How can you begin to move on after loss or bereavement?
Losing someone that you love or care about is one of the hardest things as humans that we must cope with. Whether it is a loss through circumstances such as a divorce or relationship break up or the death of a close family member; moving on after an event of this nature often feels impossible. Over the past few months, following a spate of terror attacks around the world there has been an immense outpouring of grief and despair. The pain felt by communities across the country has spread throughout the nation, following attacks in Manchester and London, and indeed the terrible loss experienced by the residents and community surrounding the Grenfell Tower in West London because of an unprecedented and horrific inferno that claimed not only lives, but in many cases, leaving people with nothing but the clothes that they stood in; homeless and without access to money. Loss does indeed come in many forms, and each time many individual and personal tragedies are left behind.
Does Time Really Heal All Wounds?
Following any kind of loss, it seems impossible to imagine a time when you can start to move forward with your life, resume what you consider to be normality and get on with the act of living once more. It is not easy, it does take a great deal of effort, but it can be done. Back in 1969, psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described the grieving process in terms of their being five distinct stages of grief. Not everyone will experience them all, but they can be easily recognised. The five stages are: denial and anger, followed by bargaining and then depression before finally reaching acceptance. While this all sounds very straightforward, it is not applicable to everyone. There are some people who seem to pick themselves up and start moving forward almost straight away following a tragedy, leaving others behind trying to understand how. Time may not actually heal wounds as we would like, but it can lessen the severity of the pain we feel.
Bereavement and loss come with a whole host of emotions that we instinctively label as being negative. We feel pain, are angry and often scared. As we have grown up with the understanding that such feelings are negative and unhealthy, we often bury them rather than share them. By ignoring these feelings, or by keeping them hidden it is leaving our grief unresolved. Unresolved issues relating to loss and grief can result in depression or anxiety and in some cases, can lead to an individual turning to substance abuse in order to get through each day by numbing the pain. Burying the pain that we feel after a loss can do more harm than good. For us to be able to heal we need to be able to express our feelings, share our pain and allow others in to help. It is important to face the pain and fear head on, to be active in overcoming it. It may be through venting those feelings to a friend or professional counsellor, wallowing in self-pity or crying until there are no more tears left. It is a matter of doing what you need to do identify and address your feelings.
Grieving is a Natural Process
As a society, we no longer grieve in a way that allows us the time and the space that we need. The Victorians had it right. The all black clothing worn by the bereaved, was a cultural indicator that they needed time to heal, that their personal space should be respected and not intruded upon. Today there is no such cultural indicator of loss, we are now expected to carry on regardless of how we feel. While donning a mourning suit or black veil may not be appropriate today; what is still appropriate is the need for personal boundaries to be put in place to allow for healing to take place.
It is important that you make these boundaries clear, sadness should be expressed when necessary for those around you to be able to respect your needs and take a step back, allowing you the space you need to heal. Make use of your inner circle of friends and close family. They can share in the sorrow that you are feeling and prevent you from becoming isolated and alone.
Indulge in Some Positive Self-Care
In the days and weeks following tragedy or loss, it is easy to forget about looking after yourself. As you are experiencing wave after wave of emotion it is easy to let things like food and sleep slip your mind. Just as unaddressed or buried negative emotions can least to mental health problems, self-neglect can lead to physical ailments and illness. Looking after yourself will leave you in a much better position to tackle the waves of grief and sorrow as they appear. Do what makes you happy, walk or write, sing, or dance. Go outside and reconnect to the world. Do what makes you feel healthy and positive. Avoid becoming reliant on drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, as this can do much greater damage in the long term than self-neglect. Instead, use exercise or seek out counselling as a healthier alternative.
Don’t Let Others Tell You How to Feel
Your feelings are just that YOURS. There is no right or wrong way to feel when you have experienced a personal tragedy. Some people feel comfortable disguising their pain with humour, whilst others will retreat into a quiet space and weep uncontrollably. If this is what you feel you need then that is fine, and no one should tell you otherwise. Neither should you tell yourself how you should be feeling. Everyone experiences grief differently, and there is no one way to feel or react that is the ‘right way’. No one has the right to tell you to ‘Get over it’, or say that it is time to ‘Move on with your life.’ You should be allowed to feel the way you do without having to suffer the judgement of others. Never feel embarrassed about your emotions. It is OK to feel scared and insecure, just as it is OK to feel angry and confused. Dealing with loss is never going to be easy, but you can make it easier by taking care of yourself.
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