The raw emotions of grief can take even the strongest person by surprise
The bitter river of misery that is grief is an unimaginable journey until you have experienced it. Unfortunately it is something that almost every being on this planet will experience at some point and one over which we have no control. In a world where we aim to control our experiences on a minute by minute basis grief is an emotion that can blindside you.
The raw emotion that grief can release is something that still makes the majority of us feel uncomfortable and it is largely suffered in an isolated way. The grief journey is immensely personal and no two individuals’ experience of grief will be exactly the same. There are so many factors that influence the level and intensity of grief that someone experiences.
Your relationship with the person who has passed away is probably the most significant thing and this can apply to both a good or bad relationship with the person. Sometimes having a fraught relationship with someone can lead to inexplicable feelings of grief because of the finality of death, with the opportunity to repair or heal being completely removed from your control.
The key factor to understanding grief is recognising that it is an entirely natural process and not something to feel ashamed of. There is no right or wrong way to get through grief and whatever feels right to you is the right way to cope.
The Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described the five stages of grief in her book ‘On Death and Dying’, which was published in 1969. It is referred to as The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
The charity Cruse Bereavement Care additionally describe some of the emotions associated with grief as:
- Shock – you may feel totally numb and this might explain why some individuals are able to carry on as if nothing has happened.
- Pain – this can be overwhelming and make you feel like you will never feel happy or have peace of mind again.
- Anger – ‘How can this person have died so unfairly?’ ‘How will I cope without them?’
- Guilt – another significant component of grief and often due to the finality of death, which means we no longer have an opportunity to make amends or let people know what they mean to us.
- Depression – this may set in once the initial shock has lifted and can be as a result of realising what life means with this person no longer in it.
- Longing – intense feelings for the person, perhaps thinking you have seen them or heard their voice. According to Cruse Bereavement Care this is because the brain is trying to process the finality of death.
The good news is that devastating grief does not have to be forever. It’s probably true to say that your life will never be exactly the same again but grief does tend to lessen over time and there is an acceptance that your life has changed irrevocably. The experience of grief can sometimes help you to empathise with others and have a sense of compassion.
There are organisations that offer grief counselling and other resources to help you through the void. Many books on the subject exist, which can help you to make sense of what you are experiencing. It can sometimes be helpful to meet with other people who have experienced loss as there can be a knowing, which unites you.
Grief is something that, by choice, none of us would opt to experience but it is a natural process and healing is part of that process.
I lost my father when I was in my mid-thirties and until this point I had not experienced such intense emotions and profound mood-swings. When I write this now – 12 years on, I can’t believe I felt that way, but at one point the feelings were so intense I wanted to die – sitting here now that sounds ridiculous to me, but at the time it was one of the feelings I had momentarily.
I remember feeling absolutely desolate at times and as though all the colour had drained out of my life and this was despite having two young children who really needed me and a loving husband. I remember experiencing raging thoughts that the world was unfair as my father was ‘only’ 66 when he passed away and I felt that this was ‘too young’ and that he had missed out on so much. I also felt choked at the thought of his own suffering. Getting through each day felt like a slog and I couldn’t imagine a happy future when this man who had been such a positive influence and rock had gone.
I’m slightly ashamed to say that I let the tears flow freely in front of my family, however I also strived to maintain a modicum of normality, particularly for my children. The good news is that 12 years on I have a great acceptance and perspective on my father’s death. I still miss my Dad and think about him often but I don’t have those raw, angry, devastated feelings that I felt then. It’s been a gradual thing and I still have the odd moment when the tears rise to the surface, usually sparked by a bit of music or a photo or letter but on the whole I am in a good place now.
For further information on grief or coping with it visit: Cruse Bereavement Care www.cruse.org.uk