Good grief

There’s been a bit of a gap since my last blog. I’ve not felt able to put the words together, I’ve needed to take some time to process. Process my grief following the deaths of a family member and a close friend, both of whom lost their fights with cancer within the space of a few weeks.

death-daisyAll of us experience death at various points in our lives. It is an inevitable part of living and we will experience each death uniquely. We have different relationships with people and will feel their loss in different ways. We will want to remember and honour the dead in the way that suits us best, expressed here more eloquently than I could put it:

And yet grief seems to be something that we either don’t talk about, or when we do we talk about it in absolute terms, as if there is a “right” way to grieve: as if grief is a defined process with a set end. Even medical professionals can get caught up in the nonsense idea that grief has a set end and to grieve beyond this is “abnormal”.

This is in part due to the work of Kubler-Ross, whose work with terminally ill patients led her to develop a model of grieving Sadly, like many models, it is widely misunderstood and has been misused as a blue-print for managing grief. People seem to believe we move through grief in a set series of steps, each of which will be completed within a set timescale. This is despite Kubler-Ross’ own insistence that this is not the case, and nor did she intend it to be so. It was meant to help us understand the ways in which we could engage with grief, and talk to those dying as well as those left behind.

And talking to those left behind is important, if that is what they want to do. Some people may want to withdraw and not deal with people, which is fine too. But we all struggle when faced with grief. Partly because it reminds us of our painful experiences or fears of having to experience grief. We can also feel helpless. Grief can be such an all-encompassing experience that we know there is little we can say that seems useful. There are half a million words in the English language, and yet at these times not one of them can seem to be any use.

Therapy can be helpful here in providing a space for the bereaved to experience their grief. To talk, to cry, to shout, to express the horror and the anger, to rail against the injustice of it all. To feel emotionally held as the pain is allowed to flow freely. It is this that helped me so much in my personal engagement with grief.

Grief is a process. It is a process of an absence becoming a presence in your life. It is not a process that has an end where you no longer feel sad. But you can learn to live with the sadness, for it to be alongside you on your journey rather than standing in front of you blocking your way. And it allows us to remember the dead. For in those memories, they live on.