Losing a loved one will be one if not the most painful experience you will ever encounter. Its nothing like how death is depicted on TV, when one week a person dies, the following there is the funeral, and the next week everyone bounces back to life as normal. Within a month it’s like they never existed. Its such a false view of life, that causes humans to think that life and death are of no value, and many virtual games glory in death and killing.
However real life is totally different and only when you actually experience the reality of losing something you love, will a person genuinely feel what grief is.
You cannot put the experience of grief into a ‘one fits all’ average. Each person will experience their grief in a different way. The grief for an elderly person who has lived a full and happy life, will be different from the grief of parents burying their still born, left wondering what he or she would have grown up like. It will be different from the anguish of burying your 21-year-old son who has committed suicide. It will be different from the loss of a much-loved spouse or partner and be different from losing a grown-up child, a grandchild, your own child, the child of a friend. It will be different losing a much loved parent - having their older years stolen from them by cancer or another disease, it will be different losing a step parent or a work colleague. Each loss is not greater or small than another. Each is different for the individuals that experience it, who have to learn to live, cope and carry on. Death is a thief, and despite that fact we are all going to die one day, it still has the ability to shock us to the very core, turn our world upside down and rip our emotional heart out of our chest. The reason it can do this is because of love. Love is the most powerful experience in the entire world. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, "'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" says it all. Becasue none of us, no matter how painful would want to have been without our loved one in our lives.
Grief will also differ from how a person died. Dropping to sleep in the chair when you are very elderly would be many peoples ‘happy release’. But being mown down by a speeding car, stabbed, an ‘unfortunate’ accident, the being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the unlucky victim, or taking an overdose of drugs by accident, to the parents watching their beloved child die of cancer, watching a loved one die from stroke, or heart attack. These emotions will all be so different, and yet all these people have died. We call all these different experiences ‘grief’.
The word grief – covers an umbrella of emotions. You can package any word up and say this is part of grief. Grief will be sadness, anger, disbelief, horror, unbelievable loss, extreme pain, emotional pain, physical pain, the feeling of never being able to go on, the counting the time, minute by minute – this time last week s/he was still walking around, talking, breathing…. It’s the whole experience, which can be broken down into minute details of different feelings and sensations over a period of time. The time between the death and the funeral are active, as you make plans, have to complete all the legal formalities, have to keep going regardless. You have a purpose, you need to do your best for the loved one who has gone. Then once the funeral is over, you sigh with relief, but then life can stop. The grief can come in so hard it can knock you sideways.
There are so many emotions and feelings, all wrapped up in that one word. And they change - hourly, daily, weekly, yearly. Grief can still be as strong thirty years down the line as the day after the funeral. It all depends on each individual, how well they knew the person, their relationship with them, their own way of dealing with emotion, and their own experience of emotion. Some people do feel emotion much deeper than another one. It does not mean they loved a person more, just that they will handle the experience in a different way. Some people may appear cold, unfeeling. It may be the case that their depth of emotional is less, but it may not be, they may feel it as deeply as someone else, just not be able to demonstrate outwardly. Its private and personal to them. Sometimes you may get a message 'from the other side', some see them, others don't recognise the little messages. The song that comes on the radio, the things moved around the house, the familiar smell, the feather lying on the ground, the dream you keep having. Loved ones will often try and make contact.
The experience of grief will also be different depending how your heard, the way you found out, the shock that hits you and stays with you like a bullet lodged in your heart for the rest of your own life. The race to be at the bedside, the guilt of being too late, the heartbreaking phone call or knock at the door that leaves you numb. The physical pain of loss may lesson, they say time is a great healer. What that actually means is that despite you feeling suspended in time, from that moment that you saw, heard, experienced the loss.
Although you stay static, the world keeps turning. Life goes on all around you until you have to place one foot, then the other back on the treadmill and carry on. It could be the young mum having to feed her children, take them to school – numb with shock – as she goes through the process but is hardly there. Functioning on an automatic level, while her life is torn apart inside. The watching a loved one die slowly, losing their memory, their personality, their individuality as Alzheimer’s takes hold. It could be the son coming home from school, walking through the door to find his father’s body hanging lifeless. It could be the lie that is told to explain why mummy has gone away. She just upped and went one day. The child growing more and more disappointed, resentful of their mother’s betrayal of love, to discover when the child grows into an adult that many years previously their mother died from a freak accident or a murder. It’s felt the kinder way to help them cope. Rather she just left, than died. The kinder option. The lie than embitters, festers away, causing emotional issues, and relationship distortions, all in the name of saving someone’s feelings. Children can handle the truth, depending how it is told. Of course, it hurts. But lies make a painful experience even more tragic.
Time the healer, is not a healer as such, its time just matching on. At some point each person has to re-join. Just having to go back to work, look after other people, means re-joining the world. Buying food, cooking it, eating a tiny mouthful at a time, finally sleeping, and one of the hardest experiences is laughing – finding something funny, when wracked with grief. Feeling guilty for that laugh, for being alive until working with a councillor or a bereavement group helps the person to see that they have not died with their loved one and acting as if won’t bring their lost love back. And would probably make their lost loved one feel sad. Love is a deep emotion where we want the best for the people in our lives, even when our life is over.
The healing comes from various sources. People helping, kindness, compassion, a friendly hug, being able to be listened too, rather than seeing a person cross the road with embarrassment. Its hard to know what to say to someone who is experiencing grief. Words can be so inadequate. But actually, when you do write and send a card, flowers, take time to remember their pain and loss, to remember the person, especially if you knew them, it all helps. It reminds that person that they are not alone. Because they will feel that they are. Some people won’t be able to talk about it. It will be stored deep in them, stuck, lodged – until one day it will reopen for release. We get stuck in grief, staying in a dark lonely place until something shines a light into there and helps us climb out of the pit of misery. You may hear people say a person is self-pitying, they may not understand the person is experiencing grief. It may just be the person is not in the right space yet to cope with the feelings. Medicine can help cope at the moment of anguish, but also will suspend our feelings so we get through each day. However eventually when we stop taking that medicine the feeling will be as strong as they day they were experienced. So often then the medicine has to be taken for much longer than is beneficial both emotionally and physically. What this does is allow the person to function, but never truly live.
So how do we cope with grief?
We cope moment by moment. If you can, speak to someone. Try not to bottle it up. Notice when you are feeling lost. Cry as much as you can, and when you need to.
Wail – releasing emotions are one of the keys to allowing our grief to surface, rather than be buried and cause so much hurt over time. A person may say, ‘I’ve not felt anything, I feel numb’. Give them time, as its just buried.
They may experience anger as one of the emotions and feel bad at the depth of this anger. How dare s/he leave me. This is normal. Its not a deadly sin, its part of grief. As is laughing hysterically, shouting, feeling fearful and anxious, feeling let down, feeling numb, cold, empty, as is disappointment – what your life was supposed to be like, worrying about the future, about money, about when you let go of their belonging. Too soon and you may feel later on, I wish I still had that, too long when you are living in a shrine, and don’t know what to do. You can’t move, you can’t stay. You get stuck.
Join groups, classes, a choir. Get out. Find new things to do. Create a new place for yourself. We can only move forward, no matter how painful it is, how sad we feel, how lost we are. Gradually little by little you start to live again. Its not being disloyal.
There is no happy medium, there is no one fix for grief. Watch the things that cause more problems, like turning to alcohol, food, gambling, sex or drugs for comfort. Be watchful, as you will create a whole new set of problems and issues.
It may be that another person helps us climb out of grief. They offer the ladder, so we can come out of the dark place. You see it in new relationships – not all are good of course, some are a disaster. But for some the gently love of a new soul, can help heal the grief and move a person onwards. However, this can cause pain for others, family members, loved ones, who feel that the person has moved on, forgotten their love. The fact is we all need love. Love is a great healer, love is warmth, understanding and safety.
After the death of a loved one, despite how we feel, we keep going on regardless. Time distances the event, memory alters as years pass and our heart finds new things to do and love. Perhaps children are born, new people come into our lives. We find a new purpose, a new reason to get up in the morning.
But spare a thought for all those that never find that possibility of peace. The body of their loved one is never recovered, never laid to rest. They never truly know what happened. They live, waiting, and sadly themselves die waiting. The heartless act of a murderer who won’t let a family breathe again, a missing child lying buried somewhere. Its hard to imagine such behaviour, but sadly it happens time and time again.
The thing that does become clear as one gets older and experiences more of life, is that humans can handle the truth, it’s the lies that hurt the most, and the not knowing. Grief is essential and each person should have the right to be able to grieve.
If you have lost a loved one, don't bury the pain. Get help. Its so important to speak to someone, to be lifted out of the dark pit you have been placed in. Take the extended hands and accept help. Be honest about how you are coping. If you cannot speak about it due to the intense agony, take a flower remedy to help you cope.
The flower remedy Star of Bethlehem can really support you during this time. Its to help with shock, grief, distress, for those who need consolation and comfort, for bad news, an accident, a fright, a narrow escape, for delayed shock, to neutralise the effects of any shock past or present, even the shock of giving birth or of being born yourself.