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Understanding Grief

understanding grief grieving processGrief is something very personal and there isn’t really a rule book as to how it works, even though we often wish there was when we’re going through it.

Grief also isn’t always as clear-cut as we realise; there are many things we may have to grieve over through our lives, such a job we voluntarily choose to leave or through redundancy, a house move, a friendship that evolves in a different direction or a diagnosis for example. Obviously, we know it’s something that’s going to happen when a relationship ends or we experience death, but the one thing all of those have in common is loss and a knowing that things will never be the same again.

There are five different stages of grief, which isn’t to say we will go through them in any order or actually through some of them at all. It is a well-documented subject but to summarise, these stages comprise of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

In February 2020, my mother and I discovered my dad dead on a Sunday morning. This wasn’t something that was expected in any way, shape, or form so obviously a shock. She went straight into denial (‘this can’t be happening’, ‘this can’t be possible’) and bargaining (‘God please don’t do this to me’) whilst on the other hand, and notwithstanding I would still need to go through the actual process, I went straight into acceptance. I have no idea why to be honest. Maybe it was because of seeing his body or maybe it was because I knew I needed to take charge there and then. I remember how, with the shock, my main priority was actually to regain some form of mental clarity as my brain couldn’t understand how to operate a mobile phone nor remember what 999 is in France.

That night, I returned home to the UK to grab funeral, clothes, work stuff and more medication. That journey was the most gruelling of my life, battling through various storms and cancelled ferries, eventually getting through the door in the middle of the night. Over the 3 following weeks, I was back and forth between the UK and France to check my mum didn’t need extra support with her chemo and we then went into lockdown. My body crashed and for nearly 12 weeks, I had no energy whatsoever. After all, mind and body are one system and the adrenalin I had been living on wasn’t going to last forever.

For the next 2 years, I had to deal with my dad’s estate, solicitors, accountants and banks, trying to rapidly learn legal French, tax French, accountant French and bank French which having never had to use them, were all foreign to me. I also spent a considerable amount of time banging my head against the thick wall of French bureaucracy. Throughout this time, I was very aware that I was delaying the grieving process but also genuinely believed that it would all come flooding out once it was all over. But it didn’t and I am still going through the motions.

One of the reasons why I feel compelled to write and share this now is because of the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Her passing signifies so much in terms of representing what grief actually is. Because for many, she was the only monarch we knew (or remembered), she offered the stability and consistency that we all need, yet take for granted in life. The event really highlights change, giving to a lot of people a powerful sense of loss that many struggle to understand, and quite simply genuinely represents the end of an era. It was obvious the Queen wasn’t going to live forever but her death has forced us to have to accept that things will never be the same again which we don’t always do or acknowledge in our own lives.

And this could be a trigger for many with unresolved grief, of any kind. Listening to the people interviewed as they were queuing to file past, many mentioned how they were doing it in memory oof a loved one and how it had affected them.

Reaching acceptance is what we find difficult. Humans are naturally wired to move away from pain or towards pleasure.  We don’t want pain, we don’t like it, we don’t want to be hurt and when we are, we want it to go away as soon as possible. But unfortunately, we can’t. It’s one of the reasons why civilisations have so many specific rituals around death, because they allow us to gain a sense of closure, but that’s only the beginning of the journey towards acceptance.

This is where a lot of people fail in the grieving process (of any kind but especially in terms of loss and relationship breakdowns) because they don’t really want to face the pain so they try to get back to some sense of normality as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is facing to what hurts that will help us to get through the initial part of the process more quickly as well as understanding the importance of the journey and of our emotions; both contribute to our growth. And it takes time, even if we don’t want it to take time… It’s not just about healing, it’s about being able to realise how far we have come.

Death forces us to assess our lives and our own mortality and will affect relationships. It can have a negative impact if we have been unhappy for a while for instance or feeling misunderstood, alone and unable to express our feelings. It can also affect relationships positively as it can bring people together and in the exact same process of assessing our own mortality, deciding that actually life is too short to hold grudges.

So if you are feeling a bit wobbly at the moment or any time of mourning, just be that little be kinder to yourself and allow your emotions to get that little bit deeper, right down to the bottom of how and why you are feeling like you do, as you too may have some unresolved grief. And it’s ok to cry because it relieves emotional pain. Holding your feelings in is what will prolong the pain and make it worse… And if you want to know more, please do get in touch.

Sophie

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