by Nina Watts-Carrier
Like the seasons, our lives ebb and flow. As in nature, some changes in our lives are gradual and subtle while others are significant and enduring. Change, such as death, can destabilise our world as everything that was once familiar to us is now different. Such dramatic changes can leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless. This is grief. Grief is a normal reaction to change and loss. Every relationship that we have is unique and therefore we all have our own unique experience with grief. Grief is holistic and impacts on every aspect of our lives, our sleep patterns, our appetite, our energy levels, our cognitive abilities, our emotions, and our ability to engage with people and things and so forth. Grief can be physically and mentally exhausting. Grief is the process by which we adjust to our new reality.
Sometimes our pain can be so distressing that we don’t want to acknowledge it out loud or admit to ourselves that it is true. Repressing feelings however, no matter how unpleasant they are, can prolong the grieving process, and further drive our disconnection with the world. Avoidance, and the inability to express and experiences emotions associated with our losses, may be the very thing that keeps us stuck and confused. Acknowledging the magnitude of our pain is an important first step on the path to feeling better. Reflect on what has changed, what is different, what do you dislike, what do you find challenging and express those feelings. You may like to try:
o Talking to a trusted friend
o Talking to a therapist or support group
o Writing a letter that you then throw away
o Say it to yourself in a mirror so as the hear yourself saying it aloud
o Tell your dog or cat.
Conversation is such an important part of the human experience. It connects us and enables us to recognise ourselves in others. If you feel that your emotions have been impacting on your daily function for longer than you are comfortable with then please contact your doctor or a support service such as beyond blue.org.au
Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Anger, sadness, crying, not crying are all normal grief reactions. It is also normal to feel moments of joy and laugh. Your grief is your own. There is no timeframe for grief – it is whatever is right for you. It is not something that you need to “get over” or “move on” from. If you regularly feel anger or resentment, it may be an idea to look at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it is an act of self-compassion, and it is about acknowledging what has happened and choosing to move on. It is not a sign of weakness, acceptance and does not mean forgetting. The person who benefits most from you choosing to forgive will be you as you will be letting go of the pain. Hold onto and share your memories; memories show us what is important. Look at photos with family and friends and reminisce on happy times. You may find comfort in wearing or holding possessions of your deceased loved one and in doing things that they enjoyed doing. You may like to create a scrap book or an art project celebrating your loved one and what they meant to you.
Look after your health and try to make good choices. Try to get good rest and eat healthy food. Engage in things that you enjoy doing. A good place to start is to identify people who you enjoy being around, who are supportive and empathetic to your loss. Make a list of places that you enjoy going to; maybe a favourite walk, a favourite café, a quiet place that you like to sit and reflect in or read a book. Thirdly make a list things that you enjoy doing; such as go to see a movie, exercising, a hobby or craft, join a book club, bake, go hiking, dancing and so forth. You know best what works for you. It is important that you begin to make decisions, even small ones, as it will begin to restore your sense of direction and lessen the feelings of being overwhelmed. It’s ok to accept help, so let family and friends support you. Equally it’s ok to ask for help and be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
Sometimes people may feel guilty about beginning to enjoy life again and being distracted from their grief. It is normal to feel this way. It is important that you give yourself permission to take a breath, grieving can be exhausting. Hold on to hope. While even a well-meaning friend who has suffered a loss does not know exactly how you feel, what you do share is an experience of a broken heart, and these are the things that connect us.
As you continue on your grief journey some days will be harder than others. On these days be sure to have compassion for yourself and make sure that you take good care of yourself. Always allow yourself to feel what you are feeling but know what you can do when you are feeling down by referring back to your list of people, places and things that make you feel better. The greatest self-care that you can do is to simply allow yourself to grieve. It is normal to alternate between facing grief related thoughts and emotions and activities and thoughts that give you a break from grieving. (Refer to the “Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement” by Stroebe and Schut for more information). As with the seasons, even winter can have elements of summer in it, we respond to what each day brings by dressing appropriately or taking necessary precautions. So too should you respond to your grief experience, on cold days add an extra layer of comfort, on hot days have a cool drink and on hopeful days enjoy the scent of flowers
For further assistance please contact you GP