Grief

Grief – it’s a fact of life. At some stage, you or someone close to you is going to have to deal with the loss of someone or something special to them that leaves them reeling.

I remember learning about grief and its manifestations according to Elizabeth Kubler Ross, in lectures as a student nurse some 30 odd years now. Learning about the stages one often went through at that young age was beneficial – I felt forearmed. At 18 or so the closest loss to me had been my family dog, and I felt lucky that was all I could point to, when marrying up the theory.

A few years later when training to be a Lifeline telephone counsellor, I recall a similar feeling within our group about how insulated I had been from the loss of someone close to me, the loss of ‘what was’ or the loss of having something robbed from you, like an untroubled childhood. Grief can be for more than a person, or an animal, it can be for something important to you that is no longer, or a situation that should have been and never was, perhaps sometimes with the hope it could be recreated / fixed.

Those broad brushstroke stages of the grief process that Kubler Ross hung a framework around were evident in my fellow counsellor trainee’s life journeys. Mine too when my time came to face grief in later years. Often there is a first reaction of denial – this can’t be happening. Then the anger (often copped by those closest to you) that in fact it is happening, accompanied sometimes by the perceived injustice of the situation. Is this fair? Why is it happening?

Bargaining is another possible phase. If I do this, then can that happen instead? Depression is often next – the reality sets in. One can’t see the way forward in any good way, the feeling is of despair. Then acceptance. The future in whatever form it takes is unavoidable. Emotions stabilise around this new normal.

Grief is not always ‘neat and tidy’ like that of course, and the order itself can be all over the place, and indeed some parts of the process never even reached for some I imagine, like acceptance. However, those five broad brushstroke phases have been helpful to me to have some handle on what might be coming next, either for me, or as a support person for someone I knew experiencing loss.

I lost my darling mum about 18 months ago. That’s grief. Unquestioned. You only ever have one mummy and when you lose her it’s a deep thing inside you that is rattled. I remember getting through the ‘death’ part, and being so grateful for and proud of our family who pulled together during that time. It was peaceful but so raw – no hiding from that. The night after she died I remember being an angry, yelling, sobbing mess at one point. I lay on the lawn at midnight in the foetal position wanting my mother back. I say that candidly with no shame as it was a terrible feeling, quite guttural, and something that I almost had no control over.

I’ve moved to a point of being so grateful for having had her in my life, as opposed to being sad that she is not. Although it still hits me in waves at different times and I know there are things that trigger me to feel sad. However, I recall a poem sent to me many years ago when my grandmother died, and one line sticks with me – ‘had I not loved so much, I would not hurt so much, so I am grateful for the hurt as it is testament to what you meant to me,’ or words to that affect. A reframing perhaps of the hole left – someone must be pretty special to leave one like that.

If you’ve got grief to deal with in your life – and we all must to some degree at some time, it’s good to embrace it and go with it. It’s a normal process…albeit a challenging one at times. Go well.

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