mental wellness

Time heals all wounds… except grief

TRIGGER WARNING: death and loss

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Kubler-Ross model of Grief:

  1. Denial and isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These stages are not linear and not everyone goes through all the stages. It is, however, a useful model, especially if the emotions you are experiencing during your period of grief are confusing. And grief is confusing and difficult, and it helps to understand that where you are right now, is not where you will be forever.

“You don’t get over it, you get through it. It doesn’t get better, it gets different”

Grieving the dead

I recently lost a friend. She was young, and while she was sick for a while, when she did eventually leave this earth, it was still a shock. I felt this incredible sadness and questioning, of why her, why now? I had never lost a friend before, and I didn’t know what to do with my feelings of grief.

When she passed away, what happened was that the feeling of loss that I experienced for everyone I’ve ever lost, came rushing back. It was like I was losing them all over again. My grandmothers, my father-in-law, my uncle, my cousin. I was grieving for about 6 people all at once. I thought I’d moved on and found a way to manage the grief of losing them.

But what I’ve realized is that that is not how grief works. When it comes to grief, you will always feel a sadness and loneliness for the person that you’ve lost. And the only thing that changes over time, is that you build a different life from the one you imagined. Life doesn’t get better, it gets different. You learn to manage the feelings of loss whenever you think of them.

Grief comes in waves, and even if you’ve reached a stage of acceptance, you’ll hear a song on the radio that reminds you of that person, and find yourself crying in your car 5 years after your loved on passed on. It doesn’t mean that you’ve regressed, or that you haven’t really accepted the loss. It just means you loved them, and you miss them. And that is ok.

Even though I’d lost my grandmother in 2009, when I got married in 2013, I felt a sense of sadness on the day, when I thought about how much fun I would be having with her on the dance floor. That is grief. It gets you in those moments when you least expect it. And that feeling of loss hits you almost like it did the moment you realized they would no longer be a part of your life.

And that is ok. A quote I read recently said that it’s not the passage of time that is healing, but what you are doing in that time that heals. So grieve your loved ones, miss them, but also, live the life your dreams. It doesn’t mean that you’re “over them” or that you’ve forgotten them. So mourn, cry, do whatever you need to do. But also get up, and live your life.

Grieving the living

Sometimes, we go through certain experiences which necessitate that we need to separate ourselves from someone who is still alive, because it is too harmful to be in their company. This could be due to trauma, harmful relationships, dangerous relationships, many different things. But you need to be apart from them.

You need to go through the grieving process, and acknowledge that that person is no longer in your life. And you need to feel sadness, and loss, and eventually get to acceptance in the Kubler-Ross model, just like you would if that person had passed on.

And it’s ok. Even if it’s a parent. Society may tell you that you cannot cut yourself off from family, or that you cannot be estranged from your mother because she gave birth to you. But what if the woman who gave birth to you has done nothing but harm you since giving birth to you?

You need to assess which option is healthier for you physically, emotionally, psychologically: to have them in your life, or to be estranged from them. You need to accept that some people are too broken to change, and then you will need to grieve the loss of them in your life.

Sometimes, someone close to you may suffer illness, or disability and they change in ways that you cannot reconcile. You will need to mourn the loss of who they were before, or what they were able to do or to be. And then come to a place of acceptance for who they are now, and how your life together may change.

But just like grieving the dead, grieve this person, or people, and go through the motions of mourning and loss, and then live your life, in a way that makes you happy. Do the things you need to do, to be able to heal in the way that you need to.

Grieving the intangibles

Sometimes, we grieve things like loss of a career, loss of a family home, loss of a limb or loss of a marriage. And you have to go through the same process. In the same way as when you lose a person, and it changes you forever, losing intangible things can have the same effect.

And in the same way, go through the Kubler-Ross stages of Grief, because your life has changed. And you need to acknowledge how it is impacting your emotional state. And to get to a place of acceptance, of your new life, and how it is different.

And just as you would focus on living your life without a person in your life, and how different your life is without them, when you are mourning something intangible, you need to focus on living your different life, whether it is with a new career, or new place, or new way of being.

Sometimes, women who have children feel a sense of loss for their pre-children life. And you may feel guilty, but it’s really ok. Mourn your old life though, go through the Kubler-Ross stages so that you can get to a place of acceptance. What is important is to remember is to accept your new life, and then also focus on living your new life as a mom. Even though it is hard, and different and everything changes: your body, your friendships, your relationship.

Just like when we are mourning people, we need to remember that, you stop and mourn, and then you need to live your new life. In this new way. It’s important for your healing and sense of self.

*   *   *

The thing about grief though. It’s never over. Because you never stop loving. It comes over you in waves. A person could be gone for years and then you smell their perfume, hear their favourite song, see an old photo, and it all comes rushing back. The memories, the sadness.

What grief has taught me though, is to live my life. That life is short. And that tomorrow is never promised. And while these may sound like clichés, truly living a life of meaning is not that easy, but every day I endeavour to try.

“Grief, after the initial shock of loss, comes the waves… When you’re driving alone in your car, while you’re doing the dishes, while you’re getting ready for work… all of a sudden it hits you – how so very much you miss someone, and your breath catches, and your tears flow, and the sadness is so great that it’s physically painful” – a part of me is missing | The Mighty

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