The intensity of grief eventually changes

A reflection on how the intensity of grief does change. Time doesn’t “heal” grief as we will always miss our loved ones, but the raw agony of early grief and the utter bleakness that many of us have struggled with does change, especially if we do the work of mourning.

At the beginning of the year I got a new computer. It’s not really new, it’s refurbished, but it works a dream compared to my old work computer that could take half an hour to get started in the mornings – just about as slow as me, actually!

I’ve been setting it up, transferring gigabytes of files. Along the way, I’ve come across all sorts of things I’d forgotten about.

One of these was a folder with various poems I had written in the first 2-3 years after Catherine died. Some are really very bleak. It was honestly how I felt at the time, and I can just as honestly say I do not generally feel this bleak anymore.

I’m sharing an example here because perhaps you have been feeling this way too, especially if your loss is relatively recent. And in that case, I hope it might help you realise you’re not alone, and most importantly, that the intensity of grief does change.

It’s not a case of “getting over it” and I would never say that time heals. How can time fill in the gaps left by my children?

But the utter bleakness and raging agony that overwhelmed me in the first few years of my bereavement has more or less passed except for very rare occasions. I wouldn’t be able to do the work I am doing if it had not changed. I will always miss my children, but grief rarely overwhelms me now like it did in those first years. I can be happy; I can enjoy life. And I know many other bereaved people who have similar experiences.

(I have updated this poem slightly but it is still basically what I wrote back then.)

It’s the dark night of my soul.

Drowning in an ocean of sorrow.

Sinking in the mire of despair.

Not a whisper of hope can I hear.

Dark night of the soul,

I rest awhile, alone with you

I can’t find a way forward

Not a glimmer of hope can I see.

Trees lose their leaves, standing bare

Rose petals have fallen away

Earth weeps, autumn tears fall

Not a glimmer of hope seems real.

Darkness falls, long day is ended

There’s a hush, with no more to say

No words can express the sorrow,

Not a word of hope can I speak.

But surprisingly, even in this state I did seem to find some hope, because I concluded:

But is there something in the distance?

Will the sun rise in a new morn?

Will life renew in the springtime?

A glimmer of hope, is it here?

Now, 8 years later, I am relieved to say that the glimmers of hope have overtaken most of the darkness.

I can’t completely explain how it happened, but this quote I read in a book called Take the Dimness of my Soul Away expresses how I feel:

“Lord, I don’t know how it happened. But once I was there. I now am here. And it occurs to me that I couldn’t have gotten from there to here all by myself.”

Personally I have also found that having faith has helped me in my journey. God didn’t intervene to stop the deaths of my children, but I think he has walked with me and that’s one reason I’m still walking.

It does change – really!

Grief doesn’t follow neat chronological stages; it isn’t linear. However, it does seem that most people discover eventually that the intensity of their grief has changed. Things get more manageable. Our feelings can actually improve. It is unlikely to be the same as it was before – depending on how major the loss was. But we can still live a life and to a large part, even enjoy it.

Of course it’s not simple . Other things happen that complicate and amplify our grief, and it’s not unusual to have setbacks and ‘griefbursts’. But in general, how we feel about things usually gets more bearable.

All of that to say, if you feeling hopeless, hold on. Walk with your grief. You don’t have to “move on”; you can move with your loved one in a new way.

And the only way forward is a step at a time. One step. One moment.

Devon 2088

It’s not always this intense – the sea at Ilfracombe in Devon.

You don’t have to “move on”; you can move with your loved one in a new way.

And the only way forward is a step at a time.

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