Some things in life are hard. Your exams, assignments, exercise, people. But dealing with grief and loss? That’s the hardest thing of all.
You cannot explain something so raw and real. One day your life is carrying along as usual and the next it is completely shattered. It makes you question your purpose, how do you go on? You just do. The world will always keep spinning and everyone’s life will keep moving. I’ve experienced the pain of loss, of death to your once tight-knit family, and the emotional trauma that is grief. Losing my grandfather, my godfather and uncle, even my childhood dog and cat. It is immeasurable. You feel as if you have lost a part of your soul that you can never get back- how many tears can you cry, when does your body stop feeling numb, when does the shock of pain pass? When the funeral is over, when the flowers have died, when everyone has carried on with their lives, you suddenly realise that this is your life now. Nothing will ever be the same again.
I was visiting a family friend the other day who had just lost her husband, my boss that gave me my first paying job. As I was listening to her speak of his final days and the visible pain of losing her husband, a father, and a grandfather I noticed how frustrated she was at recent mourners that have come and gone and how in social situations, you avoid talking directly about the loss and overcompensating with words that don’t really help mend that pain. “I’m so sorry for your loss” – are you? Then would you mind please bringing them back now. “Yes my husband went through the exact same thing” – yes but he is still alive. “I had some casserole left over so I thought I would bring it to you” – gee thanks.
In this moment I looked down into my cup of tea and thought about how grief is like a cup of tea. It takes so many formations, colours, and textures. You never know how or when it will rear its ugly head and take control over you. Sometimes you cry unfathomably and other days you feel guilty because you haven’t cried. In some moments you are so angry or filled with this anxiety not knowing what to do.
“Death comes to all, but great achievements raise a monument which shall endure until the sun grows old.”
I see grief as an emotion that has a life of its own. It carries every feeling within it and sometimes there is just no way to discern it or control it. You cannot measure it or even begin to understand it in its entirety. That is what grief is at its core. No matter how many books you read or how much advice you get or how many times you go over it in your head, you cannot define grief. There is no right or wrong way in dealing with it. You take every day as it comes and appreciate the memories you did have- no one can take that away from you.
The shock of loss to our bodies- emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual is incredible. For those of us who have experienced grief you wake up in the morning and for a split second everything is okay in the world. And then you remember, the storm clouds gather and the overriding question lingers: what is the point in getting out of bed? It questions the very nature of who we are.
So here are my thoughts and tips if you want to call them that. Grief cannot be solved, taught or justified. Grieving is a process and a journey you have to go on by yourself.
- Self-care: During this time our bodies need to be fed in order to handle the multiple phases of grief and trauma. Although this may seem small and insignificant you must remember that you are still with the living and to live you must eat, drink and carry on because your body won’t stop to allow you to just crawl into a ball and ignore all signs that tell you you are still alive.
- Accepting what we cannot control: A time will come when you need to accept you have no control over what happens to you. You need to realise that what you once knew, you no longer can know. If you look at this from a sort of spiritual perspective (regardless if you are or not) you have the power to realise all that we are not and less about what we are or what we think we know. There is great freedom that comes with this because it gives you the courage to meet life’s adversities head-on.
- Accept the bad days: As myself and my family have learned over these years, grief pressures you to seek within yourself. Sometimes you have bad days- that is fact and others will understand that. It may be as simple as a text: “Bad day, can’t talk”. The simplicity of that text shows that you can’t force grief to be something different. Don’t suppress it but don’t force it to be something it really isn’t.
- Embrace the hard times: When the pain of loss happens, it is like a lightening bolt. I use this comparison for two reasons. Grief is like a lightening bolt because you are aware there is lightening around you, you can hear it and sometimes you can see it but you never think that it can strike you. And when it does it comes and shakes the foundation of your grounding. You question everything- what you’re doing, what’s more important, who you truly are. But there comes great power in surrendering to the unknown.
The days and the weeks that follow on from a death in the family will seem like they bleed together like the diary of your life disintegrating in front of your very eyes, but there are days in between that where you experience joy and laughter. Don’t feel guilty about that because one of the feelings you can experience from grief is joy. Joy for the memories you shared, joy for the time you had, and joy for the life you have lived with them. Outside of that context, a weekend away with your friends, a lunch out with your family or simply days where the sun was shining and you felt no reason but to be happy. Embrace these days for what they are and don’t feel guilty. Life is there to be lived because one day the harsh reality of it is that we will die as well.
And like everything else, your suffering will go, until one day it comes back again. Their favourite song on the radio, the car they used to drive or their mail that arrives in the letterbox.
But for me, the greatest thing about death is that it helps us grow. It matures us, brings us lessons of holding on so tightly and letting go and gracing us with the wisdom we need to move forward with everyone else. With time, the sun will shine again. Embrace this new chapter in your life by going for a walk, taking your shoes off and feeling the sand beneath your toes, looking up at the trees and breathing in the air. The happiness we once had never really went away, one day you will find that it still exists inside us, we are just remembering it anew. It engages us again and revives us.
“This too shall pass”
That is the very nature of grief because it has its own rhythm. It is both in the present and in the past and will always appear to stay that way no matter how much time has passed.
Learn to live on, accept the hand you are dealt, and never forget what is important in life.