Death is never an easy subject to talk about, especially if it is the loss of a loved one. But unfortunately, it’s a fact of life and I believe it is important to understand grief and the effects of loss so that we can cope better and more importantly support others who are going through it.
I recently attended a workshop about grief recovery and I was surprised at what I learnt. So, I am going to share my learnings in the hope that it gives people a better understanding of the subject and helps people recover.
The workshop was led by Ingrid Massie, an advanced grief recovery specialist. Apparently, it is a common problem for people to get consumed by grief to the point where they need an expert to help them get through it. Apparently there aren’t very many of these specialists in the UK so I will leave her details at the end if you would like to get in contact with her.
What is grief?
There are lots of definitions out there but the one that resonates with me most is the following:
“Grief is the normal and natural reaction to a significant emotional loss of any kind”.
Notice that the quote above is not referring specifically to death. One of the most interesting things I learnt was that grief can occur when we experience a wide range of situations or circumstances. We were given over 40 examples in the workshop. Here are some of the most common:
Death, divorce, retirement, moving, loss of Pet, financial change, redundancy, end of addiction, kids leaving home, loss of health, loss of faith, loss of independence, loss of trust and loss of status.
The stages of grief:
Many articles and blogs talk about the 5 stages of grief also known as the Kübler-Ross model. This is based on the work done by a psychiatrist called Elisabeth Kubler Ross and was first outlined in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. The stages she outlined are as follows in chronological order:
Denial – anger – bargaining – depression – acceptance.
What most people don’t know is that in reality there are no stages or rules – all grief is as unique as the relationship or loss experienced. Even Elisabeth Kubler Ross admitted later in her life that the stages are not a linear and predictable progression, and that she regretted writing them in a way that was misunderstood.
The myths about Grief:
- Keep busy – the idea that a person should keep busy so that they aren’t thinking about it is a very unhealthy way of dealing with it. This is because they aren’t allowing themselves to grieve. In some cases, people spend the rest of their lives avoiding it and never allow themselves a chance to morn for their loss.
- Be strong – either the griever is asked or makes a decision to be strong for others. For example, a parent who loses their partner decides that they have to be strong for their children. This means that the person being strong has to hide or repress their emotions. This may be necessary at times, but never allowing ourselves to be emotionally honest inhibits our ability to heal in the long term.
- Replace the loss – this is common when we lose a pet, have a miscarriage or experience a breakup. Here are some common phrases people say:
“We’ll get you another dog”
“It’s ok you can have another baby”
“There are plenty more fish in the sea”
If we replace the loss without allowing ourselves a chance to grieve, we may not be ready to fully open our hearts to the new relationship or be starting it for the wrong reason.
- Time heals – time itself does not heal. Time is an abstract concept, a unit of measurement that has no healing power. As already mentioned, some people may go an entire lifetime without getting over a loss. It is our learnings and actions taken over time that lead to healing.
- Grieve alone – The idea that it is best to grieve in private or that we should automatically leave the room if someone starts to cry to give them space sends out a message to children that feelings should be hidden or kept to themselves.
STERBs – Short-term energy-relieving behaviour:
As the name suggests these are behaviours that people tend to resort to when they have experienced some kind of loss. Many of these activities are not necessarily bad or unhealthy, but people that are using them as a way to repress their grieving thoughts and emotions can end up becoming addicted. Here are some examples of common STERBs:
Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, food, exercise, shopping, TV/movies, sex, cleaning, workaholism, charity work, self-harm, gambling and holidays.
These may make you feel better in the short term but your grief will keep trying to resurface until you can’t avoid it any longer. Eventually, this could result in a more serious mental or physical health condition.
We aren’t prepared to deal with loss:
- People don’t know what to say.
- People are afraid of other people’s feelings (and often their own).
- Many people can’t even say the word death let alone talk about it.
- People intentionally avoid people who are grieving.
- Most of the reactions and comments that people grieving receive are unhelpful or imply that they shouldn’t deal with their feelings.
- People tend to make comparisons to their own loss when grief is unique.
Here are the top 5 examples of what NOT to say to someone who is grieving:
- I know how you feel (how could you possibly know when they probably don’t know).
- Be grateful you had them as long as you did. (Not helpful and very insensitive).
- You’ll find someone else. (Maybe but that is the last thing they want to think about now).
- They’re in a better place or their struggle is over. (They may not be religious or want to hear that when all they want is their loved one back).
- So, he/she won’t be needing those golf clubs, or other possession. (Hopefully no explanation needed!)
Good things to say to someone who is grieving:
- “I can’t imagine how it’s been for you…”
- “What happened?” Give then a chance to tell their story without interrupting or offering advice, just listen and empathise.
- “I don’t know what to say…” This is often the best thing to say when there is really nothing to say.
- “I am so sorry for your loss…”
- “So, what is happening with you today?” Let them talk if they want to and just listen.
If you are grieving:
As already mentioned, every loss is as unique as the person or situation that is no longer with us. The key message is to allow yourself to feel it. As hard as this may be you need to acknowledge your loss and all of the emotions that come with it in order to heal and get complete with it. If you push it away or repress it, it can lead to a much bigger problem in the long term.
If you are experiencing some kind of unresolved grief there are specialists who can help you. Here is a link to the grief recovery method website https://www.griefrecoverymethod.co.uk/ If you live in Surrey or the southeast of England you can contact Ingrid Massie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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