The truth about grief and loss
Grief and loss are universal traumas, affecting most living things to some extent. However, for humans - who think that things need to be fixed, and for whom hope is the last to die - having to accept that there is no hope (that our loved ones won't return, that grief and loss can't be fixed but rather need to be felt and heard and the pain allowed) can inevitably be one of the hardest things, and we can feel so overwhelmed by the experience.
There is never a right or wrong way to grieve or to react; some people break down, crying and being inconsolable; some remain composed, and then they may crumble with time or with a trigger of another death reopening wounds and unresolved grief. Some people feel numb and worry, or feel guilty that they should be expressing more 'pain' if they cared...however, their reaction isn't a reflection of how much they loved or cared - it's an expression of how they are trying to cope. We are all individuals and we all react - we all cope, and we all express ourselves and feel things in different ways. It is normal and okay to be you.
Loss and grief isn't just about losing a loved one - it's about loss in general.
This can be grieving the loss of one's childhood; loss of identity or sense of self; a loss of security and trust in the world or people; loss of self-love or esteem; a loss of a limb; loss of youth, health, divorce and separations...heart breaks and break ups are a form of loss because we may never see that person again. or have them part of our life. Even when a loved one dies, we may be losing what it means to live life differently - the loss of who we might have been with that person, the loss of a shared life if we lose the love of our life. A loss, not just of our baby, but the chance of being a parent to our baby.
Animals are also part of our lives and who we love - they too are equally important and matter just as much. The unconditional love of a pet animal is precious.
If we have lost a loved one through suicide, we are left with a sense of abandonment and rejection, and it can come with feelings of guilt or blame that we should have noticed, done more, could have stopped it. This complicates grieving, just like when sudden death occurs - one can never be truly ready, and bereavement is difficult.
At times, death can be of comfort if we knew that the person was in so much pain and living was painful and unpleasant. If someone who has hurt us dies, we may feel relief and a sense of freedom that this person is no longer alive to hurt us or threaten us.
Psychologist Susan David writes that our cultural dialogue is fundamentally avoidant. This can be seen by the unhelpful comments others might offer: "At least they lived to be old"; time will heal"...people are uncomfortable with pain, and some may distance themselves from the person, suffering leaving them in greater pain and isolation. Our support network is so vital in getting through grief.
Author Megan Davis points out in her book: It's okay not to be okay. We live in a culture that does not understand grief - take this into consideration. No wonder it can all feel so frightening and overwhelming. She states that unhelpful comments are really telling us to stop feeling so bad, therefore silencing our pain and our grief and not giving us the space and support needed.
She continues to say: "Grief is not a problem to be solved. It isn't 'wrong', and it can't be 'fixed'. It isn't an illness to be cured".
Do not feel pressured into "healing" or "moving on" - do not pressure yourself. Give yourself the love and compassion that you need. Empathy drives connection; it is important to receive this and not sympathy.
Empathy and sympathy differ.
Empathy is walking in another's shoes, entering their world from their frame of reference; it's feeling with them, understanding their emotions and thoughts and meaning to things. It drives connection.
Sympathy is feeling sorry for the plight of another. It is a feeling of discomfort from the distress of others; it's disconnection, seeing things from our own frame of reference. It can often feel patronising, and generates pity towards another. While pity makes a victim of the sufferer, empathy empowers them: "I have sense of your world - you are not alone, and we will go through this together".
Sympathy can also be a feeling of care and concern for someone close, wanting to see them happier or better off, but lacks that real understanding and connection. It's more to do with that uncomfortable feeling we are getting rather than it being about the other person and able to sit with them in their pain and suffering.
Grief and loss can generate many emotions: anger, sadness, numbness, hurt...and lead to things such as feeling anxious, depressed, difficulty sleeping or sleeping to much, PTSD, nightmares, lack of appetite, low energy, avoidance behaviours that can lead to addictions or isolation. Self-care and kindness to self are so important.
There is no specific time for grief or loss - it is always with us. We just get better at managing our pain, and the world around us gets bigger so that we are no longer all-consumed by that sense of loss. People who have physically died live on in our hearts, and it's when we stop remembering them or push memories away that they die fully. As Megan Devine states: "It's okay not to be okay".
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About Antonella Zottola
Antonella Zottola is a qualified integrative MBCAP counsellor. Antonella's private practise is held in Sale and is called Rising Phoenix. Antonella also has a PGCE and teaches counselling; in addition she gave a presentation held by the BACP on domestic violence. She is in the process of writing a book(s) and writes many articles.