can be one of the hardest things to talk about. It can stem from many things like losing your job, losing a loved one, the death of a loved one, a medical diagnosis, or the break -up of a relationship, amongst others. Can we overcome this feeling? and if not, can we learn to live with it?
Grief is an emotional response to loss; and usually we think of the death of a loved one, which I’ll address here, the break- up of a relationship, which can affect our behaviours, our coping with everyday life and the accompanying physical symptoms that can be experienced. Some, I’ve discovered through conversation, can learn to lock the feelings away, and others, like myself, seem to deal with grief head-on. Whatever coping mechanism we use, I imagine everything is fine for us alone. We are all individuals and deal with stuff as our own bodies dictate.
There is a common model that many people are familiar with called the *Kubler-Ross the five stages of grief, yet after a little research, I have discovered that there are other stages, that have been accepted by studies conducted. I can relate to the majority of these with a few minor exceptions. It is natural to feel shocked with loss, especially if it was sudden, and in order to protect ourselves from further pain we can experience disbelieve that the event has actually occurred. The physical pain and trauma can affect our eating, sleeping and work patterns. The stress can create anxiety related symptoms such as dizziness and sickness.
My father passed away suddenly from a heart attack which was unexpected and shocking. I spoke to him in the morning on the telephone. It was a Sunday morning, a sunny day to begin with and then it began to snow by mid-morning. I remember asking him, because I was visiting a friend in the morning, if he’d pop down to the shop and get me a Sunday paper. I returned at 11.30, and as I walked through the front door, my ex-husband rushed past me and said “Your mum has just called. Your dad has collapsed on the park”. My boys were 2 and 4 years of age, so I had to stay with them in the house, not knowing what was going on, feeling full of fear and panic. After the longest half hour of my life, my ex-husband came back to the house, took me by the hand into the kitchen and shut the door. And then I just knew! “I’ve got something to tell you….Your dad has passed away” and after that single moment my life changed forever.
The Stages of Grief
This apparently can affect people in different ways. It’s not denial in the sense that you are convinced that the death hasn’t happened, rather, your emotions are so raw, shocking and empty that you can’t seem to acknowledge that your loved one has actually died. You know they have, but it’s like you can’t quite believe they have. It’s a difficult emotion to describe, but I understand it. I remember thinking in the first few weeks that this can’t be happening; a bit like a day-dream. And the funeral felt surreal.
Guilt happens due to regrets about what was unsaid or something you wished you had done for that person. It comes from a desire to go back in time and do things differently. We can have these feelings of guilt because we can seem to feel unable to determine whether the death was somehow our fault, but these illogical thoughts are common. We are trying to make sense of what’s happened and the way grief can present itself can be complicated. It can be difficult for our minds to process.
I agree with this because I remember feeling guilty for asking my dad to buy me a newspaper on the last day of his life, where I should have told him that I loved him. Obviously though, looking back, this is illogical because if I knew he was going to die on that day I would have told him how much I loved him.
Anger is a real part of the grieving process. When you have experienced loss, feelings of disbelief can turn into anger and frustration. Common thoughts are “Why did this happen to me” and blaming yourself for not being able to change the situation or anger at another person for causing it; even blaming doctors for not doing enough. I felt extremely angry with my own situation.
I remember thinking: Why didn’t I notice my dad was ill? Why didn’t he tell me he felt unwell? Why did he die so young; he was only 57! He won’t see his grandchildren grow up, how can that be fair?
I didn’t feel a need to address the anger at the time; I felt it helped me to cope, how I have no idea! Sometimes though, it is good for people at this stage to seek some form of counselling, which is advised. I didn’t, I was happy to be angry.
Depression, Loneliness, Reflection
This is the stage where depression can set in because the grief can become harder to cope with. I don’t think that grief, after the initial few months gets easier, I think it gets worse. I felt depressed, isolated and unable to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t the only one going through the same feelings. I had two young children, so the constant busyness of my life was a life saver for me. It helped me to concentrate on them rather than myself. If loneliness becomes consuming then it’s a good idea to seek help from counselling or similar if you feel that that will help. Getting out and keeping busy is important too.
You will have opportunities throughout the coming months to use the breaks in your day, when you are resting, to reflect and come to terms with the situation. I reflected on my emotions and let them do what they wanted. I cried many tears when I was alone and remember feeling so much better for it.
Reconstruction and Working Through
As time moves on you work through your emotions and feelings and seem to get them into a normal perspective. Your life can slowly fall back into place with the over-consuming grief and it takes a back-seat now and again, so that you are able to concentrate for a time on the normal functions of life, like finances, work and recreation. Somehow it feels like you can work through things better and clearer, rather than having the heavy black cloud hanging over your head.
This is the final stage where you come to terms with your loss. You never ‘get over it’, but it doesn’t become as painful to talk about anymore. You accept that they have gone, but have a hope that maybe you’ll see them again, whatever your beliefs, which can provide comfort. For me the acceptance had taken me about 7 years which may be longer than normal, but I just couldn’t talk about my dad without becoming tearful and depressed. I am also an only child, so I wonder that if I did have siblings the grieving processes would have been different for me, but I’ll never know.
The order of your healing may be different to someone else’s and there is no set plan, but after having researched this, I do feel that the stages are near enough correct. My whole grieving process lasted 7 years, with the first 2 being extremely difficult. And no, you never ‘get over it’, you just seem to get used to them not being around. For the first few months after my dad had a heart attack and died, I felt frozen and as if someone had walked behind me and swept me off my feet (a bit like slipping on ice and falling backwards with a massive bang onto a concrete floor) that’s how it felt.
After the years have gone by I have come to terms with it in my own way.
I’ll listen to music he loved.
I’ll read a book or a phrase and automatically know he would have loved it too.
I’ll look through my photos of him.
I’ll watch the little snippet I have of him playing the guitar and singing at my home with the boys playing with their toys on the rug in front of him.
I’ll read a joke and know he’d laugh.
I can talk about his funny stories and his mad antics.
I’ll see a daffodil and think of him.
His favourite holiday place was a town in Wales called Barmouth, where as a family we spent many happy years together. This is the seaside town I need to visit as my last goal to finally come to terms with my own acceptance. I will walk along the beach, visit the church and walk the 3 miles up to the mountains and visit Caider Idris.
My dad passed away 12 years today, 18/03/2007.
* The model of grief was first introduced by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her 1969 book ‘On Death and Dying’. It was first developed by her as an understanding of the emotional states experienced by terminally ill patients.