Top tips for dealing with grief
There is no escaping it. Every person in the world has to face death at some point. We fear it, avoid it, wrap it up in euphemisms which make the concept easy to say. Popping our clogs, passing over, departing, kicking the bucket, saying goodbye, falling asleep, going to God, going to heaven – in fact anything other than the word dead.
Some people of deep faith say they have no fear of death, others seek it as a relief from life, but the majority of us live in dread of the pain, the loss and the feelings of sadness. Grief hurts!
We should be clear here – we are talking about what is often called ‘normal grief’ – the grief which accompanies the normal pattern of life – losing a parent, a friend, a beloved pet. The terrible and alarming grief which goes with losing a child or losing a loved one in a violent incident is a different level and not something about which the Sassistas have the experience to give advice.
So what can you do to manage normal grief?
First recognise that it is normal and it is a process. Grief changes every day and so will your emotions. It is not unusual to have a feeling of relief or even exhilaration when a death is the end of a very long and painful illness. I have to admit that when my Mum died after years of dementia I was on a high. Yes, I was relieved she was not living such a life – but I was also relieved that I was not either. For the first time in years I did not have to look at her and feel deep pain. It only lasted a few days, but it was very real. Sometimes I felt guilty. But it was normal.
Grief goes through stages. The classic pattern is SARA:
Shock – this is the initial response and affects people in many ways. Some withdraw, others (like me) feel relief, some cry in distress, some become ill. This phase can last for days or even weeks and is characterised by waves of emotion and periods of forgetting what has happened only for the reality to hit you in the gut yet again. You do things such as picking up the phone to tell the person something and only when you are dialling remember you cannot speak to them. I bought my dad a book and burst into tears at the counter.
Anger – as shock subsides, anger often steps into its place. Sometimes justified and sometimes irrational, do not be surprised if you find yourself getting angry with your friends and family, feeling fury at the hospital who could not save your loved one, screaming at people on the TV, showing road rage when, usually, you are a placid driver. Everything feels like an imposition and an affront. Many people in relationships begin to doubt their partner and find fault. Hang on in there – it will pass.
Recognition – things are getting a little better now. Some people reach this stage in weeks, others months. This is where you begin to recognise that the person really has gone and that life is carrying on. This is where you begin to get back into a pattern of which they are not a part. This is when you continue to think about them but not every day.
Acceptance – it can take two years to get here but, at last, you fully accept they have gone. You can speak of them and smile rather than cry. You look back and the good memories flood in; you accept that life is going on; you are alright; you can live without them and even move on to a new pattern of life. You think of them occasionally but calmly. Sometimes you still feel deep sadness but it is bearable and you know it will pass.
So how do you help yourself through the stages?
There is no formula which fits all, but checking in with various Sassistas brought the following list:
- Be kind to yourself – courage is one thing but allowing yourself to hurt and cry is the essential balance. Accept that you are going through a very tough time and forgive your reactions. Likewise, grief takes a physical toll on the body so rest and eat well. Losing yourself in a bottle of wine is tempting but never a good idea.
- Talk – it gets the emotion out and gives you access to wise and comforting words. The most powerful words given to the author was from a friend who said ‘Your dad may not be here, but energy cannot die.’ Suddenly my Dad was in the air around me and I feel it still.
- Get help – for some people the grief is so overwhelming that they need professional support. Organisations such as the Samaritans and Cruse are trained to counsel you through grief. If this is not an option, go to your GP.
- Forgive – sometimes the anger stage is filled with anger towards the person who has died. Sometimes we grieve for someone who has been unkind or even cruel to us. One of the best exercises for this is to get a big pad of paper and start writing down what they did. Or write to them. Just keep writing and writing as fast as you can – if you cannot read the writing it doesn’t matter. When you are exhausted and all the badness is out on the paper – burn it, shred it, bury it – anything. Just physically consign the hurt to oblivion and say ‘good bye’ as you do it. Sounds strange? That’s what the author thought until she had filled a whole A4 pad and felt the pain lift.
- Remember them – keep talking about the person. It may bring tears at first, but talking about them makes them more real and keeps them with you. You will find you naturally talk less and less as the pain subsides. Again – that’s normal.
But maybe the best advice is to accept that death is as normal as life. It is the way of things and you will find the strength to carry on. As my Dad said, ‘All will be well’. Just believe him - because energy never dies and the ones you love are in the earth and air around you.