Being with Grief

Grief can be an incredibly intense experience. It tends to come in waves; soon after a loss, they might feel like a tsunami, crashing down unexpectedly, threatening to overwhelm you and drown out other parts of your life. As time passes these waves will likely be further apart, with more space in between for the rest of life. Eventually the waves become smaller, gentler and more predictable.

Grief is sadly an inevitable part of life, and the price we pay for something important. As Hilary Stanton Zunin said “The risk of love is loss and the price of loss is grief”. The only way to never grieve is to never care for anything. Love and sorrow are two sides of the same coin. It might seem counterintuitive, but grief is part of living a fulfilling life.

Each time we experience grief it is likely to be different to how we’ve experienced it before. The way in which we experience it varies according to who we’ve lost, our relationship with them, the circumstances of the loss, the context of our life at the time including the social support around us, and how resourced we feel to deal with difficulties at that moment.

Here are some suggestions of ways to be with grief:

  • Find a balance between allowing yourself to feel the emotions and engaging in activities to consciously take a break and give you respite from the intensity of the grief. It’s important not to become too overwhelmed by the feelings by staying with them for too long, but equally important not to make ourselves so busy that we are numbing out and not feeling the emotions. It’s usually most helpful to move in and out of grief, allowing it to rise and fall in its own time, without containing it unless we have to for a particular situation.

  • Be kind to yourself. It’s very natural to have a whole range of emotions following a bereavement. Allow yourself to be open to all of these rather than telling yourself you “shouldn’t” be feeling this way or you “should” be moving on by now. There is no timeline for grief, we can’t predict how long it will take and we need to be patient with ourselves whilst we adjust to a loss.

  • Discern when it feels right for you to have company and when you need time alone. Being around others can provide a welcome break from thinking too much about your loss and might help to lift your mood. However, you’ll probably also feel the need for some quiet time to process what has happened and be with your emotions.

  • Keep a connection to the person you’ve lost, in whatever way suits you. You might like to spend time looking at photos from a happy time with the person, listen to music you used to enjoy together or go to a place where you have positive memories of being with them. 

  • Find a way to mark significant dates. Many people find it helpful to mark the anniversary of a loved ones death and/or their birthday. This might be with a visit to their grave or place where their ashes were scattered, or simply by lighting a candle at home to remember them.

  • Consider what you can do to expand your life again. One theory of grief suggests that grief doesn’t lessen as time passes but instead we grow our life around it. What could you do to grow your life around the grief? Are there hobbies or interests you could reengage with, or new clubs or groups you could join?

If you feel like you need to talk to someone to help you to process a bereavement, I offer counselling in Exeter city centre, Newton Abbot and online. The initial consultation is free. Please see the counselling for grief page of my website for further information about how I work with bereavement.

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