The fact that sadness and despair are an essential part of life doesn’t make them any easier to bear. However, there are ways of managing the losses in our lives, writes Lyn Beasy*.
Sadness and despair wash over us like the storm waves of the ocean. Sometimes we feel we will drown and never find our way out.
Then one day, the sun breaks through. The waves are gentler and we are no longer swept off our feet. This is the heartbreaking, yet transformative, experience of grief.
There’s no getting around the fact that losing someone very dear is painful. The experience of grief is different for everyone and for each situation, but generally it involves sadness and anguish. It leaves us feeling helpless and it’s not something we easily prepare for or get used to.
It is, however, a natural response when we lose someone close to us and the more significant that person the more intense our grief.
Losses don’t just involve the death of a loved one. We can grieve the loss of a relationship, a hoped-for future, health, children leaving home, a career end or a community tragedy, such as the 9/11 attacks or the Port Arthur massacre, in which case the feeling is a loss of freedom and safety experienced en masse.
Wherever there is a loss or significant change, there will be a period of grief.
Grief has many forms and there is no set course or duration. How you will grieve can depend on your circumstances, personality, culture or past experiences.
While most grief is normal and natural, unresolved or complex grief can be more problematic. You might try to shut down painful feelings or feel stuck and unable to move on. You may have trouble accepting the loss or, if it’s hidden or involves a traumatic experience, it can be hard to know how to deal with it or where to turn.
Reminders and anniversaries can trigger a new round of grief. The first 12 months after the death of a loved one can be especially difficult, when each ‘first’ occasion, such as a birthday, Christmas, anniversary or memorial, is marked.
Plan ahead for those occasions and allow for the emotions that may reawaken. Look after yourself during this difficult time. Avoid making any major decisions and don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself.
If you’re finding it hard to cope, seek support from family, friends or professionals. You might find it helpful to join a grief support group to know you are not alone in your experience.
It is useful to be able to talk to help process your feelings. Writing feelings down can also help. Jot down your memories of that person in a journal or write them a letter expressing how you feel. Start a scrapbook of mementos that remind you of that special someone or channel your grief into causes that were close to the person’s heart or into helping others.
Gradually, life will return to a new normal—not the same as before, but there will be a way of coping and adjusting.
*Lyn Beasy is a psychologist at the Caringbah Wellbeing Clinic.
If you or someone you know is struggling with grief contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.