I know, I know, I’m sorry, I’m daring to talk about death and all the feelings that can follow a death of someone important to us. I know most people do not want to talk, or even think about it.
And this year has been heavy with loss, but I don’t hear much being said about what happens to those left behind. But you are there, I see you, and I wonder how you are.
What is grief and am I doing it right?
The reason people ask this, and I hate to press the point, is because most of us don’t know what grief looks like because we don’t talk about it, we hide it for fear of upsetting other people, and, in turn, we don’t ask the grieving how things are for them.
Grief is the response we have when we experience loss when someone important to us dies. We can feel so many things when we are grieving and, in my experience as a therapist, what comes up for you and how you deal with it will very much depend on what the relationship was between you and the person that has died, and how you generally deal with other things in your life will show up here too.
You might have heard of the ‘stages of grief’. This came from a book by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (On Death and Dying, 1969) and has been much misused as a fixed set of stages that a grieving person can go through, one stage at a time. In fact, and as Kübler-Ross went on to explain in later work, we might go through a number of feelings as we grieve, but we might skip some, or repeat some. It’s not linear, it can move backwards and forwards. It’s just your individual way of processing the loss and your feelings around it.
Grief is a period where those feelings can feel intense. Feelings that might come up include, loss, sadness, anger, desperation, loneliness, isolation and, sometimes, relief. These feelings can feel overwhelming. And there might be a pain in your chest. Some of us feel numb, especially in the first days of loss.
Grieving is a process, and those feelings will come in waves, and eventually the feelings become more known to you; they might come back again, but each time teaches you that they will pass, and the waves begin to settle. But it takes care and time.
For some people, they feel numb. If you know you are sad about the death but don't cry or feel anything of the feelings you expect to feel, this can feel unsettling or distressing, as it can make you wonder if you’re normal, if this is normal, if you’re grieving wrong, or can’t grieve. For some people feeling numb is part of the grieving process; allow it to shift and to notice your feelings when they do come in. For some, the feelings are just too much and they will shut the feelings down.
There is no set time limit on grief. It takes as long as it takes. And for the most part you don’t ‘get over it’; but know this, gradually the days will get easier, and you will build your life around your loss. If you find this isn’t the case for you, or you continue to feel numb after some time has passed, it can be helpful to have counselling to help you work through the process of grief.
Things that might be helpful
I like top tips in my blogs, but with grief that feels too punchy, even for me, but if there were things I would encourage you in, it would be these:
Trust that grieving is a process, and acknowledge that your process is as individual as you are
Acknowledge your feelings. Notice them and, when you can bear it, try to know the feeling - understand why it’s there.
You may want to distract yourself from your feelings, if you do, be curious about whether that is what you do with other feelings outside of grief?
If you are grieving alongside others, try and communicate and acknowledge what each of you need and understand that those needs are likely to be different and you may not be able to meet each other’s needs right now, but talking about it will be a good thing.
Look after yourself.
If you want to support someone who is grieving:
Talk to them and, most importantly, listen. Don’t be afraid to bring up the story around the death; they’re thinking about it most of the time, you won’t make it worse. What does make it worse is when no one will talk to them about it in case it upsets them. It will. It already is. But now they get to share and talk about it rather than keeping it all inside.
If you are worried about them, worried they might feel they can’t cope and might be having suicidal thoughts, talk to them, ask them. It’s the same as with talking about the death, you won’t make someone have suicidal thoughts by asking. And if they are, they might just need a good listening ear. And you can also let them have contact details for the Samaritans.
Look after yourself as well.
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