There are two types of people in the world. Those who have lost someone they love and those that have not – yet. The latter are almost always the ones who will tell us how we should grieve, that we should “get over it”, or will offer up inane platitudes about it being “for the best”. I’m here to tell you that you are free to ignore them. Grieve in your own time and in your own way.
I speak from experience. I lost both my parents before I was 30. My mum first, then my dad passed away in 2003. I still miss him every single day, but I have wonderful memories to call on.
The important thing to remember about bereavement is that everyone deals with it in a different way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
The strength of a relationship, the amount of shared love, the circumstances of the death, your personal history, life experiences with that person and a myriad other factors play their parts in the grieving process. Though none of them predicts the length of despair and depth of broken-heartedness we may feel.
If you are currently going through a bereavement, here is my personal experience on how to grieve at your own pace.
Grief Takes Time To Fully Process
Accept that grief is like a meandering road. We don’t know the journey or the final destination, and we certainly don’t know how long it will take to get there. Sometimes we have people who travel with us but even then, each person’s experience of bereavement is unique. Whether alone or sharing our loss with others, losing a loved one is incredibly hard.
There is no timeline for feeling better. It takes as long as it takes. Considering we all know that death is inevitable, most of us are surprisingly ill-equipped to deal with it when it arrives. On top of the loss, we often struggle with “protocol”.
What are we meant to do after someone dies? How long are we meant to grieve? How are we meant to behave or hold ourselves? How long are we supposed to stay single if we lose a life partner? There can be many social and individual expectations from family and friends that we might feel we need to follow. Of course, respecting other people’s feelings, especially when they, too, are grieving, is important; but again, remember that people deal with loss in different ways.
Everyone Has A Different Way Of Dealing With Grief
If you have lost someone after a long illness, you may feel that you lost that person months or even years before their death. It’s therefore likely that you are further through the grieving process than others might imagine. No one really knows, except maybe you.
Some people will bottle up their grief and try to hide it. Others will express their raw emotion all the time and some will try to find a happy medium. I try not to give specific advice about grieving because each experience is unique. But let me say this: Bottling up or suppressing our emotions can be extremely unhealthy, and those emotions will almost always spill out eventually – often as anger or frustration.
Ideally, aim for some middle ground. Be compassionate with yourself and others, especially if you or those others are not behaving as you might expect. No one knows the full extent of how another person feels, or what’s going on for that person. Kindness and compassion can go a long way here, and that includes towards yourself too.
People Mean Well
Despite all the wonderful people around you, and the support you receive from them, you may find that friends, relatives and acquaintances can say some really stupid things when you suffer a loss. Remember, this is rarely deliberate.
Often they think they are helping, or they feel so uncomfortable because they don’t really know what to say, what they do end up saying comes out wrong! If this happens to you, give them the benefit of the doubt; their intentions were probably good, although their execution was poor. Don’t judge them too harshly or let what they said get to you. Besides, once they get home and realise what they said, they will probably feel bad enough for the both of you! You know what you know about how you feel, not how you are meant to feel, and that’s all you need to know.
People talk about being able to ‘manage the new normal’ or ‘feeling the pain ease slightly every day’, but it’s a completely unique emotional road for each of us. So do what you feel is right for you. That said, always make sure you stay present or look to the future, rather than getting stuck in the past.