Grief is a silent sickness. If I broke my leg, you would tell me to rest until it healed. A broken heart needs rest too, but we forget that don’t we? If we can’t see the break, we think we’re fine. Except sometimes we’re not fine.
Surprised by grief
I’ve read a lot about grief. I know all the stages, and how long each one should last. I know how to cope with grief and how not to cope with grief. I saw a counsellor for nearly a year and she focussed heavily on preparing me for how unpredictable grief would be. Yet it still takes me completely by surprise.
Last night I was sat in a busy restaurant, surrounded by happy people, having a wonderful time celebrating the birthday of a dear friend. And then I was hit by a train. Obviously, not a real train – but that is how I can best describe the suddenness and shock of the wall of grief that hit me. My head started throbbing, I felt sick, I was blacking out and I felt an overwhelming urge to sob. Not an ideal birthday present for my friend. I left as quickly as I could and sat in the toilets, trying to steady my breathing and calm my nerves. My friends found me over half an hour later, still barely able to speak, with tears rolling down my face.
It wasn’t an appropriate time for grief. Maybe some people at the meal thought it was rude or strange of me to just leave. Perhaps they thought I had spoiled a part of the evening. But I can’t control it. The reality is, it’s never an appropriate time for grief. The problem is, if you don’t make time and space to grieve consciously, it eventually forces its way into your consciousness and hits you right when you’re not expecting it. Like a train that you don’t see coming, smacking into you at 100mph.
We live and we learn
We live and we learn is one of my favourite sayings. I dwell far too much on my failures and shortcomings, and try as much as I can to combat that by reframing every mistake as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s vital as I grieve to learn from each experience – I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to predict my ‘train days’ as I call them, but I might be able to cope with them better. One thing I learnt from last night was that I need to slow down, take time out, and not be so busy all the time. However happy I am when I’m busy, I am not focussing on my healing. You’d scold me if I broke my leg and then ran for a bus – we need to start treating grief the same.
If you know someone who is grieving, perhaps you should ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they have made time to grieve recently. A gentle reminder that it is important for them to leave time in their life to remember the person they lost could really make a difference to their healing process. My wonderful counsellor, to whom I owe an enormous amount, taught me that as well as breaking my heart, losing mum had created chaos for my brain. I’ve always been an over-thinker, had an active imagination, and just generally worked my brain hard. To lose my mum was one thing too many for my already exhausted brain to process. If I am to grieve healthily, I occasionally need to completely clear my head and give my brain some time to cope with the loss.
The next train
I have no idea when the next train will hit me. It could be days, weeks or even months. It depends on an unlimited number of factors – all I know is that it will definitely happen again. However, there are ways to protect myself against the next impact – one of which is to properly focus on my healing and prioritising it above everything else. That is something that I am going to be concentrating on for a while, and if you’ve lost someone close to you recently, I challenge you to do the same. It’s essential if we are going to grieve healthily and safely.
Starting Let’s Talk About Loss has been the hardest thing I have ever done in many ways, not least because of the tragic nature of the stories I am being sent from so many wonderful people. But it is also the best thing I have ever done, because it is starting to change the way we think and talk about loss. This post has been brutally honest, but that is so important for dealing with death better and making it less of a taboo subject. If we are going to heal, we need to talk.
If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s help each other – let’s talk about loss.