When we think of grief we usually associate it with a death.
Grief is a natural part of the aftermath of the death of someone we love. What we don’t often think about, is all the other losses we grieve.
Loss often comes hand in hand with change. Some people can embrace change with open arms, they even crave it, but for others of us it is much more difficult. Some of the big changes which might affect us are loss of a job, a devastating medical diagnosis, losing our home, falling into debt, having an accident, loss of our libido, the breakup of a relationship, a divorce, the ‘empty nest’, a rupture in a friendship, having to emigrate or move location (or school) and loss of mobility, amongst others.
When people come into therapy, they may begin to contemplate losses they have suffered, which have not previously been understood. Some examples of that might be the realisation that being sent to live with an Aunt as a baby led to a fracture in their relationship with their Mother or being sent to boarding school at seven meant they lost part of their childhood. It might be an early abortion, which seemed the only option at the time, meant a lifetime of infertility. It could be something more subtle like starting to come to terms with the fact that a parent was not the wonderful person you thought they were.
Each person’s loss must be mourned to a greater or lesser extent. I can imagine some of you reading this are saying something like “why must I mourn that”, or, “what a load of twaddle”! And anyway, how do we make ourselves mourn (feel) something we don’t feel?
That question brings me back to the idea that we Brits are known for our stoicism. It is supposedly in our bones after two world wars. We had national mourning for all the soldiers lost in the wars (and still do), but not much empathy for the women and families left behind in the aftermath of all that carnage. What I am saying again, is that we strongly associate grief with death, but not necessarily all the other losses. A lot of people I counsel don’t even recognise that they are grieving because they think they should be able to muscle on through the difficult things that befall them or they do it automatically.
What I want to tell you is that the grieving process is exactly the same for all types of losses.
Usually there is a period of shock and inability to grasp what has happened and people feel tearful, numb and lack the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. It is as if their life comes to a grinding halt. In time, this morphs into something painful that they have to live with, so there are periods when they cope better and some times when they ‘collapse’ again (think of the waves of grief). Eventually though, over an indeterminate amount of time, the change becomes their new normal and their emotions become less raw and painful. I use the word 'indeterminate' on purpose, because there is no time schedule for grief, despite what others may think or imagine.
Have some compassion for yourself. It is OK to grieve, it is natural and normal to feel angry and sad or any host of emotions, when you think of your loss. If you strive to bury it, it usually comes round and bites you on the bum one way or another. Embracing your emotions does not mean they will stay like that for ever, in fact it is usually the opposite. It is the way through to the other side of grief.
Please believe me when I tell you there is a life to be embraced after loss, just not the one you had before, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be wonderful in its own new way.
If you feel you would like help with your losses, you can contact me here
Photo courtesy of R. Jordan and N. Sanchez via Unsplash