Grief & Loss
My life story has been intensely shaped by the death of my mother, 10 days after my 16th birthday. The anniversary of her death this year will mean I have now spent more years living without her than I ever had with her.
When a loved one dies, typically grief is viewed as something to work though. Something you will, eventually, get over. This is bullshit.
Instead I think of grief as becoming part of your being, from the moment the loss occurs – you’ll always carry it around with you. Some days it will feel like your whole body is consumed with it. Other days it will feel more like your spleen (we’ve all got one, but how often do we think about it?..). And certainly this becomes truer over time; the length of time it takes however is a bit like a piece of string.
A loss doesn’t have to mean a death however… moving house, changing jobs, illness, separation and divorce all cause grief.
What word summarises all of these causes of grief? CHANGE. Things have changed in our lives, significantly, and grief is our emotional response to this loss.
As a society we find it hard to deal with grief, no one knows exactly what to say (this is as true for the person who is dealing with the loss, as it is for those around them). As hard as it can be, I’ve found that the best thing to say is… “I am so sorry for your loss” – look the person in the eyes and really express the emotion that you feel for them behind your words. You can’t really empathise, as everyone’s experience is completely different, but this statement gets pretty close to the mark.
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to” – Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
Tips on how to cope
- Don’t beat yourself up about being unable to focus: In the working world, we can receive 3-5 paid days of bereavement leave and then, what… back to ‘normal’?
Grief is the worst and it really messes with your brain. Remember that it is ok to be distracted, try to give yourself some permission and space to know its okay. It will take time to be able to return your full focus to your job along with other areas of your life. Have a conversation with your employer every week if you can to let them know how you are managing. If you can’t take extended leave from work for whatever reason, look at alternative jobs you could be doing (e.g. if you are a receptionist, could you work on archiving or a back office task for a couple of weeks)
- Remember to sleep and eat (and breathe): Most people will tell you that grief affects your sleep patterns and your appetite can get way out of whack. Try to make sure you are meeting your basic calorie/vitamin/mineral needs, even if you aren’t terribly excited about doing so. Getting a good night sleep is also really hard (or sometimes over sleeping makes you even more tired). Try to stick to regular patterns wherever possible. The last thing on your mind can be getting out of the house but sometimes a walk to clear the head and breathe in some fresh air is enough to help clear a little bit of the fog that can easily surround you when you’re grieving.
Vivien is an OCEANS Programme Facilitator for Anglican Care, Timaru
If you are interested in taking part in a grief and loss programme in South Canterbury – please contact 0800 OCEANS or visit https://www.anglicancare.org.