Today I want to write about grief, because I know someone who is dealing with a bereavement – the death of a parent, but we grieve for all types of losses. We grieve for the loss of relationships (romantic and friendship), we grieve for lost jobs, lost opportunities, lost ways of life. We grieve when our children leave home, we can even grieve when grown-up children move back into the family home – it can cramp your lifestyle! We grieve when pets die and good neighbours move away. Basically we are capable of grieving any change in our life that brings negative consequences however the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief usually is.
t is true that we all grieve in different ways. Grief can manifest itself in physical symptoms, such as loss of hair and an outbreak of rashes, but it also impacts your thoughts, emotions, behaviours, beliefs and identity. Grief can make you feel sad, anxious, shocked, angry, regretful, relieved, overwhelmed, isolated and even betrayed. You may feel the person who died deceived you by leaving.
Grief does not have a deadline
Grief is not limited to a set period of time. Some people take just weeks or months to grieve a major loss while other people take years to grieve. What is most crucial to the grieving process is that we create new experiences and habits that help us work around and eventually accept our loss.
Perhaps the most important thing to realise about grief is that it’s a long journey. A major loss will be at the front of your mind for a year to 18 months. There are some practical steps you can take to help you while you grieve.
- Talk about your loss. Expressing your feelings to a trusted friend is a way of dealing with your most painful emotions. It is also a good idea to consider talking to a psychologist or counsellor while grieving./li>
- Do not be afraid of feeling sad. Sometimes when dealing with loss we keep ourselves busy because we are trying to keep the sadness at bay. The truth is that feeling sad is part of the healing process. You do not want to feel sad all the time, but it is important that during the day you allow yourself to feel the true depth of your grief. You may want to set aside 30 minutes of everyday to feel sad. This is your crying time, but when that 30 minutes ends you have to get back out into the world. Go for a coffee, catch up with a friend, take a walk.
- Stay engaged with the world. Try to keep up your normal routine, despite feeling flat. Return to work, exercise, see friends, walk your dog, garden. These tasks may be difficult, you might have to make a huge effort to do them, but I advise you to make that huge effort. If necessary fake some cheerfulness at your exercise or art class. I challenge you to fake that cheerfulness for one month, because after a month you will start to actually feel cheerful.
- Get enough sleep and eat well. It is pretty standard to experience interrupted sleep after a big loss. You may find yourself waking frequently in the night. Speak to your GP about your sleeping problems. I also advise you not to feel anxious about disturbed sleep. It is pretty normal when grieving. Do not lie in bed for hours trying to get back to sleep. If you wake and don’t fall back to sleep within 30 minutes, then get up and watch an old movie on TV. Make some coco. Lie on the couch and snooze. Eventually you’ll want to go back to bed and sleep. When you are grieving you also have to make an effort to eat well. People dealing with grief often lose weight because they have no appetite or they gain weight by eating chocolate and sweets for comfort. Watch your weight and aim to eat good, nutritious food. Try to avoid things that numb the pain, like lots of junk food, alcohol or drugs. These are quick fixes and you’ll only feel worse when the effects of the sugar, alcohol or drugs wear off.
Now I want to focus on grieving for the loss of a loved one who has died. Again I have a few practical tips.
- Don’t feel pressured by other people or even convention to throw out the possessions of the person who died. I suggest you throw out any medications or anything relating to the illness (if there was any), but keep as many or as few of their possessions as you like. If they were your spouse you might want to keep most of their clothes. You are going to feel the memories of that person in your home for a long time, so why rush to get rid of their possessions.
- Make a memorial in your house. Some European cultures put up a photo of the deceased person and burn a candle in front of the photo for one month, indicating that the person lives on in hearts and minds. You should make a memorial that is true to you and the person who has passed. You might want to use shells, flowers or even leaves. Use your memorial as a place to talk to your loved one, to say a prayer or mantra and even to have a meal.
- Reach out to nature to help heal. When you are grieving it helps to spend time with nature. Look to the birds, bees and butterflies. It gives you a sense that life goes on and renews.
- Remember that death is not something to be feared. People can be awkward around you if you have experienced a loss and not know what to say. Be upfront and say that you are feeling up and down but getting there. Ease their awkwardness. You might also want to explore the spirituality of death and dying in all religions and cultures. Do not be afraid to seek more information as you make sense of the experience. And wear black if you want to. Honour the person you have lost in any way you like.
Finally, be mindful that your grief may tip into depression. If you no longer feel like yourself seek some help from your GP. I think it’s wise to check in with your GP every couple of months when grieving.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.