What nobody tells you about grief and dealing with the loss of a loved one is…basically everything useful.
When I went to write this article, my keyword research suggested that a lot of people want to open up an online dialogue on the topic of death (there are currently around 22,000 monthly UK searches for the word ‘bereavement’ on Google and predictably, very little advertising competition). This is probably because culturally, British people aren’t the best at discussing our feelings, are we? And also, death doesn’t really sell ads. (Films – yes, but ad space, no).
In this country, I really think the ‘keep calm and carry on’, stiff-upper-lip mentality, borne of the war-time era to encourage strength and survival, is now stifling our most difficult discussions and making them harder. I witnessed it when my Dad got sick, with friends and family who lost the ability to ask about the most important thing in my life – which just so happened to be death.
When I turned to the internet, I realised there wasn’t lot of useful material on what to do if your grief keeps you up all night, in bed all day and turns you into a walking corpse at all points in-between. (Except this darkly humorous piece from Vice and this super helpful grief guide, that is). And then sometimes I had people saying things like;
“Everything happens for a reason”
“Time’s a healer”
“I’m here if you need me”
None of that really helped me at all. So here’s what I wish I knew about dealing with loss and grief, time last year.
Nobody tells you that your grief will be unpredictable.
Grief doesn’t abide by any rules. It’s won’t be respectful of your schedule or the schedule of those around you. It will violently inconvenience you. It will splinter your facade. You’ll be swaying in a club, when an old song you once shared with that person will bring tears to your eyes in the dark and you’ll have to call a cab. Or you’ll be at work trying to stay busy, when a sudden pang of longing to ask them for advice, will render you frozen. You’ll spend half your lunch break silently sobbing into your t-shirt in the bathroom stalls, choking on tears as not to alarm the person next to you. Grief doesn’t care – but that isn’t your fault so don’t waste energy feeling bad for not being ok. Remember that it’s ok to not be ok for a while. Be around people who know you’re going to be up, down and out-of-sync for a bit. And talk to them about the best memories you have of the person you miss.
Nobody tells you that the people around you might not ‘get’ it.
At 23, I was the first person in my friendship group to face the loss of a loved one head-on when my Dad died of cancer after a year of battling the illness. Something as traumatic as that was always going to flip the dynamic between me and my mates on its head, but it was the people who patiently allowed me to vent, or talk openly about my Dad that made things easiest. Strangely, when you’re grieving, talking about the deceased seems to be the one topic everyone skirts around. Work and general, vague chit-chat about ‘how you are’; Brits have got that down. But actually looking you square in the face and asking if you need to chat about the things you miss most about your loved one? It really scares people. Mainly because they’re worried about an outpouring of emotion from you. Of course, that can be incredibly frustrating when you need people to know that you’re not ok, or that you want to talk. I found that the best way to help people understand that I needed more from them was to just tell them so, but it didn’t always work.
Nobody tells you that grief doesn’t arrive in neatly-packaged ‘stages’ of five
You might be engulfed by a debilitating sadness for six months, followed by a few weeks of trying desperately to suppress the searing, hot poker of rage that burns deep within you. Or you might find that you’re never in the ‘stage’ of denial. Whichever way you process a personal tragedy is totally fine and normal. (Side note; there is also no fucking normal). Remember that there is no linear timeline for grief and everyone deals with the loss of a loved one in their own way. But what’s important is that you do manage to take time to deal with it. Fuck the stiff upper lip thing – just talk.
Does anyone have any tips for learning your grief? How have you dealt with loss?