.


The death of any pet – no matter how small – is painful. It is important that you acknowledge your loss– out of respect for yourself and your pet.


Here are 6 recommendations to help heal the hurt:


  1. Recognize and respect – the loss of a beloved animal companion is significant. Expect to feel sad. Cry as much as you need. Don’t try to rush through your grief. Ignore those who might say to you, “Get over it – it was just a dog/ cat’’. He or she was a much loved member of your family. Grief comes in waves, high and strong at first, and continues over time. Years later a wave of sadness may suddenly wash over you when you least expect it.


  1. Talk about it – don’t keep your feelings to yourself or feel that you shouldn’t trouble others with your loss. This is a time when friends earn their keep. We all experience pain at different times, for different reasons, and we all deserve support. If your friend has lost a pet, even though you may not understand the depth of her or his sorrow, be empathetic.


  1. Memorialize – make a small memorial to your pet in the days following his or her passing. Acknowledge the loss and perhaps share your feeling with photos and stories. This will help keep you feel connected to your beloved pet, especially in the painful days that follow the passing.


  1. Write a letter – thank them for their love and companionship. I particularly recommend this bereavement technique for children. Writing helps children express their sadness in a creative way. It helps to remind children that, in some way, their pets continue to exist as long as they are remembered. You might also ask them to draw pictures of their pet that you can hang in your home or that they can share with friends. When my young child was struggling with the sudden accidental death of our dog, Milo, I even wrote a letter from Milo back to her, telling her about that his experience in doggie heaven and joking that God had said that he needed that he was a bit overweight and he had to go on a diet.


  1. Rituals – we live in Hong Kong and many of us have the chance to travel widely. As such, we have experienced how cultures other than our own commemorate a significant death. The Chinese have a tradition of burning paper objects to improve the afterlives of the departed. They “send” paper models of iPads, new clothes and even cars so that their ancestors are nice and comfortable. I encourage those grieving the death of a pet to do the same. Simply draw the items your pet loved – you don’t need fancy models. For example, in addition to a picture of a toy we knew Milo liked, we sent him a big juicy paper steak – so that he could avoid the diet suggested in the afterlife!  These little rituals help the bereaved stay connected to the departed.


  1. Give yourself and your family time to grieve. Rushing to replace your beloved companion with another pet will be tempting, and may confuse small children. Teaching children to get over pain with a replacement policy may inadvertently communicate that grief is a bad emotion that we should avoid. When you think you are ready, sit down and discuss getting a new pet with your family to ensure that everyone can deal with another deep emotional commitment.


Losing a pet can be devastating. Nurture yourself and your family during this sensitive time. You have lost a dear friend and an important member of your family. Respect your emotions and honour the love you had for your pet.




If you would like to regularly read our RED DOOR blogs – on a range of topics from mental health and wellbeing, the experience of bereavement, relationships, parenting, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and so much more – please like our FB page:


Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on parenting, family life, parenting SEN children, anxiety, OCD, career change, stress management and divorce. 

Start me up – responding to career crisis


start me up

It happens to almost all of us. One day you realise it’s time to leave your current job. Sometimes you want to, sometimes you are driven by forces beyond your control. When it comes to a career change, getting yourself mentally prepared will help you select a  job that helps address your current dissatisfaction and cover your expenses. You can respond more effectively when you better understand the impact of the catalysts of change (you vs them), and your readiness to respond (engine primed vs engine stalled), on your emotional well-being.


Responding to the catalysts of change

Change in your career driven by external forces is often beyond your control. This may initially leave you feeling powerless or in a state of disbelief. Your job may be marked for downsizing, your project may fall out of favour with management, or past allegiances may make you a target for future dismissal. Outside of the office, other external factors such as your marital status or health may impact your ability to work the way you have in the past. Change may be required so that you can take care of your child, go to the hospital for specific and timely treatments, or reduce your stress to save yourself from exhaustion.


Sometimes the catalyst for change is internal – such as a lack of fulfilment, boredom, or dislike of people or processes within your organisation. You will feel frustrated, demoralised and demotivated.  Do you think it’s time to move on?


Readiness to change – the primed vs the reluctant

How much you want to change jobs, and respond to that desire, will influence how successfully you change your career. You may not want that change to happen, but you must cope with change that is going to occur.  Those that are primed for change not only want it, but are looking for the nearest well-lit Exit and a door to something better. Those that are reluctant may be riddled with doubts about their worth and performance. In short, they are scared – right now.

If you get yourself ready for change – and respond to the right catalysts in an optimal fashion, you will gain a sense of control and tame your fear.


What to do when you are primed to respond to external catalysts:

If you face external forces and are primed for change you will need to shift from feeling resentful and out of control towards feeling empowered. This is an opportunity for excitement and optimism as you recharge in a new career. To make a positive change, find your passion and move forward with purpose. Identifying your passion sometimes seem quite complicated. Try asking yourself these three questions:

1.   What job would you do for no monetary payment at all?

2.   What role do you need to fulfil in life to feel complete? And, importantly for most;

3.   What can you do to be paid to do what you want to do?


What to do when you are reluctant to respond to external catalysts:

If you are reluctant to accept change you may engage in mental cycles, bargaining with yourself: “If I just do xxx, then management will see this situation differently”. Whilst there may be some possibility of accommodating change, this is a very stressful way to survive, with no guarantee of success or peace of mind. Denial and resistance in the workplace will not help you succeed. What can you do? Work on accepting what may be inevitable, protecting yourself and your self-esteem. In these situations, people often blame themselves. Be gentle. Take a kind look at yourself and a harsh look at your circumstances. Company decisions do not reflect on you personally.

Help yourself by recognizing and exploring some of the faulty thinking that may occur. Are you taking too much personal responsibility for events that are out of your control? Are you personalising a situation which really isn’t personal? Do you catastrophise – think that this is the end of the world, rather than the end of a job? Getting past the fear of “breaking up” will allow you to get your head back in the game and focus on finding a job where you will be fulfilled and appreciated. Start collecting yourself step-by-step. Each day remind yourself that life begins at the end of your comfort zone, not in the middle of it. Do one thing every day towards building a new tomorrow for yourself. For more information, read our blog – Career change with courage click here


What to do when you are primed and ready to answer internal unrest:

If the force of change is internal, then your thoughts or experiences have left feeling a need to change – whether it’s your responsibilities, management, pay or colleagues. A progressive step may be to conduct a “life audit”. What is working in your life right now, and, more importantly, what isn’t? Are you doing this job because you want to or because you feel you should?

As a counsellor I encounter clients with well-paid, high-powered jobs which they hate but feel obligated to continue. Expand your concept of what constitutes a reward – it takes courage to change a job that pays well in cash, but very little in terms of satisfaction, joy or meaning. Start to think about what you like to do.  A complete change of career is possible.  If you won’t retire for another 10-15 years, wouldn’t you prefer to do something that you love?  If you get stuck, work with a counsellor or executive coach to consider career opportunities. You don’t have to jump ship today, but having a timeline will buoy you through today’s annoyances until you are ready.


What to do when you face internal unrest, but are reluctant to change:

It’s hard to live with the pain created by internal unrest while you are reluctant or resistant to change. This echoes the route to insanity – doing the same thing again and again yet every time expecting a different outcome.  This stalemate can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and depression. In order to survive emotionally, if you determine that you will stay in your a job, you need to make peace with your situation. You may be able to create more balance between the elements of your life you like and those that you don’t. Take up a new sport or hobby. Volunteer in the community. If peace does not come easily avoid escapist traps of self-medication through drugs and alcohol, which will only add to your feelings of depression.  If you feel stuck, and are scared, you are not alone. Engage a coach or a counsellor to help you get ready to accept, or to move on.



#careergoals #careerchange #occupationalstress #resiliency #careergoals #futureofwork #stress



Other great articles about career change

Face career change with courage. You can do it


Future success is not an accident. Prepare yourself for the Future of Work


How to respond to career crisis


Work stress – manage stress for Lawyers.




Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong. Her current clinical work focuses on adults in the areas of career change, loss of direction, burnout, relationship, depression, OCD, anxiety, perfectionism, the experience of divorce, family challenges,  and parenting special needs children.