Times of celebration can be difficult for those who have lost someone or something. When everyone on your social feed is ‘cheers-ing’ to another year with their loved ones, what do you do when your loved one is no longer of this Earth? Grief is the emotional manifestation of losing something or someone. This may be something physical like a parent, a friend, or a pet. Or it may be something less tangible such as the future you were looking forward to with your partner that has now changed following your relationship break-down, or your identity following a life-changing illness such as cancer.
People experience grief in many ways and depths, however, there are some similarities across cultures and groups. These include:
- Depressive symptoms, such as feeling low, numb, in denial, empty or lonely
- Anger, guilt, blame and relief if the relationship with the person/thing that is lost was complicated
- Loss of appetite, headaches, difficulty sleeping, lowered immune system, dull chest pain (this is often where the term ‘broken heart’ comes from)
- Constant and overwhelming, before dissipating into waves that come about only after having memories triggered – no matter how small
There are ways to honour the people, pets and even futures that we no longer have, in a way that reduces the impact on your every day, over time. Healthy grieving is an active process, and there are steps you can take to make it easier. Here’s how:
- Take your time: Grief does not happen on a timeline. Your feelings are valid and you should feel them in a way that makes you comfortable – with loved one/s, by yourself, or with a therapist.
- Cry it out: Crying is not weak. It is a healthy, cathartic release of overwhelming emotions. When you look at it like that, crying can help you to feel better, sooner. Let it out.
- Seek support: While grieving in your own way is important, you will find solace with those who are or have experienced it previously. Talk about how you feel and how those around you who experienced grief got through it.
- Honour and accept the loss: Don’t try to forget the person, pet or thing that you’re grieving. Instead, honour their memory by keeping a picture or memento of them close-by, raising a glass to them at a group celebration, or talking about their great qualities with loved ones. This can help you accept the finality of the loss, an important step in closure.
- Rewrite the future: If it’s a future you’re grieving, take the time to acknowledge what that may have looked like before making new plans. Don’t go too far in advance, and instead focus on what you would like your new future to look like now it has been shaped by loss. For example, maybe you won’t be going to Europe with your girlfriend next year any more, but perhaps you could put the money you saved into something just for you – a new video game console, perhaps?
- Know that the size of grief doesn’t change: How much you feel loss will not lessen over time. What changes is how you grow your life around the loss, to help you feel it less. Knowing this can help you manage any feelings of guilt that surround the grief.
Importantly, remember that showing signs of grief is not a weakness, it is a strength and a coping mechanism. And you can seek support from a counsellor to assist with your grief management if you feel this could help. Because after all, what is grief if not love persevering?
About the author: BARE Therapy is an Australian-based counselling service. Certified Practising Counsellor, Tammi Sue, enables clients to work through their ‘stucks’ to live better lives. Find out more – @bare__therapy.