Grief forces us to feel. It’s raw and messy and painful. It involves some seriously ugly cries. Even wailing.

The bereaved. Grief-stricken. In mourning. We are all familiar with these words, all relevant to the process of loss. But we are usually completely unprepared when those words pertain to us. We have no cooking clue as to the depth of emotion and feeling that lies under them. Very often we are also clueless as to how to act/be around others who are walking the path of grief.

I always refer to it as walking the path of grief because that’s exactly what it is. Grief isn’t something you “get over”. You don’t deal with it and move on. When grief enters your life – and here I am specifically talking about the physical loss of someone – it’s here to stay. Its impact may lessen as time passes, it may ebb and flow, but it’s always around. It will be different for everyone and its impact can depend on the depth of the loss: a spouse or partner, a parent, a child, family members, friends, colleagues.

What’s important is that we learn to make space for grief, to adapt our life around it.

The second anniversary of my husband’s death has just passed. It’s true what they say – there is more or less a two-year period of mourning before you move out of the grief fog. The kicker here is that you don’t always realise you ARE in a fog.

I really thought I had grief sorted. With a 21-year age gap and the law of averages, I knew there was a good chance I would be the one left alone. He had a great life and died at the age of 81, peacefully at home. But most of all I was “spiritual”. I knew, so I thought, all about death. I wasn’t afraid of it. I knew it was a transition, moving on to a new chapter. His passing wasn’t a shock nor was it unexpected. But I didn’t expect grief to hit me as hard as it did. It’s only looking back now, as I begin to feel more like me, that I get a clearer picture of the struggles I went through. The days of not being able to focus on anything. Unable to sustain interest in something. Of wanting to hide away from the world. I quickly learnt that it was a good idea, when accepting any invitations, to add a caveat – I’m accepting the invite but please understand I may feel very different on the day and cancel my attendance. There were entire days when all I did was cry and didn’t get out of bed. Hours of playing mindless games on my phone. Sleeping the day away. Days when even showering and getting dressed was just too much.

Creating space for grief is so important because it allows us to move along the path. You may literally have to make time for it in your diary: 15h00-16h00 on Weds – time for grief. Space to make peace with the missing, the heartache.

To acknowledge the longing for those small, familiar habits and routines that are now no longer part of your life.

All symptoms, I now realize, of grief. Looking back I realize I jumped into certain activities too quickly. I just didn’t have the energy to maintain my involvement and I feel guilty about that. I let people down. I learnt I needed to be really, really mindful of whom and what I expended my energy on. Oh there were days when I felt energized and on top of things, ready to face life in this new chapter I found myself in. Believed I was “over the worst”. That’s the thing about grief. You have no idea how and when it will show up. It’s about literally waking up every day and checking in on how you are feeling. For a large portion of the past two years, I can now see I was functioning on auto-pilot. Going through the motions. Hard lockdown was a relief for me. It gave my grief the time and space it needed, without having to go through the usual social niceties and norms. (I have NO idea how people who have to return to a day job manage this and their grief, especially considering the average length of allowed time off for bereavement is three days. Compare that to the four months allowed for maternity leave and you begin to understand just how little space we allow for grief.)

Creating space for grief is so important because it allows us to move along the path. You may literally have to make time for it in your diary: 15h00-16h00 on Weds – time for grief. Space to make peace with the missing, the heartache. To acknowledge the longing for those small, familiar habits and routines that are now no longer part of your life. Oh how I miss my morning toast and coffee in bed, which John always did after he came back from Sunday morning Mass. One of those simple little routines that, when no longer present, seem to leave such a gaping hole in your life. Space to allow the tears when they need to flow. To feel that heart pain as you remember, and mourn. Even today, 21 years later, my eyes still prickle if I spot someone on a street with a strong resemblance to my late Dad and I feel this surge of emotion. Grief never leaves.

Grief forces us to feel. It’s raw and messy and painful. It involves some seriously ugly cries. Even wailing. In today’s society it’s not something we are encouraged to do – feel. Or ugly cry. Crying is limited to an elegant dabbing at the corner of your eye with a tissue. And apologising endlessly for dissolving into tears at inopportune moments, in case we’ve embarrassed anyone or made them feel awkward. We preferably only want the  positive feels. But that’s impossible as we live in a world of duality. We have to feel the good AND the bad. We can’t pick and choose. It’s called being human.

It’s failing to acknowledge the “bad” that causes so much internal damage. Suppressed emotions are like a pressure cooker, building and building until ready to blow. Usually it’s some innocuous trigger or unsuspecting soul that sets it all off. Or we start developing niggling health issues that demand attention. The body’s way of saying “I’m not coping!”

However grief has shown up in your life, give it space, give it time and have no expectations of how it will all happen. This is a path that meanders, twists and turns, even doubling back on itself. There is no roadmap. But the path does get easier, gentler, softer, wider. You’ve got this. Just take it one step, one breath at a time.

**If you are struggling to cope, to make sense of loss, to walk the path of grief, reach out. Book a discovery call here and let’s chat https://bit.ly/32Ov9xf

Di Atherton

Author Di Atherton

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