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Sunday, 5 March 2017

Dealing with Grief



It’s been 4-years since my 13-year old niece died suddenly, 11-years since my Aunty died peacefully, 26-years since my grandfather passed away holding the hand of his wife and it’s been 7-years since my grandmother died.  I’m not new to grief, but it has taken me a long time to understand it.

Goodbye is never easy

When someone you love and care about dies the feeling is overwhelming, some people feel a mixture of emotions.

When my grandfather passed away after coping with cancer for only a few short months, it was expected.  And for me, I felt I’d already dealt with the loss before it actually happened.

When my 13-year old niece suddenly died, I realised that there is no standard way of experiencing loss and no right way to grieve.  It is completely normal to feel shock, guilt, anger, relief, despair and many other different emotions.  There are some things you can do that may help you to cope and there are people who can support you if you need it.

Your feelings will be influenced by many different things.

This might include
·         your relationship with the person,
·         what happened in the lead up to their death
·         the support around you. 

Your feelings are also likely to be influenced by
·         your personality,
·         your cultural background, and
·         any religious beliefs you might have. 

It is important to know that what is normal is different for each person.

Every person has different reactions. Your experience may be different.  The important thing is to accept that is ok to have these feelings.  Grieving is a normal, healthy process that we all try to learn to live with when someone we love dies.

There is nothing I can say or do that will make the grieving process easier and better, especially when all you need is to be closure to those you love, hold them a little bit tighter and tell them you love them.

But sharing those feelings and emotions might help eventually.

Emotions

When my niece died suddenly the first emotion I felt was Shock, I was not prepared it was unexpected and there had been no clues that this would happen.  You might have thought you were prepared, because the person’s death was expected or because you’ve previously lost someone you love.  But whatever the circumstances, it is very common to feel an initial sense of shock. 

I felt overwhelmed, my grief hit me with the full force of an express freight train.  You may find that the full force of your grief hits you straight away, and you might cry a lot every day.  My grief put me in bed for 3 days, I just could not function knowing that this beautiful young girl was gone. You may have expected to grieve deeply in this way, and accept your feelings.  Or you may find these emotions are unexpected.  You may even feel angry that you feel this way. 

You may feel overwhelmed, and worry that you’re not coping.  You may worry that your grief feels so devastating you don’t know how you can live with it.  4years on I still can’t say it gets easier, because I don’t believe it does, it just became less intense. But over time, feelings of grief and loss tend to become less intense, and you begin to find a way to live with them. 

I was so angry, I was angry that the world carried on as normal.  Like, it didn’t matter that the world had lost someone so special. It is very common to feel angry when you are grieving.  Your anger might be directed at different subjects such as: the fact that your loved one was taken before their time, things that happened or didn’t happen before they died, or that they are no longer there. 

You might feel angry with circumstances, others or yourself.  You might be angry for all of these reasons or for entirely different reasons.  These are completely normal feelings.

I also remember the overwhelming numbness, the initial shock made it feel as though I was pushing my way through a thick fog, my brain just could not compute what had happened. You may feel numb, or worry because you haven’t cried.  Feeling numb is one of the things that helps us to cope with very intense and distressing emotions.  Gradually over time, the sense of numbness will go, and you will start to emerge from the fog. I don’t remember when this started for me, I think that the turning point was arriving at work one morning and not even knowing how I had driven there.

I didn’t feel the following emotion with my niece, but I do remember with my Grandfather and Aunty I felt relieved.  Not because I didn’t care or didn’t love them, but because they had been in so much pain and they just seemed “trapped” inside of themselves. You may feel a sense of relief when the person you care about dies - particularly if it has been a long illness, if the person has been suffering, or if you have been the main carer.  If you feel like this, you may also feel guilty for feeling relieved. 

But relief is a normal response and not something you should feel guilty about.  It doesn’t mean you didn’t love and care for them or that you are a bad person. 

My brother, the father of my niece had very real physical symptoms to his grief. 
·         difficulty sleeping
·         loss or increase of appetite (e.g. comfort eating)
·         headaches
·         feeling drained or having no energy
·         being prone to picking up minor bugs and illnesses.  

These are all normal reactions to losing someone close to you.  We often tell people they need to look after themselves, but when you are grieving it is really important.  Try to treat yourself kindly and give yourself the time, space and care that you need. 

You may have mixed feelings or had a difficult relationship with the person you lost all relationships have their difficulties.  You may have thought that because you had a difficult relationship with the person, you would grieve less or cope better when they died.  Instead, you may find that you experience an unexpected mix of emotions. When my grandmother passed asway I felt I was mourning more for the relationship I could have had, if I’d been able to get to know her.  But due to my parents’ divorce many years previously, I had no contact with my mum’s family, and then suddenly this person I should have known, should have loved had been taken away and I would never get that opportunity ever again.

There might be some aspects of the person or your relationship with them that you are not sad about losing.  But you may still feel upset about losing the positives, or the relationship you could have had.  Your feelings of sadness may be mixed with feelings of anger, guilt, regret and everything in between.  All of these emotions are completely normal.

I can’t cope!

There are lots of different factors that affect grief - such as the kind of relationship you had with your friend or relative, how you normally deal with emotional issues, and the support you have around you.  

These different aspects mean that we all cope in different ways and you will find some things help you more than others.  However, here are some things that may help you to cope.

Taking one day at a time 
Focusing on one day at a time can help you cope with your feelings and get through the simple everyday tasks that you need to do.

Keeping busy or taking time out
You may find that keeping busy and throwing yourself into different activities helps.  If this works for you, try to do things even if you don’t feel up to it.  Alternatively, you may find you need to take things more slowly and take time out of your day-to-day life and activities.  You need to do whichever works best for you.

Recognising your emotions 
Lots of the emotions you might feel when you are grieving have physical symptoms.  If you are feeling stressed, your heart beat may be faster.  If you are angry, you might clench your jaw.  Sometimes those physical symptoms might be a way of helping you to recognise your own emotions.  When you notice them, you just need to make space at that time to feel those emotions, which can help you to cope with them.

Getting out of the house 
Not only does getting out of the house give you some physical exercise, but it can help you to think differently.  Sometimes, particularly if you are feeling lonely, it can be good to see other people out and about, even if you’re not ready to engage with them.

Looking after your physical health 
Getting enough sleep and eating properly can help you deal with the different emotions you are feeling.

Get support from family and friends
It helps if you’ve got support within your own family and friends, as well as from others such as a support group.  This is because friends and family are the people who will be there for you in the long term.

Talking through your feelings 
It may be enough to talk with family or close friends. Or you may find it helpful to get dedicated bereavement support, either one-to-one or in a group.

If you feel that you don’t want to talk, it is important to find other ways to manage your feelings.

Letting others grieve in their own way 
Sometimes different family members may have different ways of grieving.  Perhaps one person wants to talk about and share their feelings, but another person prefers to busy themselves with activities.

You may find that people’s different ways of coping can create tensions and strains within the family.  You need to try to find a way to be sensitive to each other’s needs, while coping with your feelings in your own way.  

Coping with your home
Living in a home you shared together can be particularly hard.  All around you are likely to be reminders of the person, which may trigger your feelings of grief.

The home you shared together may feel like a sanctuary.  Or you may find you prefer to spend as little time as possible at home, because that it feels empty.  You may like to keep your home exactly the same, or you may prefer to rearrange it.

It is quite common that when a parent dies grown-up children no longer want to visit. The house often brings back so many memories and feelings of grief for them.  These are all normal feelings, and you need to do what works best for you.

Creating traditions 
Important dates, such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other celebrations, can be particularly hard.  It normally helps if you can think beforehand about what you will do and what will help you get through the day.  You may like to create a tradition, such as visiting the person’s grave, or the place where their ashes are scattered.  There is no right or wrong thing to do on these different occasions, you only need to do the things that are important to you and that help you to cope. 

Finding ways to connect with the person who has died
Sometimes having a particular routine or ritual can help you to reconnect with the person you loved. This doesn’t need to be something you do on a particular date, but might be something you can do any time.  It could be something like visiting the place where their ashes are scattered, or going on a walk that you did together.

Getting support
Getting help when you need it is sensible, not a sign you have failed.  You may feel that you can’t cope, but you may surprise yourself with what you can actually handle.  

However, if you feel you are not coping, or you know that the way you are coping is not good for you – for example if you are drinking alcohol heavily – you should try to think about what help you might need.  Your local hospice can normally provide bereavement support, or your GP can either offer support or refer you on.

Getting back to ‘normal’

The death of someone you love can feel so overwhelming that you don’t know how you can live with the grief for the rest of your life.  The aim is not to get back to normal.  It is about understanding how your life has changed and being able to reach a better balance between the good days and bad days.

This is not about moving on or forgetting the person, but learning how you can live your life with the grief you feel. 

Often the person who has died was a part of your day-to-day routine.  Your habits and activities may have been built, at least in part, around them.  When the person dies, the rhythm of your life and established patterns are disrupted.

If you were their carer, you may suddenly have lots of time on your hands that used to be filled doing things linked to your caring role.  You need to give yourself time to adjust to different routines and having a different role.

Some of the hardest things to cope with can be simple everyday activities that reinforce that the person is not there now.  It might be making the tea or doing the shopping, when that was something they always used to do.  Gradually you need to create a new normal, where these activities become part of your role.

If it is your partner who has died, you may find that you are struggling to know who you are now that you are no longer part of a couple.  This can feel like a very hard thing to do, particularly as some of your friendships and relationships may change.

Sometimes you may find that you see less of some of the people you were friends with as a couple.  You may also be surprised by other people who emerge and provide support and comfort to you.

Re-building your life in this way is a slow process, and sometimes you might feel overwhelmed by grief and can’t face anything new.  But over time your life will regain shape and meaning.  Part of the process of learning to live with grief is learning to build a new normal and finding new meanings in your activities and roles.

Because you are finding a new balance does not mean that there is no place in your life for the person who has died.  The connection that you had with them will continue.  You may find that you say good morning to them when you get up, or talk to them when you visit their grave.  Continuing to talk to the person you loved is completely normal and something lots of people do.
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