Yes, we all at some point lose someone we love. So we should all be able to handle and understand grief, right?
Not so fast. Grief is far from straightforward.
Read on for the truth about grief that might help you be easier on yourself if you have experienced a recent loss.
5 Crucial Truths About Grief
1. It is unpredictable. And then some.
There’s a reason grief is often compared to waves. It’s not just that waves come and go. It’s that they are inconsistent. One day the sea can be calm, the next, the waves are as high as houses. Some waves come fast and heavy, others are well spaced.
And grief is just as uncontrollable and variable. All you can really do is work with it as it comes.
2. Grief is not synonymous with sadness.
Yes, you will feel sad. But you will also feel many other emotions you might not have expected.
You might find yourself sobbing one minute, laughing the next, and feeling an unexpected moment of peace right when you are sure you should be feeling rage. This can then lead to feeling guilty, even if you know you shouldn’t. And then you just might feel annoyed. At, like, everything. Yes, annoyance can be grief too.
So too can be feeling numb, overwhelmed by thoughts, confused, and even relieved.
3. Comparison is futile.
You are at the funeral, and everyone is sobbing, and you feel….nothing.
Or maybe you were not quite as close to the person as your friend, who is already over it, but you can’t seem to get past the loss.
Surely there is something deeply wrong with you, right?
Not at all.
Grief is a very personal experience and we all go through it in our own way. Comparing yourself to others not only leaves you feeling awful, the self-judgement can mean you push your feelings further down.
What is important with grief is to let yourself feel it and process it. So don’t compare. Focus on yourself, and how you can best support yourself through the grieving process.
4. You can actually plan for bereavement.
Bereavement, of course, catches many of us unaware.
But some of us are dealing with a family member with a terminal illness.
It might seem more convenient to constantly put the thought of what lies ahead out of mind.
But this can actually cause substantial anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety can include panicked ‘worse case scenario’ thinking, increased fatigue, muscle tension, sleeplessness, and mental confusion.
It is especially useful for children to understand about bereavement in advance. If you find it hard to talk about death with your kids, look for books on the subject or consider pre-bereavement counselling.
Is it strange to want to prepare for bereavement if nobody you know is unwell? It’s actually common to start to worry about your parents dying, for example, when you reach middle-age. (In fact ‘death cafe‘ support groups, where people meet to talk about and understand dying, have recently become a trend here in the UK).
While grief and bereavement are impossible to understand fully until experienced, some find reading books about death and bereavement can be helpful. Things like journalling and mindfulness can also help us feel more in touch with ourselves and others, and more prepared for what life will bring.
5. You probably will need support.
Bereavement is rarely easy. If you are surrounded with people you can feel entirely yourself around, and who offer you acceptance no matter how you are feeling, then you might have the support you need.
But for many of us, bereavement clashes with the many faces we feel we must wear for colleagues, friends, and even family. It might even clash with the idea we have built of ourself as ‘strong’ or ‘capable’. And the collision can leave us feeling confused and unable to manage.
Grief counsellors are committed to helping you cope, and create a confidential, non-judgemental space for you to share how you are feeling in.
And you don’t have to just talk about the bereavement in grief counselling. You might, for example, want to talk about the challenges that the loss has bought forward for you, such as sudden problems in your relationships. Or you might want to share sudden childhood memories that have risen up. Counselling is a safe space for all of this.
It’s especially important to seek grief counselling if you find that a few months on from losing your loved one you are showing signs of depression. This might manifest as feeling constantly low, ongoing flus and colds, destructive thoughts, or a sense of unbearable loneliness (read our Guide to Depression for more signs and symptoms).
Harley Therapy connects you with highly experienced and friendly bereavement counsellors in London and the UK, or globally via online therapy.
Still have a question about the truth about grief and bereavement? Or want to share an experience? Post in our comment box below.