For something that is so natural and certain, death is not a topic we generally deal with well. No two experiences of mourning are the same and while everybody goes through it, no one can prepare you for it or tell you how to overcome it. “Overcome”, as a word in itself, can’t truly reflect what happens when you grieve. It seems like our society is somewhat stunted by the restrictions of a vocabulary that can’t possibly lexicalise the changes that ensue when a significant loss occurs. Comforting words from loved ones may offer no comfort and it might seem like no response can encapsulate how you truly are when people ask you.
People say “it comes in waves”. Personally, I found that to be true, but only if the metaphorical waves crash over you relentlessly and you struggle to find solid ground beneath your feet. It can seem, at least it did for me, that every time you think you’re doing okay and you’re catching your breath, there’s another wave ready to challenge you. Of course, slowly the waves get further apart, but some, I’m afraid, may not be any less potent.
A state of shock cocoons you for a while and you go into autopilot, and you may find yourself wondering how you could have possibly gotten through what may have been the most agonising experience, while everyone else is going about life as normal. It might seem that normality doesn’t quite exist for you anymore and realistically that version will never exist again- coming to terms with that is what can take a lot of time to come to terms with. Your routine, your identity and role in that person’s life and their role in yours just ceases, but we’re designed to adapt, it’s just a matter of accepting your new reality. There’s no measurable indication for when it happens, but it will almost definitely be the case that your compassionate leave will not suffice. Eventually though, people ask a lot less how you’re doing, but when they do, why doesn’t it feel like a valid excuse to say that you’re still grieving?
Another thing that people do is tell you that “you should be strong, but allow yourself to feel it”. That doesn’t seem like a logical thing to say- realistically, if I let myself feel it I’ll crumble…I won’t function…I should just shut it off so I can get about by daily life and wait for it to pass. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. While it may seem a convenient option that allows us to avoid your loss, supressing your feelings doesn’t resolve them (who knew?).
It’s okay to feel like you’re falling apart. Everything you know about your life thus far, involves that person. However, just because the sun rises everyday doesn’t necessarily mean it will tomorrow- ‘Russell’s Turkey’ comes to mind. We make the mistake in society of thinking things are constant and that we deserve them to be. When life throws us a curveball we don’t know how to deal with it. We’re creatures of habit and we need patterns to make us feel safe. What people don’t tend to tell you is that while life goes on, it’s not the same one you knew. For all intents and purposes, it’s pretty similar, but it’s not the same. You do get used to it though, even if you try and fight it. As cliché as it may sound, you come out the other side of the darkness; it will just take as long as you need it to.
During these periods of time, many people can find it beneficial to use talking therapies in order to work through their grief. Bereavement Counselling is a common form of therapy given when a significant loss occurs. Talking through your experiences with an impartial professional in space where you can be open can prove to be extremely therapeutic and offer extra support at this difficult time. You might find it particularly useful if you have difficulty talking about your lost loved one or if you feel you cannot go on without them, or perhaps even if your emotions are becoming so intense that they may be manifesting in behaviours that you may not usually display, like aggression or substance use. While these can all be common, when things feel like they may be lasting too long or family and friends may start becoming worried for your wellbeing, seeking some bereavement advice may really benefit you.
For advice on dealing with bereavement or just to give yourself a space to talk things out and work through it at your own pace, please contact us here at The Blue Tree Clinic. Our team has a wealth of experience and a listening ear to help.
Written by Maddy Lykourgos in loving memory of Alexandra Zambakides.