“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
If you are reading this and you have recently been processing loss, I am sorry that you are going through this difficult time right now.
Grief can arrive in many forms: over the loss of a loved one, a beloved pet, a dear colleague, a friend.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the concept of the “five stages of grief.” These included: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These feelings are part and parcel of the grieving process. However, everyone will have their own different reactions to grief and loss. Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that must apply to every person. She explained, “These were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”
Remember this: you are allowed to feel, your emotions are your own, and how you process grief is your own. It’s okay to be frustrated, to scream, to cry, or not cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to reminisce on the moments of happiness that you shared with your loved one, and to let go when you feel that you are ready.
There is no instant fix to what we feel, and there is no set time frame on when we should “move on”. However, these are some of the ways I have personally found helpful in coping with grief:
This may sound like common knowledge, but I cannot emphasise enough on how much crying helps to get your emotions out. According to preliminary research, emotional tears contains stress hormones and other toxins. Crying helps to flush these out of your system. Additionally, crying for a long while releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids. When these are released, your emotions will slow down to a state of calm.
Personally I get wary about showing emotions that can be perceived as “negative” emotions. My subconscious often reverts to ‘happy’ when I’m in public, despite feeling emotions that are otherwise.
But here was the hard truth I had to face: I can try to suppress my what I feel, but I am unable to avoid it forever. In order to heal, we have to acknowledge it. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. I had to allow myself to feel and understand that it was a healthy part of the process.
2. Paying extra attention towards my physical and mental health.
Emotional strain can be mentally draining and physically exhausting. I remembered feeling guilty for wanting to sleep a lot. I also had a ridiculous amount of laundry piling up, and I had a lack of energy and motivation to do anything.
The truth was, I should and deserved to be getting proper rest. It was understandable that I was feeling the lethargy that I felt. Therese Rando, Ph.D. shared on the subject, “Grief can deplete you to such an extent that the slightest tasks become monumental, and what previously was easily achievable now may seem insurmountable.” Grief commonly results in disrupted sleep, a loss of appetite and a lack of interest in our day-to-day.
We need to remember that our mind and our body are connected. When we pay attention to caring for ourselves physically, we will be able to cope better emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting sufficient sleep, having a balanced diet, and exercising. Be mindful of your daily habits. Do not use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief. These only have the effect lift your mood artificially and temporarily.
3. Expressing myself through other (creative) ways.
I found myself writing and listening to music more during my time of grieving. Expressing myself creatively helped me to get my emotions out without speaking. I was not ready to talk about what I felt then, hence creativity helped me to not suppress my emotions entirely.
Music was particularly helpful because I could relate to the emotion that was expressed through them. These could be through the song arrangement, the melody, the lyrics, or the backstory.
Writing is one of the many ways to express how you feel. It could be in a journal, a blog post, a letter dedicated to your loved one, or a scrapbook to celebrate their life and legacy. Another option could be getting involved in a cause or organisation that was significant to your loved one.
I was thankful I was able to maintain my love for writing because that was what helped me get through the difficult days. Although it may be difficult to make yourself want to do anything at all during this time, try to maintain your hobbies and interests. You will be able to find comfort in doing what you love. By returning back to the things that bring you joy, these can slowly help you to come to terms with what you feel and connect you closer to others again.
4. Talking about what I felt or feel to loved ones when I was ready.
Talking in general helps to lift the burden of your shoulders. Talking to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor can begin your progress towards healing.
I often pride myself in trying to be “the strong one”. It was during these periods of grief when I had to fight against this complex and learned to allow in the people who care about me. Rather than avoiding them, now is the time to lean on friends and loved ones, spend time together face to face, and accept the help or advice they offer. When someone is in pain or in sadness, people often want to help but they may not necessarily know how to. Tell them what you need—whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, help with contacting family members or making arrangements, or just someone to hang out with.
Just as how we would seek a doctor if we were having the flu, we too have the choice to seek a mental health professional if we require help for our mental health. If you feel that you have been bearing a lot mentally, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counselling.
5. Taking time to walk towards acceptance.
Be patient with yourself. There is no fixed timing for grief, nor is the process the same for everyone.
Do not make any major or impulsive decisions while grieving. Grief may cloud your ability to make proper decisions. If possible, postpone big decisions. If you must make decisions right away, seek advice from a trusted family member or friend.
Remember to be gentle with yourself.
Yes, grief may be a damper on the progress and standards you have set for yourself. Yes, you may be frustrated at your performance while coping with grief. Yes, it’s easy to disregard everything you have done when you find yourself slipping up.
However, know that this will pass, and you will be able to get back up again. I too have been learning to accept that my feelings are valid, and I can rise again.
Know that the progress you made prior does not disappear just because of a few bad days. Even if your good days may not be the most consecutive right now, it does not erase the progress you have already been making.
Always remember that you are not alone. Give yourself the time and space to address what you have been feeling.