Just writing the word ‘grief’ brings back a flood of memories to me.
I am certain that you would not be reading this list unless you were experiencing grief yourself, or perhaps trying to support someone who has.
“I am sincerely sorry for your loss”
Easy words to say, or write when you discover someone you know has lost someone dear to them. I am sure the words are well meant, hey, I say them often.
Life and death, such certain things and yet we receive no training on how to deal with them. Babies do not arrive with their own customised manual, and so it is when people die, or are changed forever by circumstances in life. (terminal illness, stroke, acquired brain damage, Alzheimers and the like)
Like most people I struggle to know what I can say that may be of some comfort to a family member, friend or colleague in this position.
Grief is such a personal thing, how you experience it, or help someone else through it will probably be different to what you have seen and heard about before. The only universal common denominator about grief is that it takes time.
People handle dealing with grief differently
To be clear on that point – I am talking about the people who find out about someone else’s grief and not their own. This is something that can become an issue when you are struggling to deal with your own grief and friends plus family members ‘support you’ in their own way.
When my baby daughter died at just two days old, I found it bizarre that I tended to be the one comforting my shocked friends instead of the other way around.
My first husband had a brain tumour and was brain damaged after many attempts at removing it. His quality of life was severely changed from what was before. People dealt with this situation by staying away. We had two young girls under seven years old.
When my mother died of cancer, it was interesting how many people voiced their opinion that it was a good thing because she would no longer suffer. It seemed to me that they clearly did not understand my loss.
When my partner died from advanced melanoma he died so quickly that many people struggled to know what to say, again, I tended to be the one comforting them.
Loosing a partner
Having lost two in my lifetime, I share with you a few of the things I experienced and what helped me to get my life back to the new ‘normal’.
Bereavement Grief – A few ‘Normal’ things to expect
So many feelings to overwhelm a person and well meaning friends, health workers etc. will tell you that it is ‘normal to feel these things’. Being told that the awful feelings and turmoil you are experiencing is ‘normal’, is seriously not what you want to know or hear.
Brace yourself – well meaning people can be seriously unhelpful to the situation, and oh my goodness, there are so many well meaning people out there.
They come out of the woodwork and have wonderful stories to share about what they did when someone they knew died.
I have never been able to understand how one can compare the death of a parent who dies at a ripe old age, one you haven’t lived with since you were a teenager, to the death of a partner you have lived with for the past 50 years.
“EISH” is a wonderful African expression that is used to express surprise, annoyance and pain.
I used ‘Eish” a lot when dealing with these well-meaning people who exasperated me with their insistence that they know ‘exactly how you are feeling’
Here are a few of the emotions you may experience – but remember, you are unique, your own personal life experiences will determine how you cope with the grief you experience.
Give yourself as much time as you need.
Do not forget to ask for help if and when you feel overwhelmed.
Say yes when people offer you assistance. If you don’t feel like their assistance ‘now’ – ask if you can contact them later when you do feel up to it
Even if you have been expecting someone to die, there is a shock when it eventually happens, shock is one of the first emotions you feel.
Shock can leave you feeling numb and tends to give you a feeling of emotional detachment, as if things are not quite real. This, almost dreamlike state tends to last until you are ready to handle more.
The Pain of Grief
To me this ‘whole person anguish’ is the worst. It is not only painful emotionally and mentally and tends to cause considerable physical discomfort as well:
- Uncontrollable crying
- Shaking – especially if you have not been eating regularly
- Chest pain
- A feeling of weakness, close to collapse
The pain of grief is usually most intense in the beginning and only diminishes with the passing of time. I have found that it often resurfaces at unexpected times when you see or hear something that reminds you of the one who has died. Having experienced it a few times I can reassure people that it does ease eventually. However, occasionally, years pass and it unexpectedly resurfaces again and ‘hits you out of the blue’.
Knowing that I have survived this before gave me something to cling to when it happened again.
People will say things like ‘time is a good healer’ / ‘give yourself time’ / ‘in time you will feel better’.
Unfortunately they are correct – it really does take time and you have to feel the anguish whilst the time passes.
My advise is only that you take as much time as you need – if you try to move on too quickly there is a possibility that you will suppress your grief, only to have it resurface another, far more inconvenient, time.
Coming to terms with the fact that, not only have you lost the one you loved, but also the things you used to do together.
- Your shared future plans will no longer happen
- Activities that you enjoyed doing together have ceased
- You will no longer be able to communicate and share things like you used to do
Everything has changed and not only have you lost the one you loved but you have also lost the life you used to live together.
More time is required to take all this in.
- It is absolutely ‘normal’ to feel anger now
- Angry at what has happened
- Angry because things are out of your control
- Angry because you cannot change things
- Anger towards others or maybe even yourself – I felt an intense need to blame someone
- Give yourself time to work through the angry stage – this too will pass, in time…
It is ‘normal’ to feel guilt after someone you love dies, usually mixed with a healthy serve of regret and anger
- Guilty because you survived
- Feeling somehow responsible for the death or maybe for how much the person suffered
- Possible feelings of guilt because you don’t think you did enough
- Maybe you are angry because of some perceived action that ‘could have’ been taken
- Guilt because you think you should have taken more care or been more insistent about the person’s safety, health or not nagging enough to make them stop smoking.
- I found it helpful to have someone to ‘vent’ about this too. I was living alone in England when my last partner died, very far from family and friends. I was fortunate to receive support via phone calls and being able to vent safely on Facebook Messenger with friends. I am sure this helped me work through the guilt and anger much faster than if I was alone.
No matter how wonderful your relationship was with the person recently deceased, you will have feelings of regret about
- Things you did or didn’t say
- Things unfinished
- Missed opportunities
- How things could have been
- ‘If only’
Immediately after someone you love has died it is natural for you to feel confused.
You may experience some of the following:
- Poor concentration
- Easily distracted
- Generally confused by simply everyday things
Use lists to help keep you on track of things you have to do but do not become overly concerned, as this too will pass – in time.
- When someone you love and care about has suffered an illness, much pain, disfigurement or personality change it is normal to have a feeling of relief when they die.
- You are usually relieved because they no longer have to suffer but may also be relieved that you no longer have to continue feeling helpless in your inability change the inevitable.
- You may be exhausted physically and mentally by the ordeal of caring for the person.
- Try not to let your feelings of relief turn into guilt.
Anxiety & Overwhelm
- It is normal to be anxious and afraid, when the life you have been living changes drastically after the death of a loved one.
- It is natural to feel highly emotional about the changes you will have to face in the future.
- Coming to terms with the idea that nothing will ever be the same again can make you feel extremely vulnerable and overwhelmed.
- I am usually a very organised person and pride myself in being able to cope with most of the things life throws at me. I found the intense emotional and mental upheaval when losing my last partner to be exacerbated by feeling totally overwhelmed by everything for a while.
- For a short time, I seemed to have lost my ability to use rational thought. I seemed unable to do even the simplest task without a huge effort and much deliberation. Fortunately this feeling of being so totally overwhelmed did not last for more than a few days. I think it may have been because I was so far away from home (Tasmania, Australia) and the physical support of family and friends. I had been living in Wales for only 2 months when my partner became ill. 28 days from diagnosis to death did not give me much time to get used to anything at all.
I do not share these intimate details so that you, the reader will feel sorry for me. I share them so that I can, hopefully, inspire you to carry on with your life after you have lost someone and the world as you know it, feels like a place you no longer want to be in.
I have struggled with insomnia all my life. I think it is because I have such a vivid imagination and a mind that never wanted to stop imagining! When I was a young girl my mother taught me a simple technique to help me get to sleep. The technique is really simple, easy to use and has never failed me no matter what was happening in my life.
If you are recently bereaved you will probably be struggling to get to sleep and not really interested in reading much. Once things have settled down I encourage you to look at the full Insomniac’s Alphabet Technique in Guides.
Basic Insomniac’s Alphabet Technique is simply a way of distracting your mind from things you would rather not think about so that you can get to sleep.
- Lie comfortably in the position you usually lie in bed when you want to sleep
- Use the letters of the alphabet A, B, C, D etc.
- For each letter of the alphabet think of three girls / boys names
A: Alison; Anjanette; Amanda or Adam; Alan; Andrew
B: Bronwen; Barbara; Belinda or Brian; Boris; Basil
C: Carol; Cassandra; Colleen or Colin; Clinton; Cedric
If you get distracted by your thoughts, do not get stressed, simply go back to the letter of the alphabet you can recall using last OR begin again from the letter A
If you get stuck on a letter, say Q, and can only think of one name – simply move on to the next letter of the alphabet
If you find you are able to fly through the list and get to Z and have not fallen asleep – go onto another list of names, boys, girls, animals, birds, flowers, anything at all that may interest you
Getting to sleep after the death of a loved one is difficult, especially if the death was traumatic or painful. Vivid images, that you would rather not see again, may come into your mind’s eye whenever you try to sleep and sometimes they come when you are alone and trying to relax. You find yourself ‘re-living’ things that you really would rather forget. Over and over again, rather like a broken record, the images keep coming back.
I found that I could use the Insomniac’s Alphabet Technique to distract me whenever the ‘images’ began to intrude, even if they came when I was driving and needed to be awake
- Loneliness is another of those ‘normal’ grief processes. Even when surrounded by family and well-meaning friends the feeling of being alone is intense.
- As time passes, everyone seems to go back to their ‘normal’ lives.
- Your new normal remains, and as time passes your feelings of aloneness becomes more intense as you realise the enormity of what you have lost. It is a time when you realise absolutely what it is you have lost with the passing of your loved one. It is difficult no to become depressed.
- Now, more than ever, it is important to make decisions that will help you create a new and meaningful way of life for yourself.
- Having written those words I need to add that there is no specific timeline to grieve.
- Everyone is, of
coursedifferent and will experience grief in their own personal way.
- Try not to rush things, especially the making of decisions that will impact the rest of your life.
- Use Decision Making Lists [link] to help you keep make informed decisions for your future.
- Time passes. Some days are so difficult that it is necessary to take an hour at a time to get through them. Other days are easier. Time does pass and
eventuallythe intensity of the pain fades. You have much to gain by working through all the stages of your own personal grief.
- Try not to suppress your feelings, as painful as they are, it is important to feel
them,and live through the awfulness of it.
- It really does get better, but, unfortunately, you do have to live through all the stages before it does.
Try to Avoid the following whilst grieving:
- Overworking – the advice from well-wishers to ‘Keep busy and occupy your mind’ may be fine in the short term, however If you find you are compulsively overworking to avoid the pain of grief then please stop. Unfortunately – you do have to work your way through the grief, it is best not to prolong the agony as it has a way of coming back when you least expect it
- Overeating – is not worth the consequences associated with it. Work towards a healthy diet and a healthy you
- Retail Therapy – seriously, this provides only short term relief from your pain, the consequence of this behaviour may create a new problem of financial hardship and the guilt associated with that
- Replacing – do not rush into another relationship until you have had time to work through the grief. Taking a new partner before you have grieved properly for the old one is unfair to both yourself and the new, replacement, partner
- Alcohol and drug use – These are the most dangerous things to use to avoid facing your grief. There is a potential to create a new additional problem that will also have be dealt with later
- Moving away from your familiar surroundings – whilst it sounds like a good idea to ‘get away from it all’ you are only delaying the inevitable. It is best to remain where you have support from family and friends and to give yourself time to become accustomed to your new way of life before you make big changes in your life and where you live – take time to get used to your new situation before you make major decisions about where you want to be in the future
- Crusading – or becoming passionately involved in voluntary work such as fundraising for cancer research, a hospice or some other just cause. Doing this before you have had time to grieve properly may exacerbate the process and lengthen the time required for you to recover from your loss
Things you can do to help someone who is grieving
- Be there for them, just check in regularly with offers to visit or meet with them if they need it
- Be available for a chat/quiet drink/coffee/ walk on the beach
- Encourage them to vent/talk about anything at all that matters to them
- Allow them to be silent BEING THERE for them means just that, you don’t have to actually do anything – just keeping them company may be enough
Using Lists may be helpful when recovering from the loss of a partner
Use lists to:
- Remember things when you are stressed
- Problem solve everyday issues
- Compare possible actions open to you when making decisions about your future
- Problem solve using ‘helicopter vision’ that allows you to evaluate the ripple effect any decision you may make will have on the people around you – see Helicopter Vision in the Activities
- Budget – can you afford to make the choices available to you?
- Make an action plan with a realistic timeline
- Evaluate what you have managed to do ‘so far’
- Where to next?
Lists give me a feeling of having things under control. Even if I am unable to act on things immediately, writing lists give me a chance to evaluate what choices I have and determine which will work best.
- You are never too old to move on to a new and happier way to live. Trust me, if at 62 I began again – so can you
- After enough time had passed and I was starting to feel ‘whole’ again, I honoured the deathbed promise that I had made to my partner and ‘went and found another one’
- As bizarre as this reads – I really did actively go ‘out there’ and, after a few hilariously happenings, I found a new man – perfect for me. (Blog on Online dating for over 60s – still to come)
- I have spent the past 3 years sailing with my new partner, we live on a 10m steel sailing boat. and have travelled over 9000miles
- Trust me, you have to be compatible in order to do that
- I do, totally understand that not everyone is like me – and thank goodness for that as how boring world it would be?
I hope this has helped you to not feel too alone in your grief and that it may even help you to realise that there is ‘Light at the end of the tunnel’