When grief consumes you, it is virtually impossible to see beyond the waves of emotions which wash over you. In other words, when you are in it, you are in it. There are lots of old sayings which speak to that feeling of being utterly stuck and unable to see beyond a situation. To name a few: “you cannot see the wood for the trees”, “you can’t see further than the end of your nose”, “I am stuck between a rock and a hard place”.
It is a very lonely and isolating place to be because in my own experience and those of my clients, there appears to be no future. Things can look very bleak. It is hard to imagine that things could get better, that there will be a life without the one who has died, that you might be able to cope again with the vagaries of life, or even the simple routines of domesticity that keep the show on the road. As a counsellor it is my job to metaphorically hold the hope until my clients are ready to come and take it back for themselves. Sometimes this happens quite quickly, other times, not so fast, but in the end hope can be a shining beacon of comfort, even within the hopelessness of bereavement.
There is a simple exercise which I find very useful in explaining what evolves during the time of grief. You could try it now if you want to? Firstly, get a large sheet of paper and draw a circle which represents your whole life right now. Use as much of the page as you want. Then, inside the circle, using another colour, draw a second circle to represent how much space your grief takes up in your life at the moment. Don’t rush, really think about it. This first circle drawing is the here and now. Going back to my first paragraph, this is when you are feeling really stuck in the grief. I expect you might have drawn something akin to this?
Now turn the page over and re-draw another circle for your life and how much space you think your grief will take up in two years’ time. Your second drawing overleaf, would be a version of this?
People generally feel that their grief will have diminished and tend to draw the inner circle as a smaller percentage of their life circle, whilst still leaving a large amount of grief in the circle. What actually happens is that the grief stays the same but your life expands around the grief. It is a hard concept because it is so difficult to imagine. However, the sad truth is that though you feel stuck now, life does go on around you, inextricably moving forward, even when you don’t want it to.
Do you know the beautiful poem, Stop All The Clocks by W. H. Auden? The last stanza speaks about feeling everything has come to an end after a loved one's death.
“The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
Nothing ever stays the same. It is the way of the world, the way of life, the force of nature and nurture. There will be a life, but it will be a different life, maybe not the one you wanted but never the less, a life. It is in the space between the the grief circle and the life circle, that the growth of a new life happens. You don’t know what directions things will take you in yet. There will be unexpected happenings, unexplained joys, new love in all it's forms, new life, new jobs, new interests. Anything can happen. It is completely unknown and that is frightening and probably too big an idea to contemplate in early grief, but in time your life will grow around your grief.
The reason I say the grief stays the same, is that no one can ever take away your memories of that person, or this period of time, or your pain at the loss, because this is engraved like a fingerprint upon you. It is true that triggers can take you back there, and people often like to feel they can access their grief when they want to, this is the gossamer thread of connection to the one who died. We want to feel them in our bones for ever, and we can and do, so no, the grief does not go. What does happen though, is it becomes less raw, less painful and you cope with it better till in the end it sits quietly within you not causing too much disturbance and allows you to start embracing your different life.
One last point, I mentioned two years, but there is no set time for this to happen. It might be a month or two, it might be ten years or more. Don’t ever try to compare time spans in grief, it is meaningless and generally quite unhelpful. These things are as individual as you are.