Grief is something we will all feel at some point in our lives. It’s unavoidable. As Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
In my experience the loss of a beloved family member stays with you forever. The loss I’m thinking about as I write this is the death of my sister, Donna, and I find comfort that she is still remembered and still missed after so many years. Her loss has had repercussions all through my life. There is sadness in every life experience that cannot be shared. I was a bride without a chief bridesmaid, my child will never know their auntie, even a joke or funny event that can’t be shared. Some happy times are bitter-sweet in my family, because one of us is missing.
I made changes after we lost Donna and when I look back, I’m glad that her loss galvanised me to travel, change my job and make the most of my time. It felt easy to do because nothing was important anymore. By travelling and constantly looking for adventure I dodged my grief for about a year, but it caught me in the end, and I had to take some time to acknowledge those feelings and let myself work through my grief.
Crying in the Noodle Aisle
The last time I felt the kick of grief was when I found myself in tears in Morrison’s noodle aisle the week my child went off to University. I felt so sad that I wouldn’t be part of their day-to-day life. Although, if I am honest, that transition had been happening slowly for the last few years. The University drop off is a brutal manifestation of cutting the apron strings. Reduced to shopping for just two of us triggered a deep upset in me that lasted for a while and I recognised those old feelings of grief and sadness. It did pass but I was shocked by how hard I’d been hit.
Go at your own pace – even if you don’t know what that is.
In my experience grief is a very individual state. Some deal with grief by talking about their loss, telling their story helps them find meaning in what has happened and talking about a loved one brings comfort. I found this difficult and painful to hear, especially on days when I wasn’t feeling up to it. Grief ebbs and flows so unpredictably that what was fine yesterday might hurt too much today. Now I’m fine and love to reminisce and find comfort in the old stories.
There are lots of Support Groups and now Facebook would have groups you could join. This didn’t appeal to me. I would not have had the capacity to listen to others’ stories or share their grief, but I know that The Compassionate Friends were an enormous support to my mum, and she found comfort and made friends who were in similar situations. They have an amazing website with lots of support here – https://www.tcf.org.uk/
Climbing the cemetery railings
When I mentioned this blog to my dad he was worried that I’d be giving instruction on how to grieve. He wanted me to stress there is no right or wrong way. For instance, he visited the grave as often as he could for as long as he could, even getting locked in on one dark evening, having to climb over the railings in his suit, tearing his smart city coat in the process. All he could think of was Donna saying, “How embarrassing” but we all thought that hilarious! Mum, however rarely went at first, she didn’t look there for comfort and nor did I.
I found that grief affected everything. My sleep, concentration, appetite, even my immune system took a hit. It’s like living in a fog of uncertainty and pain. It feels like all the rules you knew to be true are gone and that anything can happen. I felt weirdly invincible, after all, the worst had happened, and lightning probably wouldn’t strike twice. I took lots of risks in that year of my life, travelling the world. Luckily nothing bad did happen but I shudder to think about it now! How brilliant of my parents to let me go because they, on the other hand seemed convinced this death was the start of many and bought a plot big enough for the whole family to lay together!
There is no rule book for grief. People say, “do what feels right for you”, which is hard at a time when nothing feels right and your whole world feels wrong.
Making decisions is difficult as nothing feels important compared to your loss. Emotions get really mixed up. After all you cannot be sad all the time especially as life goes on around you. Things make you laugh, shopping must be done or you may want the simple pleasure of watching a football match. This is our brains’ way of dealing with intense and exhausting emotions. These things give us respite from the depths of our feelings but can also stab us with guilt when we catch ourselves laughing, or not thinking about our loved one for an hour or so.
Sometimes grief doesn’t catch up with us until months or even years after our loss and can be triggered by another much smaller loss making our reactions feel out of proportion but there is always more going on than we realise.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the Stages of grief
Grief is a natural process; part of life and we don’t always need counselling to cope with it. It can be frightening to experience such depths of emotion and if you are out of sync with those around you it can feel lonely too, which is when counselling might help. Or if you get stuck or caught in your grief or find that you are felling worse with time then it might be beneficial to speak to someone about it.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross explains the stages of grief and I recommend her book ‘On Grief and Grieving’. It’s beautifully written and accessible. I think the stages of grief are demonstrated brilliantly here in this circular diagram, the stages aren’t a linear progression, we can slide backwards and forwards from Depression to Acceptance and back again as we navigate our grief.
Richard Brewer put it brilliantly in this diagram – we can map out the ‘stages’ and offer a path for progression but our grief will take its own path and it might be messy!!
Grief can feel overwhelming, it can make you cry, howl, shout in anger, it can bring immense sadness, guilt, and hurt. It can take your appetite, your sleep, and your energy. It can also make you brave and clear obstacles from your path, sometimes it’s good to care less about what people think, or what you ‘should’ be doing.
Be kind to yourself, allow yourself time to feel these things, tell your story, seek help if you need to. You can swing from happiness to despair in the blink of an eye. Mornings can be hard as you wake up and remember all over again, evenings can be hard when others are indoors with their families and you are going to be alone.
Find the things that bring respite otherwise you will exhaust yourself. It might be a funny film on TV, music from the old days, a walk in the woods or a day in bed with a good book. Feel free to message us and let us know what helped you.
We are running a webinar on Bereavement and the theories behind recovery. If you would like to know more or to buy a ticket you can find details here:- https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/149786500455
Until next time
For My sister Donna Bird 1967 – 1986
Kübler-Ross, E., 1997. On Death and Dying. 3rd Edn. USA: Scribner.