Dealing with grief: a personal perspective
I wanted to write this before I lose courage to do so. This is not a post that is even going to attempt to be scholarly or give helpful links; there are plenty to do that.
I was blind sided this morning by grief. Doing some tidying up, I wanted to put a box of beer away in the cupboard and realised that the cans of dog food were still there, taking up room. No one has got round to moving them. I suspect no one had the time to do it but today I did. There was a couple of weeks supply of cans, a bag of mixed dog food unopened and the teeth cleaning chewies Holly used to love so much at bed time. I’ve piled them all up in a bag to take over to the vet’s later where there is a box for donations for local shelters. I can’t bring myself to do it now until I get my emotions back into order. I found myself crying, you see.
I didn’t expect to feel quite such acute emotion now, nearly five weeks later. I’ve slowly begun to get used to her not being here, and I felt I was recovering. But this makes me realise the feelings are still quite raw. Not enough time has passed. The normal every day things I have begun to accept, like not having a walking companion trotting along with me, or letting her out first thing in the morning. But seeing her food, that she’ll never eat now, well, it set me off again.
Grief is a strange thing. It’s both complex and simple. And it has no official time scale. You can’t say, it’s been a year, I ought to be OK now. Every journey through it is different. The basic stages as I have seen are: shock/denial, anger/guilt, emotional storm, acceptance, regaining of perspective, the beginning of healing and finally a deepening of our capacity for love. In my experience, the passage through these stages is not linear nor is it easy. It depends to some degree on the nature of the loss, the closeness of the bond and personality. When a death is expected, the shock is usually less, but not always. Human beings “cannot bear much reality” and even when you know death is coming, you continue to hope beyond hope that it won’t come. Anger and guilt also depend on the relationship. When a relationship is flawed or fractured, then it’s logical that the time spend in the anger/guilt stage may be proportionately longer; for this reason, it’s better to try and heal relationships in life, if possible.
I’m not a weepy person. I don’t cry very easily when I am in a stable state, but when I am low, I shed tears easily, but hold it back. Tears are as healing a thing as any I can think of. Weeping produces certain chemicals in the brain that are closely related to opiates; if you’ve ever cried enough, you may have experienced a sense of calm and even peace after a long crying fit. I hate crying. I hate anyone seeing me cry. And yet, I know it’s probably the best thing to do to help heal emotional pain.
I should tell myself: let yourself feel and let yourself weep. I should tell myself: give yourself time. But then I never listen to me, so here I am telling you.
Give yourself time. Be gentle to yourself in grief. Let the journey unfold as it needs to. Let tears flow if they need to. Talk to someone who cares. Don’t be alone if you don’t want to be.
And finally, it will pass. Every day it becomes a little less painful. The first anniversaries can be hard, but even then, with time, they become bearable. The deepening of our capacity for love is usually a sign that the journey through grief has been a successful one and yet so often people who have endured a lot of grief in life are often bitter.
I aim not to be one of them.