Grief is defined by Oxford Languages as “intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” That especially is important because the death of a loved one is not the only thing that can trigger a grief reaction. You can grieve for a location, a point in time, your life before illness, the loss of a relationship. Grief is that ‘intense sorrow’ due to a loss of something that you cannot get back. Never feel like your grief is not justified.
I think grief is something that is hugely misunderstood. We are expected to have big emotional outbursts at the start, then feel sad and upset, then life carries on and you move on. For most people it just isn’t like that and that can carry with it a feeling of shame or failure on top of the grief you already feel.
We can get so caught up with the effect of the death on our lives that we forget to reflect on the event itself. We don’t give ourselves the time and space to breath, to cry, to feel. There are so many things to face as a consequence of the loss that those can take over. It can be easier to focus on the practicalities to distract yourself from the hurt. That’s okay too.
Everyone handles things in your own way and you don’t need to feel pressure to handle things in a certain way because that’s what society expects. You are also allowed to be happy, to smile and to make new memories. It does not in any way mean you have stopped caring about the individual who has gone. Grief is rarely a linear process and everyone has ups and downs but you do not need to feel guilt over an up. Moving away from the sadness does not mean moving away from the memories. You can grow around your grief.
I can find that triggers of a grief reaction are often not what I expect and that is true for a lot of people. A piece of music, a smell, a specific date, a TV show or almost anything else can prompt a rush of memories. It is almost impossible to avoid triggers, especially if you don’t know what they might be. So try and come up with a ‘trigger plan’ in advance to help yourself manage a challenging moment. For example I find counting up and down on my fingers in French can help ground me. I have the physical motion of tapping each finger down as I count and the mental distraction of thinking of the French. The advantage of a strategy like this is that it can be done anywhere. Don’t worry if it takes you a while to find what works for you or if sometimes things are too overwhelming for you to cope with. Grief is a hugely powerful emotion and there is no easy ten step guide for how to get through it.
The most important thing to remember is that managing grief is hard and if all you manage to do in a day is just get through it then you can be proud of yourself. And if you aren’t proud of yourself then I will be proud for you.
Such a little word for so much meaning.
How can you describe so much feeling?
G is for the grey that the world can seem.
R for the rage that builds inside you.
I for the isolation that sets in without people to understand.
E for the energy you struggle to find to keep going.
F for the fear of a future forever changed.
There could be a whole alphabet of emotions that can’t be summarised.
Perhaps some may come as a surprise.
Just remember that there is no one way.
Do whatever helps you get through the day.