Grief is like Melbourne weather. Four seasons in one day. Sometimes you start out the day feeling fine, and then it can quickly turn nasty. Sometimes it feels still and calm, and others it’s like your stuck in a torrential down pour, and all you can do is ride it out. These last four months have taught me a lot about grief. I thought I new. I’d experience loss before. Losing close family friends, and family members. I knew it was hard. I knew it would take time. But gosh, I’ve felt as though I knew nothing. It’s as though I’m a preppie in the school of grief, as I went back to square one. As though I might as well be learning a new language.
The past few weeks I felt as though I was on top of things. I felt a sense of wanting to be happy, and really try to make this up and coming Christmas a good one, as much as it could be. I’ve often heard in previous years, people reminding others that whilst Christmas can be a great time of happiness and joy, it can also be a time of immense sadness for some. For me, Christmas has always, always been the happiest time of the year. These last few days have actually had me realising that this is true, with the loss of our precious Dad. The thought of walking into my parents house on Christmas morning with my children in tow is both something I’m looking forward to, and yet it is a day that I’m sadly anticipating with a sense of trepidation.
I’ve learned a lot about grief these last four months. There are things you are told about grief that ring true, much of it weeks after being told. However there is much I’ve learned that I have found is helpful. Stuff I’ve been told, and stuff I’ve discovered myself. You see my brain is very scientific, and I’ve fond that I actually need strategies, phrases and sayings to help me make some sense of it all, and rationalise the loss. Especially because ours was so sudden. So in an attempt to try to help others who also may be stumbling and fumbling their way towards Christmas this weekend, feeling a little lost but wishing they could feel a bit better, I thought I would share some of the lesson’s I’ve learned about grief. I can only hope they help. Heck, I just hope it’s bloody useful really. I’ve just realised it’s also my 300th post on Happy Ella After. Quite ironic!
1. Grief if the price we pay for love
A few days after Dad passed, my Mum told us this: ‘grief is the price we pay for love’. Apparently the Queen actually said it. When you think about this it actuall resolves itself. In an attempt to make the loss ‘not happen’, you would never, ever choose a life without love. Love is in fact the meaning of life. A life of love is a life of happiness. So therefore, grief is an unfortunate, but very rational consequence of loss. This saying has helped me realise that whilst our grief is so intense and at times hard to bear, you in fact wouldn’t want it any other way.
2. Helpful and unhelpful emotions
A friend who lost her Mum whilst we were teenagers told me about helpful and unhelpful emotions. Some feelings can help you through, and some feelings can make you feel worse. The trick is knowing which ones to acknowledge, and which ones to ignore. Sadness, for example is hard to face, but it is in fact useful. It is something that we NEED to feel when tackling grief. Guilt and trying to find answers on the other hand are not useful. They actually cause your brain to stress, releasing cortisol and causing you to physically feel worse. They do not help to keep you calm and feel safe. You can also go out of your mind wondering ‘what if’ and ‘why has this happened’. It’s something I’ve tried to notice and explicitly stop myself from thinking. It has helped.
3. Let it come and go
In a similar way, you also need to let emotions come and go naturally. Don’t fight it, or dwell on any one point. My sister’s Godfather told us to treat our grief like a wave, ride it when it is high and when it is calm. Just let the waves come and go, and don’t try to swim against it. Everything will in time, calm down and the storm does pass.
4. The new reality
I’ve been seeing a psychologist to help me deal with the loss of Dad. She has helped give me some specific strategies to help me process how I’m feeling. She talked about sufferers of ‘grief’ dealing with needing to create a ‘new reality’. In times of loss, we live in our old reality, but without the person we love. We live in our houses, travel to the same places, carry out every day routines. All reminding us of that person. It isn’t until we create a ‘new reality’, one which involves memories of a new life, new experiences, new adventures that the old reality becomes new. The problem is, this takes time. But knowing this in itself actually helps. Time can’t be rushed.
5. It gets a bit easier
They say that the grief doesn’t go away, you just learn to live with it. I have found this to be true. However initially, when I was told t
his, I saw it as a life long curse of being sad . However it’s not like that at all. Four months later, I still feel incredibly sad. I still at times, fall apart and cry my eyes out. But I CAN talk about him sometimes without welling up. I CAN look at photos and smile. I’ve recently been able to look at videos and have a laugh. Someone once drew me a diagram to help explain this:
In the beginning, grief consumes you. It is the centre of your life. It’s all you can think about and feels overwhelmingly huge. Every thought is about your loss. It’s hard to see anything else.
However over time, the grief is surrounded by new experiences, happy times, love and hope. In time the grief is still there, but it feels smaller and smaller as it is surrounded by new memories. You feel stronger and more able to tackle life and the new reality because it is enveloped in love. I have used this diagram several times to help me realise that everything will be ok.
6. Everyone is on their own journey
This is a hard one, but one that everyone in a family needs to realise. I am one of four children, and we have all lost our Dad, but we are all different and dealing with it in a variety of ways. Our Mum has lost her husband and those feelings are very different too. We all have to just care for one another, and we do. Just because you are feeling sad, doesn’t mean that others are feeling that way on the same day. In other ways, you may also want to do something positive or happy, but it doesn’t mean that others are ready. We are all different and it takes time. We all need to be respectful of where everyone is at.
7. Sometimes the build up is worse than the actual day
Since losing Dad we’ve actually had a few ‘firsts’. Fathers’ Day, his Birthday, Mum’s Birthday, their anniversary. For the most part, the build up to the day, the anticipation is actually harder than the actual day. You think about what it will be like, you dread it in some ways. But then the day comes, and you realise, it is just another day. You can get through it. You will get through it. Yes you might cry, but that is ok. But you might laugh and smile to. And that feels really good.
There is always hope. There are not always answers to all of our questions, but there is always, always hope. Hope is a good thing. It helps us strive for positive and know that there will always be something happy around the corner. Life is too good not to be cherished. We need to be hopeful that there are better things to come.
So this Christmas, if you or someone you know is feeling really heavy with the loss of a loved one, then know you are not alone. We are all doing our best to get on with things, keep our chins up and just live a happy life in their memory. At times it really sux, but just know that time does tick over and good things happen all the time. We owe it to them to be happy as much as we can be.