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Grief is a tricky beast to keep a handle on. It takes on many guises, some recognisable, some less so. Some you can prepare for, some you can’t. Grief and its platoon of soldiers sneak up on you and attack when you least expect it. Grief never rests. It’s an insidious enemy. It finds the cracks and pushes its way into a life already under siege. While there is no avoiding grief, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
How does grief present itself? How do you accept and then deal with it in a progressive, positive manner? The experts tell us there are five stages that we all must suffer through. They are – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Not everyone goes through all of them nor do they appear as some orchestrated linear timeline. There is no typical loss. Grief is as individual as our lives.
Denial helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We simply try to find a way to get through each day.
Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.
Bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realise this has all been a bad dream?” We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements
Depression is the stage that touches us on a deeper level, it feels as though it will last forever. It’s crucial to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the fitting response to a great loss. It’s here where we tend to withdraw from life, wondering, if there is any point in going on alone?
Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “ok“ with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognising that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this, but eventually, we accept it. We learn to live with it.
The positive news is that after working you way through the stages, you start to reflect on the good times you shared with that person. The happy memories will flood back. Great memories. You aren’t free of periods of angst and pain, but you find your smile starts to return. You feel lighter more grounded. You understand that while they are gone in a figurative manner, they remain with you in your heart and mind forever. You start to look to the future. You start to live again.
While everyone is different, here are some suggestions for getting through grief as unscathed as possible.
Participate in memorial services, funerals and other traditions. Celebrate their life.
Be with others. Even informal gatherings of family and friends bring a sense of support.
Talk about it when you can. Some people find it helpful to tell the story of their loss or talk about their feelings.
Express yourself. Even if you don’t feel like talking, find ways to verbalise your emotions and thoughts.
Exercise. Exercise can help your mood. It may be hard to get motivated, so modify your usual routine if you need to.
Eat right. You may feel like skipping meals or you may not feel hungry – but your body still needs nutritious foods.
Let your emotions be expressed and released. Don’t stop yourself from having a good cry if you feel one coming on.
Focus on the good times you spent with them. Eventually, they will be your memory. A memory that will sustain, inspire and encourage to not only keep living but to live in a more caring, positive and inspiring manner.
Despite our human instinct to fear death, people faced with grief, discover that doesn’t really matter what happens to them. What matters, what really moves them and I would suggest all of us, is what happens to those we love. As individuals, we are incomplete. What makes us whole are the people that surround us. Shoes wear out. Clothes go out of fashion. Jewellery looses its lustre. Cars become outdated. The collectables that were so dear to us, end up as dust gatherers.
A memory is different. They might fade, but they never disappear. Memories are always with you, a gentle reminder of the magical moments that mattered most to you. Time spent with your family, a special holiday, the birth of your children, the first time you flew in a plane, played in the snow, kissed or fell in love. And what makes them so important is that when everything else changes memories don’t.
Memories are forever. Memories make you smile.