Getting Better in Your Own Time
Each person has a different story to tell about how their loved one died and the impact it had on their life.
Death can be expected, or it can be sudden and tragic.
Regardless of how your loved one died, being able to tell your story – either publicly or privately – will help you make sense of what happened, and hopefully allow you to accept how your life has changed.
The Components of Your Story
There are several important and different components to consider when you think about your story:
- Who died?
- How did they die
- Was their death expected or unexpected?
- What have you lost with the death of this person?
- Who can support you as you grieve?
- What would your loved one want for you now?
- Which direction do you envisage your life taking now?
Finding Someone to Truly Listen
Even if you consider yourself to be a ‘talker’, it’s still important to ask yourself whether or not you have had the opportunity to talk about the death of your loved one.
Some people don’t feel the need to talk at all and prefer to think things through on their own, whereas others need to talk to express their thoughts and feelings.
If you are someone who wants to talk about your loved one, often the hardest part is finding someone who can truly listen to you rather than telling you what to do.
The Four Major Themes of Grief
When someone is grieving, especially if it is their first experience of the death of someone close to them, not knowing what to expect or how best to handle certain situations often intensifies their grief.
Many people report feeling they have little control over what is happening to them or around them is a significant factor that contributes to their anguish.
In my counselling, I have found there are four major themes that provide a framework for helping to understand grief more fully.
These themes will help you work out where to focus your attention so that you can begin to regain some control in your life.
- Your grief is unique
- Grieving gives you the time and space to learn to live without your loved one
- You can overcome grief’s hold
- It’s up to you
Your grief is unique
No two people will experience the death of a loved one in the same way, so it’s impossible to truly know another person’s pain or sense of loss.
And it’s difficult to predict how you will grieve because it depends on many factors.
These include your personality, the way you tend to deal with problems, the way you think about things that happen in your life, the nature of the relationships you had with the person who died, and the circumstances surrounding their death.
Even if you experienced the death of other people in your life, your grief will be different each time. What makes grief so complex is that with the death of one person, those left behind experience many different kinds of loss.
If you accept that your grief is unique, then it makes sense that there is no one way to grieve.
Part of the struggle of grieving involves working out what you need to do adjust to life without your loved one.
Grieving gives you the time and space to learn to live without your loved one
From the very moment you learn about the death of your loved one, your life changes forever.
The amount of change relates to the degree of adjustment and new learning that you have to undertake. Too often others expect you to get back to normal within weeks.
This is unrealistic because your life has changed and it will never be the same as it was before.
The path you were once walking together is no longer an option. It is as if you have been forced on to a new path, not of your choosing.
The process of grieving is healthy and adaptive. It gives you time and space to adjust to the many changes that result from the death of your loved one, both at a physical and emotional level.
Even though you may never ‘get over’ the death of your love, it is possible to earn to live without them physically in your life and to find meaning again.
You can overcome grief’s hold
During the first months following the death of your loved one, you might feel as if your grief has a life of its own with total control over you.
You may feel that there is absolutely nothing that you can do to loosen its grip. Often people say they feel helpless and powerless, and describe a feeling of being ‘out of control’ which can be very disconcerting.
Trying to regain a sense of control and order in your life will help you as you grieve. The aim is to shift the balance of power so that, gradually, you can begin to overcome the hold grief has on you.
There are many strategies that can help you start to take control of your life again, which tackle your thoughts about your loved one’s death as well as your behaviour.
It’s up to you
One of the hardest things about grieving is that no none else can do it for you. At times you may wonder what you are experiencing is ‘normal’.
You might have lots of unanswered question and you may have many well-meaning friends who tell you that they know how you are feeling and what you should be doing. But because grieving is something you need to do for yourself, the best advice is to take things slowly and pay attention to your inner voice.
Listen to your grief. Even though logically, you now your loved one has died, you need time to reconcile what has happened and to work out what is best for you.
Unfortunately, at a time when you are likely to be most vulnerable, grieving requires you to become your best advocate by speaking up for what you need.
Is it really possible to overcome grief?
You will never ‘get over’ the death of your loved one. Grieving is an ongoing process that knows no time limits.
One day, however, you may get to a point where you will be able to say to yourself that you feel as though you have overcome your grief – or the hold it had on you – while knowing that your loved one and the life you shared will never be forgotten.
The early days
The early days after someone close to you dies, grief’s hold can be powerful and all encompassing. Many people describe their emotions as paralysing.
Not only is grief characterised by sadness, but also by and intense longing to be with your loved one again. During this period, it can feel like there is nothing you can do to lessen grief’s hold.
If someone you loved has died recently, you are likely to experience a number of intense physical and emotional reactions – possibly all at once or in rapid succession
Physical and Emotional Reactions to do the death of a loved one
|A racing heart||Shock|
|Aches and Pains||Anguish|
|Difficulty Eating / Loss of Appetite||Guilt|
|Panic||Pinning or yearning|
|Gastrointestinal disturbance (diarrhoea / cramps)||Relief|
How long will I feel like this?
Almost everybody who is grieving asks, How long will I feel like this? Most of us, in anything we do, like to know where something begins and something ends. We like to be in control and have order in our lives.
Unfortunately, when you are grieving it is impossible to know how long your pain will last. Most people report that their grief comes in waves and that the intensity and frequency of these waves of grief is pinning or yearning for their loved one, which can be emotionally and physically painful.
Holding on to the knowledge that eventually your pain will ease is important as you face your grief. Even though there are no set timelines to follow, many people who are grieving report that in the beginning, they functioned as though they were on automatic pilot, and felt as though they had little or no control over what was helping to them.
Gradually, as they learn to live without their loved one, they found that their pain lessened and they were able to find enjoyment in their life again. How long it takes will be different for everyone.
While you are suffering after a loss there are some practical things you can do to look after yourself:
- Express yourself. Talking is often a good way to soothe painful emotions. Talking to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor can begin the healing process.
- Allow yourself to feel sad. It’s a healthy part of the grieving process.
- Keep your routine up. Keeping up simple things like walking the dog can help.
- Sleep. Emotional strain can make you very tired. If you’re having trouble sleeping, see your GP. Or read some posts on this site about insomnia and how to deal with it.
- Eat healthily. A healthy, well-balanced diet will help you cope. Avoid things that “numb” the pain, such as alcohol. It will make you feel worse once the numbness wears off.
- Go to counselling if it feels right for you. Counselling may be more useful after a couple of weeks or months. Only you will know when you’re ready.
- NHS – Coping with Bereavement
- NHS – Dealing with Grief and Loss
- Cruse Bereavement Care – Peterborough Branch
If you’re struggling to cope with your emotions or you feel isolated and without support, it may be worth your while speaking to a trained professional. Whether this is right for you is up to you.
Having lost important people in my own life I know how difficult it can be, how overpowering the emotions are and how getting back to normal feels impossible or a long way off. I also know that society encourages us to get better, and get over it. Neither of which is helpful.
You need time and space and understanding to reorient yourself to your circumstances and you need to accept that there is no normal to return to. Sadness, despite being much maligned in our society, is a normal and healthy response to loss.
If you’d like to talk further please reach out. My number and email are below. If you need help or support, I’m here for you.
To schedule your first appointment, call 01733 639 040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cruse Bereavement Care Freephone National Helpline is staffed by trained bereavement volunteers, who offer emotional support to anyone affected by bereavement. See here.
Or contact us here for grief counselling in Peterborough.