Reflecting back now on what was a very difficult few years, I can see how coping with death in the family can cause splits, tension and so much expectation and it really made me think about how we all grieve differently. When my mum died, I was still looking after a two-year old boisterous little boy who needed my attention and being a freelancer, I had to keep working so I kept myself very busy during that period thinking that time would be a healer, but it was only when my younger sister died just two years later, I took a couple of weeks off from everything to stop, pause, reflect and try to come to terms with both losses.
My older sister took it differently and couldn’t understand how I kept going after the initial loss of our mum even though I tried to explain that we all grieve in our own way and there is no clear-cut grieving process that we should all follow. Of course I struggled but I didn’t feel the need to phone her every time I cried or had a wobbly moment to convince her that I, too, was in pain. She judged me entirely on what she believed I should be feeling and doing (or ‘not doing’ which was the ultimate sign that I was finally breaking).
Seeking bereavement counselling
As I’m the type of person who thrives on keeping busy, I also made myself continue with hobbies that I knew helped me to improve my mood including exercising and singing. Despite barely having time to think about anything, I finally hit a wall when my little kitten also died (whom I had bought to comfort me after my losses) and I then accepted that I wasn’t coping with the innate sadness I felt so frequently and finally sought help through bereavement counselling but it was on my terms and when I was ready, nobody else could tell me (although my husband did recognise and suggest that I seek professional help as he knew that his support wasn’t enough for me).
And I carefully chose the person and their theoretical approach to make sure they were the right therapist for me. I actually found those sessions very liberating to be able to talk so freely and yet have someone help me to self-reflect and re-evaluate my life.
Dealing with grief through self-compassion
There is no doubt that avoiding grief completely can be detrimental to us – I do believe we have to go through the pain of dealing with death eventually – I think I felt that because I had other outlets that I could get through it, but it wasn’t enough – I had to seek support with a professional to talk through what had happened and come to terms with it.
So it made me think a lot about how we can all grieve differently and that the idea of grieving stages is really a myth.
One thing is for sure … there is NO right or wrong way to cope with grief. The process of mourning is unique to each of us – we are all individuals and learning to respect and support each other through the difficult times that will happen to each of us at some point is the best that we can do for another person. Not to judge.
Listen to your instincts. Don’t feel pressurised to show the world how well you’re coping when you really aren’t but equally recognise when maybe your mourning has meant that even years later, you are struggling to find any source of happiness.
The pain of grief does lessen over time – it’s a natural organic process that we cannot control but I agree that loss does change us. It makes us see the world differently – sometimes even through the sadness, we can learn to appreciate, possibly for the first time, what is really important in our lives.
But ultimately, learn to have self-compassion and be kind to yourself. It is the singularly most important value we can place on our wellbeing when we are grieving. Don’t you at least deserve that?