When you are grieving, people tell you all sorts of things.
They tell you, that it will get better, they tell you they understand how you feel, they tell you they know what it is like, they tell you that time heals things.
They offer advice about keeping busy or resting or moving on or getting on with your life.
They talk about the 5 stages of grief.
They say all of these things in the misguided belief that they are helping. They mean well all these people, they really do, and they don’t mean to make you feel worse but sometimes they do. I know it is an accident, and I have never actually told anyone off when they say a stupid thing, because really and truly no one knows what to say so they say what they think will help, and often they are just trying to make you feel better even though they know that this isn’t really going to work. People think they need to say something.
This post is not really about people getting things wrong, it is about things I have learned about grief over the years and they are things that no one thinks to tell you so I am going to try to put them down here in the hope that it helps. Or at least in the hope that someone out there might feel the same and feel less alone.
Grief is cumulative
Every bereavement, or new cause of grief brings up the feelings from every other significant loss you have suffered. Of course that doesn’t take away from the loss you are feeling for the person you are currently grieving for, but you will find yourself think of all the other ones too…
Grief is physical
Your body reacts in all sorts of ways to grief, it hurts, physically, it literally hurts. for me at least, my shoulders and arms hurt from tensing them up. My heart rate is high all the time, higher when I am asleep for some reason. My body slowed down and I felt weaker, I felt like moving was like trudging through treacle. Your appetite will change your reaction to foods will change, and this might only be me, but my skin hurt and my sensitivity to smells changed. These last ones happen to me all the time, but grief makes it harder to deal with.
Grief comes with extra emotions
When you think about grief you think about an all encompassing sadness. Of course sadness is there and it is huge, but what no one tells you about is the other emotions that come along to play too. I think (although I have no evidence for this) that your natural emotional response to situations is amplified by grief, as well as altered.
For me there is so much anger. Generalised all consuming rage might actually be better words for it. It lives in me and escapes at the slightest annoyance. I seem to have a low anger threshold in normal life (which I have just learned is not normal) but when I am grieving it explodes all over the place. It is so big that I can’t think and it causes normal situations to become out of control really quickly.
Along with anger there is also guilt. Huge amounts of guild about all sorts of things, not being a better friend, daughter, niece. Guilt about all the things you could have done differently but didn’t. Guilt about feeling guilty, guilt about feeling sadder for yourself than for other people. Guilt for feeling sad all the time, guilt for not feeling sad all the time. Guilt for being able to carry on with life. Guilt for sometimes feeling ok and being able to laugh and enjoy things.
Your brain is wierd, and grief makes it weirder
You have no way to predict how your brain will process the situation. A huge and terrible thing has happened and your brain is trying to find ways to process it. It is doing it alongside all of the other things it has to do, which makes everything seem extremely confusing and difficult. Normal behaviours refuse to reassert themselves, sometimes easy actions seem impossible and previously ignored ones become the most important things ever.
For example, the only thing that helps the massive anger it playing the recorder. I am not very good at playing the recorder, but apparently learning to play better and playing is at some points the only thing that I can do.
My brain, sometimes refused to let me believe what had happened, but made me angry (angrier) and into a recorder obsessive.
The five stages of grief are real, but disorganised
Everything you read about the 5 stages of grief will give you the impression that you move through each stage in an orderly fashion and then come out at the other end.
In my experience this is not really how it works.
I have found that it is perfectly possible to experience each stage in the space of one day (sometimes more than once) then repeat and repeat day in day out. Which is particularly annoying with the acceptance stage. the fact that is in there is very misleading. It leads you to believe that there is this mythical end point. When really what you get is a rollercoaster of crazy emotions that will calm its self down and lull you in to a false sense of security then start up all over again.
Grief lasts far longer than people expect
What I mean is, you will experience all of the symptoms and stages of grief, on and off for much longer than you think, and you have to spend a lot of this time pretending to be ok. You probably won’t feel ok, but honestly most people don’t seem to want to know that. If they know you are grieving, you get a week, possibly two before you are expected to act like a normal person again and not make everyone else feel uncomfortable. Most of the time you will be able to do it, but sometimes you will be angry/sad/randomly crying/wanting to smash people in the face, and you won’t be able to pretend. It is these times when people seem to have forgotten that grief goes on for a long time.
Not everyone is like this, the few who allow you to be sad around them, and can tell if you are a bit off and remember why and let you just be that way, these people are brilliant!
Along with all of these unexpected things, one of the most difficult thing I find is dealing with the fact that life carries on, almost exactly as before. The world still turns, people still go about their daily lives, I still have to go about my daily life, and yet everything feels wrong. Then, quite unexpectedly you do something that you enjoy and you still enjoy it, it does,’t make you any less sad about the thing you are grieving about, but you still had a good day or a good experience and were happy. Then you get the guilt again (see extra emotions above)
I am not sure really how to end this post, except to say that I am grieving (in case that wasn’t obvious) for a very dear friend and I am writing this as a way to straighten out what I am feeling. To straighten out, in my head, the fact that despite me feeling horrendously sad, I can still carry on with my life and even enjoy things.
This doesn’t seem very positive, but I think I am really giving myself (and anyone else who needs it) the permission to carry on with life. It won’t be the same, but it is ok to continue. It is really the only option we have!