There is no right or wrong way to live with grief, there is only your way. Until you have experienced grief yourself, you are unlikely to understand its depth and complexities. Someone might tell you to take it one day at a time. You might find you can only manage one breath at a time.
Grief is a profound and complex experience of powerful emotions that follow the death of someone in your life.
HOW WE RESPOND TO OUR LOSS WILL VERY MUCH DEPEND ON THE NATURE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP
Perhaps you loved without inhibition and are bereft of your dearest and most intimate friend. Perhaps you had a tumultuous relationship with things said or done, or not said and not done, that have left painful consequences that continue to compound your grief. Perhaps the person who died wasn’t a close friend but an important member of your community – and it has shaken your foundations.
However grief comes to us, it can affect us and our family members, friends, colleagues and the extended community in a range of ways.
Even when death is expected because of an illnesss, or simply through a person’s advanced age, there seems little we can do to prepare ourselves for the shock of loss.
No amount of imagining about how we will feel can prepare us for the reality of grief.
IF YOU ARE LIVING WITH GRIEF
1.Know that everyone deals with grief differently
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Members of a family or community will often react very differently. Some people want solitude; others won’t want to be alone. Some people want to talk about the person who has died; others might find conversations too difficult. Some people become oversensitive to everything; others are oblivious to all but their own thoughts and feelings. Don’t compare your grief experience with other people’s grief experiences. Grief is deeply personal, and no one will feel exactly the way you do.
2. Expect to feel mixed emotions
Grief is complicated and changeable. Your heart might feel like it’s breaking. You may feel bewildered and bereft in one moment and, in the next, you’re feeling deeply sad or angry. And sometimes you might feel relieved and pleased (and perhaps guilty) that your loved one is no longer suffering. It’s often a roller-coaster of emotions and all of these emotions are completely normal.
3. Ask for help
Living with grief can be difficult, daunting and demanding. It can be challenging to find good companions when you are in the caverns of your own grief. It’s important to reach out and ask for help from people you trust. Do not share your tender vulnerabilities with people who will tell you what to do, how to be, or who give you unhelpful advice or want to only talk about themselves. Sometimes it can be a good talk with a friend or mate so long as they are a great listener. You could also join an online local support group or ask your GP to refer you to a local grief and bereavement counsellor.
4. Express yourself
While it can be helpful to talk about your grief, it also helps if we use a creative outlet for expressing and releasing all the mixed emotions. Sometimes these emotions cannot be expressed through spoken word alone. You could try writing and journaling, painting, woodworking, pottery or crafting. You could make music, dance or sing. Experiment and find the creative and therapeutic outlet that works best for you.
5. Allow yourself to feel sad
Cry as much as you need to. Allow yourself to be quiet and still. Cry some more. Stay in your pyjamas all day. It helps to set some time aside for reflection. Take time off work if you need to. Ask someone to look after your children for the day. Don’t worry about answering the phone, emails, or running errands for a few days. And then cry some more. We might feel that if we start crying, we won’t ever stop or that we’ll shatter into a million fragments and never re-integrate. However, if we can feel it, we can heal it. Trust your body’s innate need to weep and, as one woman said,
“my tears roll down my cheeks and form a river to my heart”.
6. Look after yourself
Do your best to eat, drink, exercise and sleep well. Most people don’t understand how physical grief is. The neurochemistry of grief is described in many ways. Some people say they feel ‘hollowed out’, ‘amputated’, ‘discombobulated’ or ‘as if I’m only partly here’. The neurochemistry we produce when we are grieving, ignites all the previous griefs we might have experienced. People are often surprised to find that ‘old’ griefs are very present during ‘current’ grief. Exercise is one of the most powerful ways of moving this neurochemistry out of our body.
It is wise to minimise alcohol or illicit drug consumption when grieving as it masks and therefore prolongs the feelings of grief. Exercise, good nutrition, healthy deep sleep, meditation, mindfulness and yoga are all good ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous system – our soothe, calm, rest and digest system.
7. Do what you love
While your loved one is gone, you are still very much alive. It helps to incorporate the things which bring you joy, contentment or peace or that reconnect you with yourself again. While it might be difficult at first, you will start to notice a difference in time.
Some suggestions include: going for a bushwalk, being in nature, doing some gardening, listening to or making music, taking a warm bath, dancing, singing, spending time with animals or your pet, other family members or friends, visiting a special place that is meaningful to you.
8. Give yourself time
Grief does not work to a schedule or timeline. Grieving is a process. Feeling ‘better’ can take weeks, months or years. Allow it to unfold at its own pace. There is no going back, but there is a going forward into a new life, enriched by those we have loved and lost. We don’t grieve for a period of time, and then it’s done.
We grieve for a lifetime and in time, we become more familiar with our own inner landscape of grief, more familiar with its triggers, its features, its highs and lows and its idiosyncrasies. Grief carves deeply into our being and leads us into parts of ourselves we would never willingly explore. In this way we get to know ourselves in our depths – and that can be a most worthy treasure amongst the pain and distress.