Overcoming Grief, Loss & Bereavement
Loss naturally brings stress and turmoil. It is a painful process. I hope to offer some ideas that may help, so please read on.
The tragedy of life is that everything we hold dear and precious, is not here to stay. That which gives the most pleasure, joy and happiness also holds the seeds for the most pain and hurt when it departs. I'm not saying you should step away from all of this - rather, it has to be embraced, in it's totality. It's not what you 'resist', but how you 'persist' that counts. It's about learning to integrate with the comings and goings, the ups and downs, the profits and losses of life...and, yes, of death.
Letting go is not a choice. No matter how hard you try to convince or fight for someone to stay, ultimately you have little, if any control. What you are left feeling may be the culmination of a debilitating illness, advanced years, suicide or even some tragic accident. It hurts, and life can seem very dark.
Such losses seldom make sense. If we were devout, we may have prayed sincerely. In any case, we are likely to have tried our best within our given resources - so what happened? Why did it happen? How will I cope now? These questions can plague the mind to the point of taking one into a state of deep anxiety, depression and sometimes both.
Grief is natural, when loss and letting go is pushed upon us. We may need to be alone, we may need lots of company, we may be unable to stop crying and we certainly may struggle to eat, sleep or find any pleasure in the life we have left. We may move through cycles of sadness, anger, protest and short-lived calm. In the first few weeks and months of loss, this is to be expected. However, it becomes more complicated if the grieving continues years down the line.
How to HeLP
1 Much pain comes from not accepting what has happened, and rather rejecting it. You must begin with identifying and accepting what is being felt, without judgement, and certainly without rejecting what you feel. If you can pinpoint the feelings, consider where these feelings come from, and why they are being felt. They may be about love, memories or regrets. Write the ideas down if this helps, so that they are not acting upon you outside of your awareness.
2 Be kind, compassionate and patient with yourself. Acceptance will only come in it's own time - you, and no-one else can push it. Trust that it will come, and wait for it. You won't be able to grasp it prematurely. It may need heartache, tears and frustrations to be expressed, before it can come into your life. Allow the feelings to flow, but within a contained space. Here's how....
3 Make a space in your home, preferably away from your bedroom or daily living space, where you keep items, photos and belongings of the person you have lost. If you do not have such a space, make a drawer, memory book, or memory box. Then give yourself a time that you will spend with these memories, perhaps once every other day, or once or twice a week. If you feel it needs to be once or more a day to begin that is ok, but gradually increase the gaps. Feel what you need to in this time - I'd suggest no more than 45mins to 1 hour, or less. Then try to get on with other things, knowing that these feelings and memories are there and you will return to them.
4 After these times with your memories and feelings, try to plan some activity that brings you calm, solace or happiness. It may be going for a run or walk, having a bath, doing some gardening or reading a favourite book. It may even be watching some good television, or arranging to meet a friend for coffee or lunch. Being with nature, and looking up at the sky, can enlarge the scope of our thoughts and minds, so that we are not so stuck or constrained.
5 Don't keep thoughts and feelings locked inside. Rather, try to share them little by little, at your own pace and with people you trust. Keeping strong feelings inside is a recipe for unresolved grief. Tell the story of what happened, and the story of the person you have lost. Who were they, why did you love them so? If there is no-one else, write your stories down. The act of expressing feelings and thoughts creates a connection, but also a distance from them. Both processes are key.
6 If you are holding guilt or regret, these are the most corrosive emotional feelings a human can carry. They strangle the very life and strength from a person. Talk about the guilt with someone you trust. They may need to help you accept that there were some things you could have done differently, because not all helpful responses are about challenging what you think and feel. However, it is almost certain that the guilt and regret will be magnified, and someone else will be able to help you regain perspective, and help you to be fair and reasonable with yourself.
7 Refuse also to allow anxiety, depression or hopelessness to become the controlling influences of your life. I know it's easy to say, but please work on it. These feelings are unwelcome guests, who need to stick around temporarily, but don't let them outstay their welcome.
8 An important key to dealing with loss and misfortune is understanding there are limits to your sphere of influence. It is not necessarily the case that you should have done more, been stronger or changed the course of events leading up to the loss. It is important to remember that the world can't run by your expectations or plans - you can't always have what you want, avoid what you dislike, or create outcomes you would wish for. You need to remind yourself that nothing is permanent, and all things will pass, run out or expire in their time. This is after all, the law of nature, and the fundamental principle of the universe.
9. Don't lose sight of the good that you still have in your life, and try to be thankful for it. Be appreciative of the time you had, and the fact that these memories are to be treasured. Ask yourself what the departed person would like for you - what would be their wish and prayer, for their beloved? Receive these sentiments as a gift, or invitation, and try to live them.
10 If you find it a struggle to reconnect with your internal resources to manage how you feel, and it's difficult to find people you can trust in your support network, don't be embarrassed to seek professional help. There are sound psychological approaches to helping with depression, anxiety and grief. The Samaritans are often the easiest port of call - a quick phone call away. CRUSE is a specialist bereavement charity who help many thousands of people each year. Your GP can also assist, although think with him/her about ways to be helped that may not require medication and anti-depressants. Medication without talking therapy, tends to have poor outcomes than when they are combined.
Dr Bobby Sura Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist
Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He works both in the public (NHS) and private sector, being the proprietor of Clinical Psychology Direct and Partner for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Dr Sura is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and
Association of Family Therapy (AFT).