Loss is an inherent part of all human existence and the experience of coping with it is very individual. Loss may mean the death of a loved one, but it can, as easily, be a divorce, (or a breakdown of a relationship), a diagnosis of serious illness, losing a beloved pet, a miscarriage, losing a job, or a close friendship. All of these have one thing in common, and that is a period of grieving will be required to recover. And understanding what we are feeling and why we are feeling it, can sometimes gives a degree of hope and reassurance, whilst we are going through that process.
Grief can be overwhelming and suffocating. Coping with it is the hardest thing we may ever have to do, and although it feels, particularly on dark days, that it is insurmountable, it does become easier over time.
Most psychologists believe that there are a number of ‘stages’ of grief which many will experience to a greater or lesser degree. Once the loss has been initially accepted, it is quite normal to feel any, (or all) of the following: Anger, denial, guilt, pain, shock, and numbness. Sometimes people will feel depressed and worthless and spend time reflecting negatively on the past.
It’s possible that your own grieving will touch on all these stages, but not necessarily consecutively. Grief often feels chaotic and out of control, and certainly not ordered or in a process; but whatever route your grief takes, is the right route for you. Your mind, and to some extent your body, are processing it in the best way it can. For example, you may feel angry, then guilty, then have a couple of better days, then feel angry again.
Anything you are experiencing is normal because it’s normal for you. That’s not to say it will feel normal: Feeling tired or fatigued all the time, experiencing a range of unwanted emotions, feeling depressed, anxious and possibly even having suicidal thoughts, will be uncomfortable, alarming, and sometimes even downright terrifying.
This is because loss has such a wide reach and touches on the whole of our lives. Consequently we are shaken to our very identity. The uncertainty is unsettling, and we ask ourselves questions like ‘what will the future hold?’ and ‘will I always be alone?’
When I was a counsellor, the question I was asked most often was “when will I feel better?” And of course, the answer is entirely down to the individual. The first step is to accept that you are grieving and going through a process, and that some days will be harder than others. There is no set period or procedure, as it’s your personal journey, but considering the following points may assist you on the road to recovery.
1. Talk about it. All the time if you need to. Talk about it until you can’t talk anymore. The absolutely worst thing to do is to try and bury it and / or ignore it. Discuss your feelings with anyone who will listen, and when emotions come to the surface when you talk, don’t be ashamed to show them. Friends and family often do not know how to help someone they love who is clearly in pain. They don’t know what to say and everything they do say feels trite and ineffectual. They desperately want to help you, but as you know, nothing anyone can do or say will fix this overnight. Try and convey to them that all you require is someone to be with you when you are hurting. Fixing is not required. All you require are good listeners.
2. Accept that you will feel sad and allow yourself to cry. Pretending it’s not happened or pushing those emotions down, will only mean that the grief process is merely postponed, not averted. Opening ourselves to it, allowing ourselves to experience it, (though it’s painful) and letting it wash over us, is by far, the quickest route to recovery.
3. Try and keep up your normal work, social or volunteering commitments. This may be very difficult in the early days, but concentrating on something will offer a distraction that will help you. It will also give you a sense of direction during a time when you may feel purposeless.
4. Try and sleep in your normal pattern when you can. If sleeping is impossible, visit your GP to get some (temporary) sleep assisting medication.
5. Get professional help. It can’t hurt you, and will often accelerate the recovery process. Your GP may refer you for counselling though it may be necessary to wait. Private counselling may not be as expensive as you think, and is usually available immediately. Please be careful to go to a BACP registered therapist however. Visit www.bacp.co.uk and click on ‘Find a therapist’ for a local counsellor near you.
6. Try and eat healthily. Not eating, or living on junk food will not help your state of mind, and will only make you feel worse. Exercise when you can, though you may not feel like it. Keeping your physical body healthy will be positive for your mental state and it may help you with perspective.
7. Remember that although your grief is all consuming at the moment, it will heal eventually. Time is a hugely effective healer, particularly for those open to the grieving process. Do not be concerned that recovery will be a betrayal somehow, no one is suggesting that you should try and forget. Keeping the memories alive is healthy, as long as it does not continue to cause dysfunctional pain and sadness for you in the long term.
8. When you are having a terrible day, try and remember that you are making huge strides towards recovery by experiencing this pain. In effect, it could be said that a bad day is as good as a good day, as it means your mind is processing what it needs to, and recovery, acceptance and coping are that much closer.
9. Practice self care. Look after yourself, in both mind and body. Of course you are not going to feel like going on holiday or giving yourself treats, but do what you can to at least enjoy the small things. There will be good days and you may catch yourself laughing or enjoying a moment. This is progress. The good days will slowly come more often as the bad days decrease.
10. Try and remember that guilt is probably the most self destructive phase you will pass through. Guilt is a feeling and is not a situation. By that I mean although you may be feeling guilty, it does not necessarily follow that you have any reason to feel guilty. Accept the feeling as part of the process, and know that it will pass.
11. Understand that you may well experience a good day (or several) and then have a bad day. That does not mean you are going backward, it just means that you are working through the stages in a perfectly normal way. You will probably revisit all the emotions/states a few times.
12. Understand that you may become forgetful, and unable to concentrate on things, and again this is perfectly normal. Your mind is extremely busy trying to process the loss, and is using all its resources to do so. Therefore it is quite understandable that you are a bit forgetful and distracted for a while.
13. Understand that it is a common reaction to self blame, especially if we can come up with no other way to make sense of our loss. This is not to say that you are in any way to blame, it is just to be aware that the feeling is completely normal. As humans, we like to understand things and are not good when there is an ‘unknown’. If we can’t find anyone, or anything to blame, it’s quite normal to take that on to ourselves. Again these feelings will pass.
14. Grief is personal and individual and you will heal at your own pace. It is a up and down process and you will have good days as well as bad ones. However, if you start to experience any of the following, you should see your GP as soon as possible: Thoughts of suicide or dying; long standing feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness; not being able to get out of bed and / or attend work; a general inability to function; feeling like you have no energy, and seeing or hearing voices or things that aren’t there.
Grief and loss are the hardest thing we have to deal with as humans, and it’s not only the loss itself but the trying to make sense of what has happened. Sometimes there is no sense to be made and we are left feeling confused and unsettled and fearful about the future.
If a loved one has died, try and think about their legacy and what they would wish for you. If it’s breakup you are going through, consider the opportunity to learn. Think about coming out of this experience wiser and stronger. Don’t dwell on who was to blame or rerun constantly remembered mistakes/events. Tomorrow is a new day, full of new opportunities, new people and new experiences. You are stronger than you think … and your future is in your hands. ❤️