We have all suffered loss of some sort: death of a loved one, redundancy, divorce, termination of a pet, to name but a few.
All of these involve the ending of a relationship and they all cause pain one way or another.
When I was 28 my boyfriend was killed in a car crash. When I was 38 my dad suffered a stroke and died a few months later. A few days after my 40th birthday party my mum was admitted to hospital and died days later (she had liver cancer and we didn’t know.) My brother-in-law passed away in 2014 at the young age of 63. Two weeks ago, my eldest brother died unexpectedly.
I don’t tell you this to be morbid or seek sympathy but to highlight that the only certainty we have about life, is death. We will all die at some point.
This is a topic that we don’t talk about openly in our society, yet it is something that touches every one of us in some way. Death is not necessarily tough for the dead, but more so for those who are left behind. Those who have to live with the loss, the void, the gap left by the person we loved.
In the past, clients have asked me for advice on how to deal with bereavement and of course there is no ‘template’ that suits all, but I thought it might be useful to share some of what I’ve learned along the way and used to help myself deal with grief.
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that we all deal with loss differently. It can prompt an array of emotions from deep sadness to heightened anger.
Some people need to share their feelings and want to talk about their loss repeatedly. They seek support and comfort. Others, shut down, they reflect internally, distance themselves emotionally and do not want others to intrude.
There is no right or wrong way to deal with bereavement, everyone just needs to find a way that works for them. Having said that, it is important for each of us to check in with ourselves and make sure that we are not doing ourselves any harm which may delay the healing process. If there is a predisposition such as anxiety or depression, grief can exacerbate the symptoms if not dealt with.
What can you do?
- Don’t focus on regrets.
- Journal the happy memories you have.
- Set aside time each week to see a therapist.
- Try to compartmentalise the negative feelings whilst accepting the loss and acknowledging that your mind is on a healing trajectory.
- Avoid ‘what ifs’. You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it and use those lessons to create a positive future.
- Make time each day for gentle physical exercise, even just a short walk in the park. Grief can feel physical in its intensity and the body’s natural reaction is to shut down.
- Do not allow grief to dominate your every waking thought. I know this is easier said than done but it is so important because the mind affects the body and negative thoughts impact the body negatively.
My brother knew he only had weeks left to live and he spent some of this time planning his funeral. It was lovely to be singing hymns that he had chosen and afterwards to be celebrating his life in his favourite pub.
Many beautiful things can be gained as a result of loss, for example: forgiveness in a family feud, strangers coming together to reminisce, individuals rediscovering their faith or creating new resolutions. I for one am more determined than ever to live my life to the full and help others do the same.
If you know of anyone who could benefit from this, please pass it on.