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  • samreastwood

Grief: a small word for big feelings

I've had a couple of bereavements in my family recently. They've both felt different, both impacting me in ways expected and not, and it feels like a real process of coming to terms with and accepting that those people will no longer be part of our lives, which will take some time. It got me thinking about some other types of grief I have either personally experienced or witnessed with clients, friends and family. It is accepted that if a person we care for dies, that there will be a period of mourning for that person, and that is what we generally think of when we think about grief and bereavement. But loss of any kind can bring a sense of heartache, despair and anguish. I'm not talking about when you lose your keys or can't find your phone charger, but those times when life changes in a way that you weren't prepared for.


The loss of my marriage was a big one for me. I grieved for lots of things in that period. For my children, who would not have the life I had envisaged for them. For myself, that the future that had seemed so certain that had been pulled out from under me. With the sadness of what had been taken away came a sense of failure, fear for the future and a loss of my sense of self. Who was I if I wasn't a wife? How did I define myself now? What label do I use? Divorced, single mother felt like a shameful fit, and I grieved for the loss of a word to describe myself as part of something that society (and I, with my introjected values) found acceptable. I felt untethered, and had to find new things to anchor myself to; family, friends, work and study. I see these feelings again and again with bereaved clients. It goes far beyond who, or what is now missing. It's a whole shift in your reality, and it's as much about the future as what's passed. It can be hard to face, and leaves some people stuck in their grief as they struggle with feelings of guilt for moving on, when the other person should be moving on with them.


The next kicker was the loss of physical health. I became unwell with a chronic illness, fibromyalgia. With that came another shift in my sense of self. As active person intent on filling every hour , to suddenly be struggling to even get out of bed left me with grief for the person I had been. I felt huge regret and sadness that I hadn't listened to my body's warning signs sooner. There was shock and disbelief that this wasn't just a temporary ailment, and loneliness as it left me excluded from many of my usual activities with friends. Again, I had to redefine myself and face an uncertain future. The sense of loss of my physical health was even harder, because with it came a loss of control and a feeling that my body had betrayed me. I had to learn new ways to trust what it was telling me, and eventually I learnt that it was giving me messages about my internal state that I had been ignoring for too, too long. It stopped whispering that I needed to slow down and started flattening me instead. I had a lot of therapy which helped me to process this huge loss as well as learn to hear the whispers before they dial back up to a scream, and trust that my body knows best. My experience is that the grief around what I 'should' have done differently goes on, but it isn't consuming anymore, and only really hits on the harder days.


These are a couple of my experiences which may or may not resonate with you, but there are lots of other life changes that can bring feelings of grief. Not all of them are negative experiences as a a whole but can still give a sense of loss of who we once were or how life had been, or even how life should have been. Some examples might be:-


  • Loss of a friendship

  • Not being able to become a parent

  • Becoming a parent - the guilt around the grief makes this a particularly tricky one

  • Changing jobs, or being made redundant

  • Removing toxic people - the loss of who we thought they were and meant to us

  • Loss of community - for example by moving house

  • A shift in religious or ethical beliefs - also links to loss of community

  • Loss of the self we knew before a traumatic event

  • Grief for something we should have had - particularly when growing up in abusive families

  • Pre-emptive or anticipatory grief - when we know that loss is coming (i.e. if you or a loved one is terminally ill).


Really, 'grief' is a catch-all word that encompasses many feelings. Sorrow, regret, remorse, worry, shock, loneliness, guilt, pain, agony, despair and disbelief are all big feelings that come with grief. In the beginning they can be overwhelming and all encompassing. It feels raw, like a wound that will never heal. The slightest knock can send us back into a spin and it feels new all over again. Over time these feelings start to lose their sting. Still there, but softer round the edges. To start with the sharp bits will poke into us frequently, and the hurt will still be there as it ever was. Time allows the sharp bits to blunt and love cushions us from the pain. This isn't a linear process. Healing takes time and setbacks happen. For some people it seems easier than others, for some losses the grief doesn't kick in until way after the event, which can feel confusing and frightening. For many people, time, keeping connected with others who share the loss and also with others that aren't (who can provide distraction) and talking are enough to get them through. If you feel stuck in your grief and need to talk to someone, therapy is a good way forward. You can also check to see if there are any support groups in your area or online for your particular type of loss. Cruse (cruse.org.uk) are a good starting point for bereavement, for example. Whatever happens, the best healing comes through connection with others. So don't be alone, reach out for support from wherever feels safest to you.


Sam x




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