For this first personal post that I’m writing, I thought I’d start with a topic that is very close to my heart…dealing with loss.
When I was seventeen, my mum passed away from cancer and ever since, my family and I have been coming to terms with loss and how to live with it. For people who haven’t lost a loved one, I imagine there are two main perceptions of what it’s like. The first, the you’ll never be able to be happy again, or the second, that you’ll forget about it and move on at some point. Neither are the case.
My understanding of loss is that it’s like a constant companion who you become less aware of over time. When the grief of loss is still fresh you can sense it all the time but then as the years pass (and I do agree with the saying that time heals all wounds) you become less aware of it. There will be times when it springs up out of the blue but a lot of the time it’s just another part of your life that doesn’t consume you any longer.
Here are some of the ways that I’ve come to terms with loss over the years and found ways to deal with it.
Don’t fight your feelings
One of the hardest things I’ve found with dealing with loss and grief, is being at peace with what I’m feeling. For me, I experienced grief as a general feeling of flatness and greyness. I felt like I lacked any strong emotions at all and I hated the feeling. I fought it as hard as I could and that obviously made it worse.
I saw a counsellor for a few years and she gave me the brilliant advice to just “be” with my feelings. Instead of trying to control your emotions, she said, just allow yourself to experience them. That’s the only way you’ll have a chance of working through them.
Deal with loss in your own way
It can be confusing to know how to deal with loss and I found that I’d use movies and other people’s experiences of it as a guideline for how I should be responding to it. When you lose a loved one you’re obviously meant to be upset and you should cry lots and you should have a really sad funeral….should, should, should!
It’s so much healthier to deal with loss in your own way. After my mum’s funeral we went for a beach walk. It was hardly the most traditional or expected thing to do but it was so much better because it worked for us.
So ignore all those pressures, all those “shoulds”, and deal with loss in whatever ways work for you. Maybe you need to cry, or laugh, or shout, or do exercise, or spend time with friends, or spend time alone…whatever it is, do it, and do it without feeling guilty about it.
Allow yourself to move on
Speaking of guilt, you sure feel a lot of it when you feel yourself moving on from your grief. I think one of the pressures I felt when dealing with loss, was the expectation that you’d never be happy again. I find that people tend to hold onto their grief as a way of proving their love for the person they lost.
In my family, we took a different approach. We decided that moving on and being happy again was exactly what mum would have wanted. So we did exactly that. We threw ourselves into living life to the fullest once again and I’m sure it sped up the healing process much more than if we’d forced ourselves to dwell on our unhappiness.
Get it off your chest
One of the biggest pieces of advice I’d give to anyone who is going through the loss of a loved one is to get whatever you’re thinking and feeling off your chest…in whatever way works for you. For me, it meant opening up to my counsellor, to my friends and family. For others it may mean writing it down, only talking to a single trusted loved one, or working through it in other ways.
Keeping your feelings bottled up is never a good idea and especially when it comes to loss. A lot of the things you’re feeling will be painful and confusing and hard to get your head around so it really helps to talk them through with someone else.
It doesn’t have to define you
Six years on from losing my mum, it’s still a part of me but it’s not the thing that defines me. In the first few years following her death I felt like I needed to tell people what I had been through because I guess at the time it was a big part of my life still. But now, when I meet new people it’s not something I typically bring up unless they ask about my parents. Not because I’m hiding it, more because it’s not the main thing I think to share with people now that there are so many other things happening in my life.
Don’t get too sentimental about dates
It’s easy, when you’ve lost a loved ones, to fall into the trap of getting overly attached to certain dates, and there’s a lot of them to get sentimental about…their birthday, the day they passed away, the day of the funeral, anniversaries…and so on. I think it’s normal to be aware that it’s a certain date but it doesn’t mean you have to use it as an excuse to fixate on your loss.
In my family we don’t make too much of dates and if we do, it’s to celebrate rather than mourn our loved one. On my mum’s birthday one year, my sister and I, while at university together, chose to spend the day doing things she loved to do. Like going out for brunch, browsing charity shops, sitting in the sun. It was a lovely way to celebrate rather than mourn the date!
If you’ve recently experience a loss or are anticipating one, know that it’s impossible but survivable. You do move on in time and it’s well within your control to choose to embrace life afterwards rather than shut it out.
– Tiger Lily –