I was in two minds about whether to write this post or not, because grief feels like such a difficult, emotive topic to write about.
On the one hand, I definitely don’t want to sweep it all up into some nicely-tied bow within a few cliched paragraphs, promising that ‘time will heal’ and any other such trite. But nor do I want to hide my own experiences dealing with grief, because each loss that I’ve met with has moulded me, and perhaps some of my experience could comfort & guide someone else out there going through a similar pain.
Be it a family member, a close friend, a long-loved pet, the loss from a miscarriage…grief hits us all in different ways and different times. Sometimes it all but consumes – drowning us in every moment of our waking days. Other times it comes and goes, like waves washing over us.
I want to say, before you read any further, that my words below aren’t meant to depress, although obviously I talk of sad and painful tales. But my aim is to hopefully help others out there find some light along the pathway in otherwise dark & lost moments.
Losing my aunts
Twenty years ago to this day, my family felt the loss of a wonderful woman, my Aunty Koosh, who had fought a long and hard battle against the bugger that is cancer. And twenty years on, her passing still leaves a heavy hole in the hearts of my cousins, who love & miss her every day. So today feels like the right day to be talking about grief.
Especially as since I’ve sadly felt the heartache of having lost two aunts in the past two years. One. my Aunty Pat to a hard-fought battle with cancer. The other, Aunty Sue, more recently, after a very long & painful battle with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She’d been battling this disease for close to 40 years, as it slowly & viciously robbed her of her ability to walk, to use her hands, or to function outside of her own home. It kept her once-sharp mind a prisoner in her weak body, while her muscles gradually failed her.
When she finally lost her battle, it was after a particularly stressful 8 months of hospitalization and 3 near-death episodes – and, as sad it was, it was also a blessing. A blessing for her, who’d wanted so much for her battle to be over long before it was. A blessing for my mum & uncle, who’d had to watch their sister suffer, whilst nursing her over all these years. A blessing for me & my cousins, to know our auntie was finally at peace from a life that had deprived her of any real quality for a long time. A blessing, yes. Yet, despite her death being expected and a relief to know she was at rest, grief still struck us all. How could it not.
Grief is not linear
And that’s the thing with grief. No matter when it visits our lives, there’s always the time-honoured advice that grief comes ‘in stages’ and we have to go through each one to heal. There are widely-accepted to be 5 Stages of Grief. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and they are considered the framework to recover from loss.
Now as true as this may be ‘theoretically’, I firmly believe it’s also bloody misleading, as it sort of implies that grief is ‘linear’.
Five stages. Five checkposts to get through.
But grief isn’t as simple as moving methodically through stage 1 to stage 5, as if on a winding road with a final destination. The road isn’t even one with bumps and crossroads, or strewn with dark woods and barren landscapes. In fact, forget the sodding road. Grief is a spiral.
Don’t beat yourself up
We’re not machines who can just systematically tick off stages of grief, and trying to convince ourselves we can only causes more frustration and upset. When I lost my babies to miscarriages, I would often find myself months later just breaking down into tears or getting angry at the loss. And I was side-winded by this, because by following the ‘5 stages’ I’d convinced myself that I was on a healing path. But yet here I was, demonstrating stages 4 and 2 of grief a few months later. Damnit. And that’s when you can start to feel like you’re ‘failing in grief’ (which is thank goodness not a ‘thing’ but which you inevitably beat yourself up over anyway because you feel you’ve ‘taken a step back’).
You haven’t, and I hadn’t. The wind has just twisted our spiral, and all of a sudden we’ve found ourselves jumping from stage 5 to stage 2. It’s natural, it’s to be expected, it’s allowed and it’s to be encouraged. Maybe a piece of music came on whilst you were cooking and it transported your emotions; maybe it was a fragrance or a passage from a book; maybe an actor on TV you hadn’t seen in ages. All of these and many more sensory triggers move our grief spiral on a daily basis. Go with the flow, but do so understanding that the trip is just temporary. It doesn’t negatively impact any progress you’ve made, just allows your body and your mind to express what it needs to at that moment in time.
The spiral moves freely
One way to picture it is have you ever seen one of those garden or Christmas metal ornaments that hang outside and twirl a pretty pattern as the wind breezes through them? Take a look at the pattern – complex, right? And now imagine it in motion – it twirls one way, and then, due to simple laws of physics, will turn the other. Now, realise that your grief is somewhere on that pattern. It might be bang in the middle, the outer edge, wherever, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s constantly moving, changing direction, altering pace, showing a different side of itself to you. Some days the wind is still and at peace. Other days the winds blow a gale and you can’t find a moment’s balance.
Grief hits us all differently
I lost one of my closest and loveliest friends just 2 years ago, after her momentous battle with cancer. It broke my heart, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of her and the hole she’s left in this world. Some days my grief shows itself in tears, sometimes in smiles of lovelier days and happy memories. So I let my mind and emotions take me where they need to, with no judgment on the whys or whats of how I’m feeling.
With my auntie, all of the 5 stages started years ago. We were angry, tried to bargain, and questioned the world & the justice of why these things happen to some people. So grieving for in recent months has been very different. It’s had to be, because we’ve already been grieving for her for so long already.
And with my miscarriages, the anger & the pain was so raw. Why me? Why my babies? Why couldn’t I have just one when everyone else seemed to get pregnant so easily (of course that’s not the case, but in the emotional turmoil moment you can’t think rationally). So I cried, and I howled and it felt like someone was ripping my heart out of my chest. And then I would slowly heal. And then I found myself on the spiral 3 weeks later, 3 months later, just out of nowhere.
The ‘spiral’ is forever there. You just have to allow it to turn & blow in the breeze, and have faith that one day the grief will become acceptance & memories of warmer days.
A comforting hug
Not sure if it will help you with your grief management, but I know this visual of spiral certainly helps me. It makes me realise that I’m not ‘taking a step back’ if I allow myself a moment to cry or get angry or try to bargain with the universe. The spiral is organic and natural and completely reasonable, and these moments are all part and parcel of progressing through grief.
Hugs & comfort to any of you going through grief or coming to terms with the loss of someone close to you. x