When you are grieving and finding life really hard, the thing that can be ‘the last straw on the camel’s back’ is the approach of a big event. In particular, something that has meaning and emotion attached to it. Some examples might be a date on the religious calendar like, Eid, Divali or Christmas, it could be the wedding of a child or relative, the christening of a baby, an important birthday or wedding anniversary. The possibilities are endless. Either way it looms over you and dread sets in.
The thing I have noticed is that the lead up to the event is very often the worst time of all. Sometimes months before the event fear usually sets in, and emotions run high. You might worry that you won’t be able to hold it together at the event, that you may not be able to stop crying, that you will collapse (perhaps even on the floor) or that you will embarrass yourself and your family.
In the worst case scenario, you might picture yourself unable to actually get there. Perhaps stranded in the bedroom, unable to leave your room for fear of how the day will unfold. As the date gets closer, the fear mounts and becomes something you live with, all the while dreading the inevitable.
Thoughts like, “I don’t want to go”, “I can’t go”, “I’ve got no-one to go with”, “there will be no-one to retreat to”, “it doesn’t feel safe”, “what if I want to bolt”, may go through your mind. You would not be alone in these thoughts. Many people struggle with social functions after the death of someone they love, especially if that person is someone you have relied on. Confidence is often running on empty, and it is natural and common to feel like this.
If you have been part of a couple, the adjustment to being alone is a huge one. There are so many ‘firsts’ to contend with. The first Christmas, the first birthday, the first anniversary, the first summer, the first wedding on your own. They are all difficult, but the second time you do it, it will be a little easier, I promise. Maybe not easy but easier than the first time.
From my own experience and that of my clients, I would say that often the waiting period for such an event is often worse than the day itself. Often, all the worrying and angst is done in the lead up, and if you can plan the day in a way that works for you then you may very well find that it actually goes OK (surprisingly!)
Here are a few strategies my clients have told me helped them:
Doing exactly the same as you would have done if the loved one were there.
Finding new family rituals, or new ways of doing things.
Spending the day in a completely different way altogether.
Asking a friend to accompany you to an event (in place of the person who has died).
Giving yourself permission to leave early if you want to (have an escape plan!)
Leaving the radio/TV/lights on in the house so you don’t come back to a silent, dark house.
Make a schedule for the day.
Carry something that belonged to the beloved with you (to keep them close).
Decide to be brave, even when you don’t feel it (sort of fake it to make it idea).
Try to ensure you can rest afterwards, and get plenty of sleep before and after if possible.
Be really kind to yourself, it is tiring emotionally and physically to go through these times.
Tell someone how you are feeling, don’t keep it a secret, and ask for support, people probably really want to help you.
If you have any tips or suggestions for others who are grieving and struggling with a big day approaching, please join the conversation below. Your ideas are invaluable.
One of the unexpected and most soul destroying effects of grief is loss of confidence. As if bereavement isn’t hard enough, just at the time you need energy and confidence it can appear to have vaporised leaving you feeling you are house-bound, inadequate, unable to function and overwhelmed.
Friends, relatives and indeed yourself might wonder what happened to that person who could cope well, the person who raced around getting stuff done, who went to work confidently, who had energy and vitality and who tackled the world face on.
If there has been a long illness before the death, you may have been in super-human mode, coping with whatever that situation threw up. Very often, there is not the time, nor the inclination to think about that situation or indeed what the future holds. Emotions are often fear lead, and frequently angry and sad, but still the care of someone who is terminally ill takes all your energy and time.
In the months (and year/s) that follow the death it might be a very different story. All the energy that you put into being a carer evaporates and grief becomes a huge part of your life. This is a time when confidence can be at an all-time low.
How does that manifest itself in everyday life?
Well, it could be feeling you cannot drive, or drive in the dark like you used to. Long journeys either by car or public transport seem overwhelmingly difficult, so you decide not to make them or possibly you go out of your way to avoid them. It might be socialising. When you no longer have your other half to go to events or parties with, going along can feel very frightening. It might be your appearance and that could go either way. You might feel you need to dress up to boost your flagging confidence or you dress down to avoid being singled out because you feel you cannot cope with, nor want attention.
Lack of confidence can profoundly affect your work too. Bereaved workers often feel they are no longer able to do the job they did effortlessly before the death. If you are feeling emotionally wobbly, work can be challenging. You may feel less resilient and more vulnerable in the workplace. This can lead to quitting jobs, reduced income and sometimes a change in career.
The other area often affected is wider travel and this can be in unexpected ways. Leaving home can feel very scary and daunting, especially when there are so many loose ends to tie up before you lock your front door. Equally returning home can be something that you dread. Going into an empty house can be heart-breaking. It is a reminder of what is missing, of no-one to come home to, no-one to tell all the stories to, or to share the experience with. Some people may find themselves putting it off in unconscious ways, for example continuing to visit friend’s houses before going home, or adding extra days onto the trip rather than face the inevitable.
By the way, one small tip for that particular problem is to leave the radio or television on. It can be comforting to come into a house that isn’t silent.
The good news is that with support of family, friends, colleagues and maybe some counselling if needs be, over a long period of time, confidence usually returns in increments. As you become more able to cope, so your confidence receives a boost and in turn, that helps your mood and your ability to get out into life more and take on some of the challenges ahead.
Start small though, for example, plan a short journey to visit a friend, negotiate a shorter week at work (if possible), or a staged return to work, or take a friend to a social event for moral support. Think about what you need to boost your confidence and then go and find the help. People are just waiting to support you in your time of need, you only have to ask.
If you think counselling might help boost your confidence at this difficult time, contact me here.
I think most people would agree that sex appears to be everywhere these days. It’s on book shelves in newsagents, on television, in popular books (think 50 Shades of Grey), at the movies, in magazines and all over the internet at the touch of a button. On the other hand, grief, death and dying remain taboo subjects for the vast majority of people, though I think the tide is turning slowly.
So why don’t more people talk about sex and grief? Lucie Brownlee braved the subject in her book Me After You with honesty, humour and insight and Amy Malloy wrote about her experiences as a very young widow in
Wife Interrupted but in general, there seems to be a wall of silence around it.
If a couple have had a close, loving and happy sexual relationship, they will inevitably miss sex (not that many, if any, friends will ask them about that, which makes that admission that it is on their mind rather tricky). This poses lots of problems because their body may tell them one thing, but their head another. They might start having lots of sexual fantasies and longings but what are they to do? They may feel very married still and not see themselves as free to date, or engage in sexual activity with another person. On the other hand they can consciously try to repress those feelings or engage in masturbation if they want to but for some, that misses the very thing they are yearning for, the intimacy and the closeness that they had before.
This brings to mind a moving scene in the movie The Things We Lost In The Fire, with Halle Berry where after her husband’s death, she asks her husband’s friend to get into bed with her, to hold her a certain way, to put his arm around her just as her husband did and then to rub her ear, just as he used to. It is excruciating to watch her longing and her need for that kind of comfort.
Sex can mean many things to different people, to name a few: a wonderful distraction from grief and misery, a comfort, a relief, a way to feel alive again, a way to feel attractive and wanted again, a way to fill the void and sometimes an outlet for grief (maybe letting go). It probably depends on one’s attitude to and experiences of sex before the death. When people have been in a loving relationship, they are ‘programmed’ for relationships and they can long for that warm connection to fill that space and sex would naturally be a part of that.
There seems to be a conflict between the ‘unwanted’ freedom to have sex again and being bound to the one they already love. We might say it is a conflict between spirit and flesh. Then throw into the mix, the difficulty in later life to find opportunities for developing sexual relationships. If someone finds a relationship with leads to sex, they may find themselves feeling very vulnerable because it is a very intimate act and it requires trust to let another see their true sexual self. Understandably too, the bereaved person embarking on a new sexual experience carries with them their history, their partner, their family, their emotions and their loss and it complicates things. It really isn’t as easy as it sounds.
As if that isn’t hard enough, the bereaved person’s family and friend circle will often all have views on what is appropriate and most certainly what isn’t (according to their own ‘Book Of Rules for Widows, Widowers and Partners’). This sort of judgement can impact the surviving partner badly, adding to their grief, distress and their own feelings about their predicament.
Having said all this, there are of course, people who move from grief to new relationships and a renewed sex life successfully, so those of you who are bereaved, please don’t despair when you read this, there is so much hope, and in time a new and different life will emerge around you, in spite of your grief, and you don’t know as yet, what that will look like.
I spoke earlier about the repression sexual longings after a death; I believe this leads to difficulties later on. We should have nothing but empathy for those who struggle with sexual issues after the loss of someone they have loved. Bereavement is a very hard and rocky road, and we should not judge anyone who struggles with it, until we have walked in their shoes. We human beings are sociable animals, we are drawn to companionship and love, it is what makes our lives meaningful and leads to contentment, and disruption of that is a big struggle oftentimes.
If you have a good friend or counsellor to talk this through with, it can be good to air it and talk it through.