A guide to surviving grief
So, someone close to you has died. I’m not going to sugar coat it, or whisper it quietly with a look of dread on my face I’m stating a fact. It’s hard. I get it.
How a person reacts to grief is unique to everyone. How I reacted to the death of my mother was vastly different to that of my dad. How you will react to the death of a loved one will be different to that of my experience. You will experience something though, no matter how close you were to them.
So here are all the things that I can think of that I can share with you. It won’t make it any easier I’m afraid, but a bit of clarity around what might happen may help you.
To those of you who have a friend or a loved one who’s dealing with grief, this may help you to understand what to say and do as well.
It’s going to suck
No, really. It’s going to suck, it’s going to hurt like hell and you’re going to lose your sense of self for a reasonably long time. There’s little you can do to change this I’m afraid. Even those who are prepared for the death, it’s still a death and you still have to get over it.
Get the tissues
You’re probably going to want to cry. Some will want to more than others. You may well cry in front of complete strangers, in front of work colleagues or collapsed in a heap on your kitchen floor begging for the person who has died. I’ve done all three, and more. Crying is good, crying is a release valve. To not cry means you’re probably going to bottle it up and that gets messy, I’ve also been there.
To those of you who have to watch this, the nicest way of dealing with it is to not try to make the person feel better. Don’t try to overwhelm them, a bit of understanding goes a very long way. As does a tissue.
From the point at which they die, to the point you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, people will want to talk about it.
Firstly, they’ll offer their condolences. They’ll say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’. A lot. After a few days you’ll find yourself saying the same thing and may well start to see the funny side of it (in a weird way). You will however start to think ‘these people must think I’m a complete phoney because I keep saying the same thing all the time’. They don’t know what you said to the previous person or the next person so I wouldn’t worry – it’s only in your head.
Then people will ask about the story of their death. Trust me they do and to be fair, talking about it, whilst incredibly raw, will help. The story itself however will become a well worn path, like the smooth lines on the palms of our hands. It becomes part of the fabric of your life so I’m afraid you’ll have to accept it.
Out of character behaviour
You will find ways of coping. For me it was not looking after myself, I wasn’t eating properly and I drank too much. I knew what I was doing but I really couldn’t find the willpower to stop. It didn’t seem like something else I could cope with sorting out.
I also spent a lot of time wearing my PJs and not leaving the house unless I really had to. I said some pretty horrible things to a couple of people I really genuinely care for (of which I’m trying to resolve now).
You may quit your job. You may decide to pack up and move away. You may have a revelation and just throw in the towel. I did one of those things.
Just accept from the start that life is going to get a bit freaky for a few months. When it comes around to others, they’ll understand why you behaved the way you did. Shit happens, they’ll get over it.
It gets better
No, really, it does. Only that’s shit you don’t really want to hear the day after you’ve had to phone all your relatives and told them that someone has died. You don’t even want to hear it after the funeral. You just want to tell people to fuck off.
It’s now 7 months and a few days since my dad died, and it’s only in the last 3 weeks that I’ve started to feel more like the person I was two years ago. Trust me, I had a lot to grieve for last year, 2 years seems like such a long time ago.
Only, if you’d said that to me three months ago, I would have probably shouted back ‘WHEN? when does it get better?’ The minute you start telling people it gets better they’re waiting for that day, rather than living in the moment.
Year of firsts
Yeah, we’ve all seen the meme’s ‘when was the last time you had a first’. When read after someone has died, those year of ‘firsts’ becomes a very sick joke. The first Christmas and Birthday without are horrific. There are no words for how awful they are.
When someone you know has a death in the family, please try to remember that Christmas & Birthdays are hardest to deal with. They really need you to remember them on those days. They haven’t died and you really need someone to remind them that they’re alive.
‘I can’t imagine what you must be going through’
Nope, and you really don’t want to.
You’ll hear that, or variants of that about a million times. Trust me people, you really don’t know want to imagine what I’ve been going through. To put on your empathy shoes and experience it is akin to stepping inside an iron maiden and closing the door. It’s not pleasant.
Also, you don’t really want to point out to people that they will also go through something like this at least once in their life. They need to walk this road on their own without trying to imagine what it’s like to experience it.
You may also have people who are probably thinking ‘I wouldn’t want to be you right now’, no, really? funny that, for two years I haven’t wanted to be me. I’ve been a horrible self absorbed person who talks about nothing except herself, and it’s SO boring. I’m tired of me.
Sympathy cards suck
I mean who designs those things? ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and ‘thinking of you’. Sigh. Something a little bit more honest would be better. We’re so keen to wrap people in the blanket of ‘I really don’t know what to say to you but I must say it quietly’. Awesome. No, not really.
Ironically, I got more sympathy cards than I did Christmas or Birthday Cards. In a way, I’d rather people have remembered me in times when it was going to be hardest to deal with than in the immediate aftermath.
You’ll find out who your friends are
My best friend was with me when my dad died. I didn’t have anyone else, but she was there, not because I had nobody else, but because I’m her friend and she’s mine. Another friend called me at least once a week at random times just to check I was OK.
When I lost the plot, and fell apart they were there and they’re still here today.
You’ll find the people who can’t cope with your meltdown
There are some people that just can’t cope with you falling apart. You may care about them deeply and get angry with them because they can’t deal. If you care enough about them, and them about you, they’ll still be there. It’ll just take a bit of effort to fix it. If it’s worth it, you will though.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter who to. Just talk it out. I’ve mentioned that the story you tell becomes well worn and smoothed around the edges. You need to talk about it though. Or the pain and rawness can slice you to pieces.
Talk to a counsellor, talk to a friend, talk to a family member, talk to a blog… just talk, it genuinely helps.