Grief. What can we do about it?

The present COVID situation has meant that many people have lost loved ones. So we are distraught with grief and wondering what we can do about it and how we can cope. Also our amazing emergency workers and carers have had to stand by and watch the unfortunate passing of so many people.

So Grief is something that many of us are suffering and coming to terms with.

Firstly and very importantly, I have to say that grief is perfectly normal, and it is completely natural and correct to feel grief. Even feeling grief for people we don’t know. It is a deep anguish that we really need to express and release so that we can remember and honour the dead, but at the same time move on with our own lives.

Grief can also affect us when a relationship ends, or we lose a job. It can happen whenever we lose something that is dear to us.

The comfort of ritual

Many of our funeral traditions have evolved to help us cope with loss. The hearse, the funeral service, the speeches of family and friends, the wake, and finally the headstone or memorial are there for a reason. They allow us to find comfort, to remember and to talk.

Let me give you my own personal example. In 2010, my father died due to series of mistakes made during his operation. My parents have always been very practical and quite cynical about what they see as the ostentatious waste of money having a funeral. So, following the wishes of my mother, we had a 15-minute funeral service, and my dad’s ashes were scattered on the roses at the crematorium. No headstone, no plaque on a wall, nothing. My mother is happy with that. But I am not, so I have had to create my own focus for honouring my father, and it’s not been easy.

The Grief Cycle

Therapists tend to get involved when a person just can’t move through their grief and come out the other side. You can get trapped in grief, it can lead to anger issues and depression if that happens.

The Grief Cycle are the steps and series of emotions that you need to go through to find resolution. If you research the Grief Cycle, you will discover there are several variations of it. Some experts even say that the Grief Cycle is not accurate.

So in very broad terms, here is my summary of the key phases in time order:

  • Shock and denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Acceptance, readjustment, honouring, release

The shock and denial phase may not happen if the death is expected, or if you have been with your loved one when they passed.

Anger is a very powerful response and we can be angry for many reasons. It’s not always a negative response because sometimes anger can be controlled and used to fuel a drive to make changes, or to try to prevent others going through what you have gone through.

Depression is understandable, it doesn’t always happen to us, but it can become a powerful weight that holds us back.

So perhaps we may need professional help to get to the final phase of acceptance, getting back to normal, and being able to honour and remember those we have lost without feeling enormous pain.

By the way, you may hear someone say that you never get back to normal. That is perfectly correct, because something has happened that can’t be changed.

The reality of change

One of our biggest causes of anxiety, fear, grief and even anger is that we live in a world where we have the illusion that we can control everything. We can’t. We want the world to stay the same. It won’t. Change is inevitable. In fact it’s constant, we just don’t tend to see it, but small changes happen every day.

This illusion has got worse in recent years because we have grown up with the delusion that technology can solve anything. We live in a world of bright lights, where everything is clean, everything organised, and where there are constant advances in knowledge and technology. We believe in Progress.

This world view means that we have become increasingly isolated from the reality of darkness, of horrible things randomly happening, of old age and death. We have lost touch with the cycle of life, we know there is light and dark, but we just want the light, we want the nice stuff and we don’t want the dark.

Suggestions to move on:

So how can we reach a level of acceptance when it comes to grief?

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Let your grief out. It is perfectly OK to cry, shout, scream, do whatever you need to do.
  2. Talk to family and friends and don’t be afraid to express how you really feel.
  3. If you can, keep a few or even just one physical memento that reminds you of a loved one. It may help you focus your thoughts on happy memories.
  4. Set times and days to remember them, maybe birthdays, Christmas, and anniversaries. Setting days in the diary means that you can respect them at the appropriate times and get on with living in between.
  5. Try to achieve what would make them proud.
  6. Ask yourself- what would they want me to do? Would they want you to sit around grieving, or would they want you to get on with your life?
  7. If you have a religion and a support circle, use it. If friends and family offer to help, take them up on the offer. You are not alone.
  8. Control what you can by making a will. Make sure your family know where all your personal files are so they don’t have the stress of looking for them. Plan your funeral and talk to your family about what you want. In other words, get it all discussed and organised openly because when someone dies, life can be incredibly stressful for the family if they can’t find important information. Be kind and make it as stress-free for them as you can.
  9. Also, sort out your stuff. 95% of all the things that are valuable to us just become skip-fillers when we are gone. Research ‘swedish death cleaning’, it’s very interesting and psychologically very positive.

Final message: Try not to bottle-up your grief. It’s very British but it’s not helpful. Let it out, and it will pass, but accept that a small part of it might not, and that’s OK.

If you want to read a description of how I helped one client with long-term grief, you will find it here:

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