It’s not just bereavement that brings grief. Any kind of loss or trauma will very likely take a person into the process of grief. Having been through some stuff myself, and watched others going through things, grief is not an experience that makes any kind of sense, but it is a process. So, I offer these words in the hopes that they are helpful to others who find themselves facing hard times.
The first challenge grief creates is that it doesn’t always kick in immediately after the event. If there’s a great deal of stress around the loss or trauma, we may not be able to grieve over what has happened – feeling like you are the person who must hold a family together after a loss, or being so deep in crisis there is no time to deal with emotions, would be two obvious causes of this. Grief is pushed aside. When this happens, the need to go through the process doesn’t actually go away. At some point, it comes back. That could take days, or years, and it’s not entirely predictable. Delaying the grieving process often makes it a lot harder to go through, and because delayed grief makes even less sense to onlookers, it can reduce the available support for the sufferer. In the meantime, the person who needs to grieve can find themselves numb, or otherwise emotionally troubled – depression may occur, feelings of helplessness and other expressions of suppressed distress.
Working through grief is a painful process. It’s very tempting to want to resist that pain, but doing so makes it worse. Recognising that it is a process and that it needs going through, make it easier to handle. There is a far side, and things do change. In the meantime it is necessary to mourn what has been lost, to weep and howl where necessary, and to adjust to whatever change trauma or distress has created.
It’s not unusual for it to take a while for loss to sink in. The loss of a home, a job, a friend… or anything that connects you in some way, can trigger a grief process. It’s usually once the mayhem created by the loss is over that the grief process begins. Grieving is something that needs quiet, and often privacy and the sense of available time. It’s not something that can happen while a crisis is in full swing. So sometimes it’s when everything seems to be ok and stable again that the pain truly kicks in – which can be disorientating. But it is fairly normal, and not a thing to fear.
Once the grieving process begins, it comes in waves. In the first days after bereavement, I’ve spent more time crying than not. Then it eases, the raw pain becoming intermittent, until by slow degrees something a bit more like ‘normal’ returns. Sometimes the grief returns, triggered perhaps by Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, days that carry resonance, objects that bring back memories. And again, there is nothing to do but accept this process and allow yourself the space to go through it. In the longer term, working with the process of grief is far less painful.
One of the few things that reliably seems to help, is to tell stories. If you’ve lost a person, talk about them – you don’t need a wake to do that, although gathering together to share memories is a good thing. Find someone who will listen, and speak of what happened – it works for trauma too. If all else fails and there is no one to hear you, write it down, that too brings relief. It is in the making of stories that we get some sense of control over our lives, and in the sharing of them we reinforce bonds of community. In times of grief and pain, stories bring healing and help people move forward. It may seem like burdening others, but sharing grief is a good thing, it deepens relationships, and it means when that other person’s time comes to face something, they will know what to do – they will know to talk, and that others can understand what is happening to them.