Culturally speaking, we are just terrible at dealing with death. In a society that celebrates youth, vivacity and accomplishment but quietly averts its eye from elderly decline, it can be incredibly isolating to go through the loss of a loved one. We lack the public vocabulary to discuss it and the rituals of grief to carry us through it.
Just as the cycle of life dictates, everyday life will begin and end. Babies will be born, and people will die, but as human beings that feel and connect there is nothing that we fear more than the loss of our loved ones. Many experiencing bereavement may have cared for a spouse or parent for some time and their loss may bring such a tangle of difficult emotions it is almost too much to bear. Society puts upon us certain notions of how long our grief should last or what actions we must take to alleviate it, but the truth is grief is a varying experience that cannot be dictated. It is something that we must carry with us and, while the loss of a loved one is not a burden that will ever go away completely; the weight will become lighter in time as we process our sadness. And in truth, we would not want to lose the love we feel. In time its focus will return to the memories we have and the lessons we learned and the heavy shadow of the loss we feel now will recede.
Give Yourself Permission
The first emotion we imagine when we think about losing someone we cared deeply about is sadness, but it is important to recognise other emotions associated with bereavement and acknowledge that we are allowed to feel them. The sense of relief can be very powerful, especially for those who have served as caregivers for the one they have lost. We might feel relieved that they are not suffering any more or that we are no longer carrying the burden of caregiving which can be both emotionally and physically exhausting. We may find that we experience waves of anger for all sorts of different reasons. We may feel angry towards the person we have lost for things that happened in the past, or angry with ourselves for things we did or did not do, or for things left unsaid. We might feel guilty about all of these contradictory emotions but these feelings are a natural part of the grieving process and now more than ever we must practice self-kindness. Give yourself the time and space to grieve. It may be tempting to avoid our emotions by staying busy but taking some time to allow our feelings presence in our minds will allow us to begin a process of putting our feelings in place; an act which we cannot force or control, but that will come with time.
Your Process Is Your Own
I remember when my father died, a well-meaning family friend told me it would take three months for the initial pain to subside. I counted down the weeks with a sense of foreboding pressure and after the three months had passed I did not feel any less devastated. I began to feel there was something wrong with me but the truth is there is no correct format or timescale for grief. We must give ourselves permission to sit with our sadness. We don’t have to be OK, in fact, we may feel a great number of emotions in a changeable way. We may need to talk about our grief or ask questions, or we might feel the need to take time alone, or away from the places we associate with the one we loved, but above all else, we must allow ourselves to feel the loss and to respect our grief process in being as it is. If we do have unresolved questions that could be addressed by a doctor or carer we mustn’t be afraid to reach out. Part of the process of grieving is trying to understand what has happened, and while there may not be answers to all of our questions, those within our reach may help to put our mind at ease.
Self Care In Grief
We might feel disinclined to look after ourselves when enduring deep loss, but we must try to practice self-care. If you feel unable to talk to those around you, consider speaking with a councillor or therapist. You may find support in a bereavement self-help group or an online forum for those who have experienced loss. If you are religious, your place of worship will be able to offer support. If you find that the depth of your grief is not subsiding after many months you may be suffering from depression, or you may experience insomnia or anxiety. Mental health issues left unchecked can become more serious so it is sensible to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss what you are feeling.
Stepping Into Someone Else’s Grief
When seeing someone we care about go through great loss we might feel unsure what to do. We might feel that we cannot reach them, or that approaching them is too difficult as we don’t know what to say. Keep in mind that grief is not something to be fixed, but rather a process that will unfold in its own way. When a person feels an inconsolable sense of loss the efforts of others to find a solution for their suffering can be very isolating and leave them feeling inclined to withdraw. If instead, we choose to step into our loved one’s grief, with no agenda but simply to be there beside them, this can be the greatest gesture we can make. Those who have suffered bereavement can also find it incredibly difficult to ask for support but the power of a heartfelt hug or warmly held hand is immeasurable when deep in grief. In time the tides of that grief will subside, but in the short term, small gestures of care can offer a small light in the darkness, serving as an anchor to help the person you are worried about keeping their bearings until they feel fully able to come back to themselves.