It’s an emotion that most of us dread but will likely experience at least once in our lifetime. However the truth is that in modern life, there’s a taboo around discussing death.
This can mean that when grief hits, even the very nature of it can sometimes be a terrible shock. Grief is overwhelming. Even in its gentler manifestations, it can be disorienting and exhausting.
When grief is raw and new, surviving it can feel like the emotional equivalent of running the gauntlet of a never-ending, mercilessly sadistic assault course.
Even those with the most robust belief systems can find that the reality of a loved one’s physical absence in the here and now almost too painful to bear. That absence is often experienced on an excruciatingly visceral level.
Grief often transforms what was familiar and comforting, into a hostile and alien landscape. Navigating this landscape can be isolating, lonely and sometimes terrifying. Extreme grief can make it feel like life isn’t worth living.
The word grief comes from the old French for burden. So what’s the best way to lighten this burden? The simple truth is that there’s no one-size- fits-all approach to managing grief. An individual’s grief response is as unique as their fingerprint.
So, for example, there’s no use in asking how long it’s going to last because it will vary from person to person. Some people will cry everyday for months and months, and some people won’t shed a tear until a long after the actual bereavement, if at all.
Neither is right nor wrong. They are both perfectly valid expressions of an individual’s grief.
However, there are some generalisations about the grief process that can be helpful. While in the grip of grief, it’s important to look after yourself physically as much as possible. This means eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising if you can.
And be kind with yourself. Don’t berate yourself if you’re not coping well. Not coping well is part of what grief is all about.
However, if you feel that you’re becoming trapped in your grief, asking for help from a professional is a completely sensible course of action.
Sometimes, moving on in life can feel like a betrayal of the person you’ve lost and that can make it hard to embrace healing. For some, moving on means that grief becomes combined with guilt.
If you had a straightforward relationship with the deceased, you may have a more straightforward grieving process. But you may not.
If your relationship with the deceased was complicated, it may make your grieving process more painful and arduous. It may also make it more simple.
What that person represented to you will play a part in how you grieve.
Again you are the best judge of whether your grieving process is normal or not.
However, if you feel your grief is becoming muddled with other emotions, such as uncontrollable anger, paralysing depression or suicidal feelings, then definitely consider reaching out for professional support.
And is there any upside to grief? Chances are that, to begin with, it’ll be very hard to identify any.
However, with time that may change. At a certain point in your grieving process, you may experience a heightened awareness of being alive. How so? Well, your sense may become sharper. You may no longer be bothered by petty daily grievances or small annoyances.
Even if you’re numb with grief, that numbness may make you realise the power of your feelings at other times. And most importantly, grief throws into sharp relief that those we love are infinitely precious to us – a fact many of us take for granted most of the time, until we lose someone.
The loss of a loved one also serves to recalibrate our understanding of time. Death turns the present into the past and compresses a lifetime into what feels like the blink of an eye.
Eventually, these changes to your perception of life can be used to your benefit. When you’re ready, you may want to explore expressing yourself through creativity. You might seek to broaden your horizons by travelling and having adventures. Maybe you’ll embark on a deeply personal spiritual quest. You could find light relief in new hobbies.
The loss of a loved one can deepen your relationships with other people, and help you discover support networks around you that you didn’t previously know were there.
You may discover an inner strength that’s the making of you. Or you may be softened by your experience of loss. You may be inspired to reach out to make connections with new people. Or you may work towards creating a reliable inner peace that sustains you whatever happens next.
Grief can help us grow as people. That doesn’t mean this catalyst for growth is welcome. But unfortunately, if you love at all in your life, grief is probably inevitable.
Therefore, one way of meeting grief on your own terms is seeing what treasures you can mine from its dark recesses. They may be hard to find and the price to pay for them may seem too great. But when you locate them, which you will, they are invaluable.
“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life” Anne RoipheAuthor: Emily Thornton