When we think of grief, we tend to think of the most obvious sort of grieving – that of a bereaved person who misses a loved one who has died.
We might think of crying, and funerals – of action of some sort – and this is the shorthand for grieving. The ‘accepted’ grief of the death of a partner or close family member, for example.
But this shorthand grief isn’t always helpful. It allocates a time and a place for grief to happen – in a hospital or by a bedside, for a few days in between and then at a funeral. Grief is neatly tucked into a holding space where we all know what is expected of us: handshakes, ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and refreshments somewhere close to the crematorium afterwards.
We know what to do. There’s a script. Even if it seems bizarre or out of step with our feelings, there’s a well-established expectation of ‘doing’ grief in this time and then getting on with life as normal.
Except that grief doesn’t fit handily into a pocket of days. And some grief isn’t the sort that involves funerals. We lose our way. Our grieving spills over into places it ‘shouldn’t’. There’s no roadmap – indeed, sometimes the only guidance is that we shouldn’t be grieving because ‘dad died six months ago now’, ‘it’s only a dog’ or ‘when are you going back on the dating scene?’
We grieve at the death of the people we love.
We grieve at the death of the animals we love.
We grieve when a friend moves out of town.
We grieve the breakup of a relationship.
We grieve when our children start school/college/move out.
We grieve at redundancy.
We grieve our lost health or vitality.
We grieve when long looked forward to plans change.
We grieve the past or an imagined future that now can’t happen.
We grieve our broken dreams – or a broken faith.
Grief has a horrible way of biting us on the bum when we least expect it. We might have been having a perfectly good day when a song on the radio, the waft of a certain brand of perfume, or a joke we immediately want to share with someone who’s no longer here tips us back into that abyss. And this can happen for weeks, months, years and decades.
Nobody grieves the same way. Some people talk and some don’t want to talk. Some are huggers, some are not. There is no right or wrong.
But what does work in every case is acceptance and kindness. And time. Lots of time.
Acceptance of our own grief and kindness to ourselves, or acceptance of someone else’s grief and being kind to them. Even if it’s not a ‘standard’ grief, even if the grieving has continued for a longer time than expected, and even if we feel differently from how the world tells us we ‘should’ feel. It’s just as ok to feel bloody angry as it is to cry or feel anything from a spectrum of emotions.
It’s easy to belittle, reject or squash down our own grief or the grief of others and it’s often because we fear that it doesn’t fit the ‘standard model’ of grieving and we don’t know what to say or do to make it go away. But squashing grief down can lead to depression and other problems later on. (What would be much more helpful to squash would be the ridiculous notion that someone is ‘coping well’ if they haven’t cried much…)
Grief never goes away and we can’t just ‘get over it’. But, as grief counsellor Lois Tompkins showed, our life can grow around it so that it is no longer all-consuming.
And what that takes is – again – acceptance, kindness and lots of time.
Be gentle with yourself. I’m sending you hugs.
Some links which might be helpful:
If you are bereaved and need to speak to someone, Cruse, Sue Ryder, Marie Curie and others offer services to speak to people. And if you’re local to Worthing, HD Tribe Funeral Directors have an excellent grief counselling service too.
If you are grieving something else, your grief is still valid! The Samaritans offer a 24/7 support helpline for you to talk at any time.