Loss and Grief - the most extraordinary of ordinary experiences.
Have you ever lost anything important? Of course you have - even if only by mislaying a wallet or purse, a passport or set of keys. What thoughts and emotions do you go through? At first you don't quite believe that precious thing has definitely gone. You search for it - often in the same few places - many times before you accept that it really isn't there.
Then maybe you are angry, or upset. You ruminate on whose fault it is that its lost, or start in on the "if onlys" - "if only I'd put it away properly...", " if only I'd zipped up my bag...." or the bargaining with fate - "if I find it I'll never be untidy/get drunk/shout at my partner again".
These are grief reactions. We experience them even when we lose a "thing" of moderate importance (money, keys and passports can be replaced even if that causes a lot of inconvenience). The same process is gone through when we lose someone we love - whether through bereavement or relationship break-up. Its also the same emotional process for losing a job, or acquiring a major health problem or disability.
But just because its so common and applies to all losses both major and minor, doesn't make it any less devastating and bewildering. In fact I sometimes refer to grief as "ordinary madness" - its very ordinary in that we all experience it many times in our lives, yet in its worst manifestations it can feel very like madness.
This is because we have very little control over the range of feelings and how and when they turn up. It used to be said that grief had certain stages - and its true that shock and disbelief are usually the first things we go through - but after that it can be a bit of a free for all. We can be angry one minute, sad the next, in denial a day later and the just when we thought we were beginning to adjust and move on, up pops a bubble of sadness or a burst of anger again.
And yet we do get "better" over time. A loss is sometimes permanent in that we can't bring back or replace what (or who) has gone, yet we do become more accustomed and reconciled to life after that loss. Talking can help, sharing the feelings with someone who is really listening and paying attention - whether that someone is a personal friend or relative or a professional. We are social creatures and this kind of sharing of troubles is natural and helps us to heal. Think back to that small loss - didn't you feel better when you'd shared your frustrations about the missing keys or passport?
But some losses are bigger and harder to move on from. I happen to think that the thoughts and emotions we have during a grief experience are all functional to us in some way in managing that loss. And just as we are social animals, we are also problem-solving animals - these things are in our hard-wiring. Understanding the process of grief can be very helpful in allowing us to tolerate the difficult feelings while they last. After all, if we felt nothing when we went through loss, wouldn't that mean that the lost "thing" wasn't really that important to us in the first place?
Grief is natural. Grief is human. Grief may feel like madness but it isn't. If you are experiencing loss, be kind to yourself and seek the support and help that you need whether from your nearest and dearest or from someone outside your usual circle. Time really can heal, and sharing helps too.
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- How to help someone who is bereaved
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