Getting Our Heads Round Grief

Grief is a natural response to the loss of something, or somebody, very dear to us. Portsmouth-based writer and motivational speaker Rikki May shares his hard-earned advice on the subject.

It’s inevitable that all of us will experience loss at some point. Loss affects so many people and in a variety of ways. There’s an odd sense of comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one suffering. At the same time, this knowledge can’t fully compensate for whoever, or whatever, you may have lost.

Many believe that grief purely pertains to death. In reality, grief can result from losing anything that’s important to you: a relationship, a home, a job, one of your senses or even a lifestyle you once had (this could correlate with, for example, a dramatic increase in work responsibilities or could be a contributing factor to post-natal depression). What about the loss of hair? The steep reduction of friends as you get older, the friends you once saw regularly, now a thing of the past due to their increased commitments?

It can be more subtle. A counselling classmate of mine half-jokingly referred to the bad feelings you have when your favourite TV show ends (Breaking Bad was a re-occurring theme in this discussion, and rightly so). Even removing something small from your routine can have an effect on your mood.

According to Kubler-Ross’ Grief Cycle, we experience five stages of grief. Many will be able to identify with this, in some context, although an individual’s experiences of each stage may vary. It’s also possible to skip certain stages entirely, go through some stages quicker than others or experience the cycle several times over.

The key thing to recognise is that there will come a time when long-term acceptance will be possible. Acceptance and moving on is almost as natural as experiencing grief itself.

Here are the stages in more detail:

1) Denial
When a loss is fresh, there are bound to be periods of shock combined with fear about the future. You may subconsciously react with avoidance.

2) Anger
This is where frustration may rear its head. You may find yourself irritable and anxious about your current and future situations.

3) Depression
Depression may be overwhelming. It’s normal at this stage to experience feelings of helplessness and hostility

4) Bargaining
At this stage, it’s common to want to tell your story and reach out to others. You might struggle to find meaning in what you’re going through.

5) Acceptance
When the dark clouds are gone and you’ll be composed enough to explore options and put a plan into place for the future. The future that will appear brighter than it previously did. It’s finally here, the time to move on.

But what can you do to help yourself when experiencing grief?

– Turn to the people you value in your life. We’ve all been guilty of taking pride in own strength and emotional resilience, relying on our own self-sufficiency. Try to not avoid or push loved ones away. Let them in and keep them close.

– Talk to a professional. If grief is getting on top of you, make an appointment with your GP to get a referral for counselling. Or if you’re already seeing a counsellor/therapist, they will be able to help you through the intense emotions that accompany grief.

– Look after yourself. However much you want to skip that meal or even binge on your favourite comfort food, or miss the gym for a week and turn to alcohol, none of it will do you any good. Try to maintain a regular sleep pattern, make conscious and consistent choices with your food, plus get some exercise, even if it’s a little.

– Face how you’re feeling. Keeping so busy that you don’t have time to think about what you’ve lost can in fact be counterproductive. It’s important to acknowledge your pain in order to prevent prolonging the grief cycle.

– Plan ahead for ‘triggering events’. I remember for years and years, I felt an intense emptiness every time my father’s death anniversary cropped up. That day and the days surrounding it wouldn’t be spent doing too much, except wondering what could have been. I wouldn’t socialise much at that time either. It took me over ten years to view the date of his death as more a celebration of his life. Talking to those around you on how to deal with anniversaries and milestones can be beneficial. It’s normal to for old memories and feelings to resurface as a result of a triggering event.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton