It would be great if there really were only five stages of grief, and you passed through them in a nice, neat chronological order.
“Whoopee,” we might say, as we find ourselves in the slough of depression. “Won’t be long now – next stage is acceptance – and then I’m all done!”
It might look like this:
You arrive at London Euston railway station. It’s confusing and busy. You stand on the concourse, looking up at the board that tells where your train will depart from. Your neck starts to ache as you peer up at the board, waiting impatiently for the platform number to appear. Then finally, it gives you the information you’ve been waiting for, and off you walk, briskly, with ticket in hand.
You get on the train. It chugs along through the almost-flat scenery. It takes you through Birmingham and then on to Manchester. Not long to go now. At the next stop – your destination – you find the peaks and lakes and lush green verdure of the Lake District. You disembark from the train. Now perhaps you’ll take a ride on an old-fashioned steamer over Lake Windermere, sitting with your feet up, sipping tea, and eating strawberries and cream as you enjoy the afternoon sunshine. In the evening you’ll head to the pub for a refreshing pint and a generous portion of fish and chips. What a delightful place it is. What a delightful time you’ll have. You have ‘arrived’.
If only. But not.
Grief isn’t like that. You don’t start at Point A, travel directly to Point B, C and D, then on to the final idyllic destination.
Grief is messy. You think you’ve got yourself sorted and you’re back on your feet, coping with life as it has unravelled, and then WHAM something happens, and it’s like you’ve been knocked to your knees again, barely crawling through the day.
Could be anything that sets you back. Random thoughts and memories. Comments from other people. Running into an old friend who doesn’t have any idea how vastly your life has changed. Could be the weather. Could be an anniversary, birthday or some special date. Could be your loved one’s inquest. Could be a story line on TV or in a film that reminds you too much of…
The visceral ache of missing him or her takes over your thoughts. It is hard to distract yourself or find a comfortable spot inwardly or outwardly.
Grief is raging. It’s back with a vengeance. The realisation of your loved one’s death hits you hard. It grabs hold of your heart and squeezes tight. A cold sensation sinks down into the pit of your stomach. You feel unnerved. Unsteady.
Your intense love for him or her is bubbling up inside and it doesn’t know how to find an outlet. You feel as though you might explode. What would you give for one more chance to have a chat together, to hold hands, to hug. How many things have been left unsaid.
You miss that person. Whether they were your baby or your child, your partner, your parent, a close relative or friend. You are continuing a life that they are absent from, and it hurts. Just hurts.
What can make it even harder is the absence of those who could support you. They might have rallied round when your loved one died; they might have maintained their kindness for some time. But now, after the months and perhaps years have passed, their life has progressed, and they’re not expecting you to be in the state in which you find yourself. So perhaps you don’t even tell them.
It would be nicer if grief was simple and straightforward. But it isn’t. And that can sometimes make you feel quite hopeless. Literally, a loss of hope, that you will ever feel better or at peace.
I think that loss of hope can be quite dangerous.
So how do we get through these times when we reside in ‘Bleak House’ and we cannot see any future?
The main message of my articles on “The Way” has been about taking one step at a time, one step after the other. We don’t always know where those steps will lead us. It doesn’t usually do us much good to try to foresee how we will feel in the future. Let’s focus on this moment. Let’s just get through today.
Looking back at other times and how we survived them can also help. The fact is that we did survive. What helped on that occasion? Was it a call to a helpline? A chat with a friend? Trying to escape the moments by reading a book, going out to a film, some retail therapy? Was it a meaningful activity like a charity walk or a visit to someone who is in a worse state than ourselves? What worked in the past might not help today, but it might.
I would suggest that realising that you are not alone in what you’re experiencing can also be a great comfort. Talking with other people who are bereaved can help you realise that your rollercoaster of emotions is not unusual. Talking with other people can also help you realise that it can be survived.
Doing something in your loved one’s memory can also be comforting. Organising the photos. Creating a collage. (Loads more ideas here)
And finally, I think it helps to give yourself something to look forward to, like making arrangements for a visit to a friend or a favourite place. What’s that show that you’ve always wanted to see? What about the weekend pottery course? What about that walk? You might not feel like it now, but the focus on making the arrangements will be good to start with, and hopefully by the time the event comes around, you will find you have something to enjoy.
There is no magical destination where grief ends, but there are places on the journey that are not as difficult as others. When we’re feeling hopeless, it’s time to search them out.
- Griefbursts: Moments of mad grief
- You’re allowed to be happy – yes, YOU!
- Coping with grief, one step at a time. (Walking the Way – Part 2)
- Finding a way when it seems impossible (Walking the Way, Part 3)