Grief, the space that is left by love.

Grief is a feeling that we will all experience at some time in our lives…

I started my professional counselling journey training to be a bereavement support volunteer with Cruse. Working with adults and children in their own homes was inspiring and a real privilege, as well as being quite challenging at times. I have learnt that every bereavement is different and understood that grief is a personal journey that you have no way predicting. The skills that I learnt throughout this work have been invaluable and are also relevant in many areas of life not just when some one passes away, loss comes in many forms and can affect us at anytime. For this blog I will be focusing on bereavement and the loss of a loved one, but much of what I will say can be translated into other areas of life.

For most of us, bereavement will be the most distressing experience we will ever face and the ‘grief’ is what we feel when someone we are close to dies. Everyone experiences grief differently and there is no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ way to grieve. How you may feel when you lose someone close to you in a very individual experience. It is worth remembering that grief is an emotional response to the loss, and is a process you go though rather than a singular event. It may affect how you feel physically, mentally and socially and this is all quite normal.

Responses often include

Shock: This is most likely to be one of the first emotions that you feel. It may take a long time to come to terms with what has happened. Shock often makes us feel numb and maybe you might carry on as if nothing has happened

Pain: Feelings of pain and distress can feel overwhelming and very frightening to start with. It might help to try and accept that this ok and just go with the feeling, this may help you not feel overwhelmed by it.

Anger: This is a very natural reaction and extremely common in the grieving process and anger can be experienced in many ways. The death of a loved one can feel very unfair and this is especially true when it is unexpected. Our anger could be at the person who has died or those around you. Just be reassured that this will pass in time.

Guilt: This emotion is probably the most common reaction to the loss of someone close. Whether you blame yourself, you feel that you could have done more, or you had a difficult relationship with the person that has died. When someone passes we naturally reflect back on things and we will always find something we ‘could’ have done differently, which lead to the feeling of regret and guilt. Just try not to be hard on yourself.

Overwhelming sadness: Many bereaved people experience a feeling of deep sadness after the death of a loved one. To some extent this is part of the process. A state of agitation is usually followed by times of quiet sadness or withdrawal and silence, when you just want to be on your own. These sudden changes of emotion can be confusing to friends or relatives, but they are one of the normal parts of grieving.

Other people reactions: I believe that another aspect of dealing with the loss of someone is the reaction from other people. People often don’t know what to say, how to behave and they may even avoid you rather that face being in a situation that they do not feel comfortable with. This is hard because we may well want to talk about the person who has died. It can become especially hard as time goes on and other people’s memories of the person who has died fade.

What can you do to help yourself

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to friends and family about how you are feeling, or consider joining a support group. Counselling can also help you to work through the feeling of grief and is available through many charities and in private practice too.
  • Take care of your physical health. Grieving can be exhausting, so it’s important to eat a healthy diet and try and get a good nights sleep. 
  • Take care of your mental health and try to manage your stress – Relaxation and gentle exercise can be helpful.
  • Do things you enjoy, even if you don’t really feel like doing them, you never know you might just feel a moment of relief.

Grief has no set pattern. Everyone experiences grief differently. Some people may grieve for weeks and months, while others may describe their grief lasting for years. Having said this, people from different cultures deal with death in their own distinctive way. In some communities, death is seen as just one step in the continuous cycle of life and death; rather than as a ‘full stop’. Through the process of grief, however, you begin to create new experiences, adapt to hold that loss and create new habits that work for you.

Maybe the size of your grief will stay much the same, but your life will begin to grow around it.

Dr Lois Tonkin

There are many excellent resources online to help you through your bereavement.

If you notice that depression symptoms continue, or your grief begins to get in the way of how you live, work, share relationships or live day-to-day, then it’s important to get support or professional help. Your first point of contact should be your GP.

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