There are very few of us that have not been affected in some way by the death of a loved one. Few of us escape that raw guttural pain that takes us unexpectedly on a journey we never envisaged or even wanted for ourselves. Like childbirth with its pangs of labour that only mothers know and those close have the privilege to witnessing. Grief brings us into a cavern where only those in it know the depth of sorrow, and those close by can but hold and support.
What is this grief, this experience we all pass through, sooner or later after a loss? Many books and articles have been written describing the process. But in my experience it is a time to acknowledge and honour the relationship we had with that person.
The body is very wise, it is often said the body holds its own wisdom. When we lose a loved one our minds immediately shut out the full reality of the loss. We may be able to say ”yes I know he is dead yet there is still a part of me waiting for him to come home”. We idealise them and place our loved one on a pedestal. People around us may wonder is that the same person we knew? But this is all normal and is the first phase of grief, denial. Our brains know the full extent of this loss is just too much for us to take in, and it protects us, until we gradually are ready to move to the next phase Yearning or bargaining.
Our yearning is not just a wishing the person was here. It is a physical and very painful aspect to grief. We pine for their smile the sound of their voice even their own distinct smell. We yearn to be in their presence just once more. We bargain with our God, with ourselves, we will do anything just to have our loved one back. We hold their clothes and wear their jewellery, so as not to lose a sense of the person.
Then we begin to wonder what if. What if we got them to the doctor sooner, what if I answered the phone or text back sooner, what if I didn’t go away on that holiday or said those words. We trawl through our memory trying to make sense of it all, and we wonder what role I had to play in their death. Our guilt is as real to us as the air we breathe. But we must look at this guilt deeply and with honestly and see how real it is. Because we can spend many years holding or being stuck in that place of self-blame or blaming others. Or maybe there where words said, or deeds done that give us reason to feel guilty as the relationship was fraught with difficulties.
Guilt needs to be talked about in the cold light of day because it can shackle us and keep hold of us in the past not allowing our life to flourish.
Anger, can range from gentle annoyance to full rage. When a loved one dies it can bring us to a very young place in ourselves, we feel abandoned, deserted, let down. When we love someone we invest a huge amount of ourselves in that relationship, trust, honesty caring, intimacy to name but a few. For parents we have an unconditional love for our children and to have them taken away, flies against our natural instincts. Relatives, friends, medics and even the poor dog may get the brunt of what is infact deep hurt. We need to let this anger out, in a safe and healthy way Held in it can fester and may turn us into bitter unforgiving people, because in truth not too far behind our anger lies our hurt and sadness.
We are going to be sad, it is to be expected and natural. We feel sad when we say goodbye to loved ones emigrating. Our sadness touches the core of our hearts, infact it is like a measure of the love we have. Tears need to fall, they fall in the privacy of our bedroom, in the car, cooking the dinner. They can catch us off guard and we can feel overwhelmed, washed over by a sea of sadness, our sea of grief. Our crying varies from weeping to uncontrollable sobbing. Our body needs to do this, it needs to allow the pain that we held, we need to allow our pain out. Crying is such a healthy act it can be cathartic, it allows full expression of our sadness. Some of us can’t cry, our tears are locked away somewhere hidden deep within us, maybe we were told boys don’t cry, or learned at a young age crying is a form of weakness or maybe it was dangerous to cry. That’s ok in accepting ourselves as we are, our self-compassion will allow healing happen.
That is where we are heading to, acceptance. Acceptance of what has happened, we have faced the full reality of our loss we have acknowledged and honoured what and whom this person was for us. We have mourned and now we begin to look ahead, we begin to plan. Sometimes it is a conscious act to move on, sometimes it happens organically. We begin to gather our lives together, to have new experiences and relationships, at times tinged with a sadness, but we move forward.
For some this is not possible as their grief takes such a grip that they can become stuck at some point in their process. Moving forward is not an option, as maybe letting go the pain or their grief would mean letting go of their loved one, for them that is not possible This we call complex grief, and may remain this way for many years until we choose to do something about it.
So grief is really about love, it is a labour of love. The love we shared and experienced and held. That is why it takes time to grieve, a year or possibly two. It is so important to talk and share how you are feeling, to know you are not alone in your grief. If after some-time you find you are still yearning, feeling guilty or angry or sad then I would suggest you talk to a counsellor who is qualified in this area.