The real truth about grief

grief

According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying, grief is a process which the griever is expected to move through five stages:
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It sounds like a linear process, which, once you have navigated your way through each stage you are considered to be “done” grieving. Well let me tell you something –  this was not my experience at all.

For me denial, anger and depression came all at once in a tsunami-like wave. I couldn’t believe J was gone, I kept expecting him to call me, to get another one of his postcards in the post but it never happened and as each day dawned I still held out hope I would hear from him. I would wake up each morning and for a few brief seconds I would believe that it had all been some horrible nightmare but then reality closed in on me and I remembered that he was gone.

At the same time I was also angry, furious in fact,  I couldn’t understand how everyone else around me seemed able to go on with their lives. Didn’t they realise there was a big, gaping hole in the Universe now? How could the woman in front of me at the supermarket checkout not realise that the world had lost someone utterly amazing? Here I was feeling like my world had ended and there was this random woman acting like nothing had happened, I felt like I was living in a bubble and unable to communicate with anyone outside my bubble.

In hindsight I should have probably accepted the offer from J’s parents to stay with them until the funeral rather than take the 500 mile round trip home and back again for the funeral but I felt that I would be intruding on their grief if I had done that, they had lost their only son and it seemed as though no matter what I felt their grief was more in some way more worthy than mine. I know now that this wasn’t true but at the time I felt I had no place in the hierarchy of mourners – I was not a relative or his partner and therefore undeserving of a place at the table. J’s parents and sister didn’t see it like that though; they knew J meant the world to me and they insisted that I traveled to the church service in the same car as they did, from the family home, and sat with them on the front pew.

The worst thing for me was that it was difficult to enunciate to tothers how I felt. When I informed my line manager and colleagues they didn’t really understand the degree of loss I felt; I was not only mourning the loss of someone very close but also the loss of what might have been. J and I had been very close friends but it was clear there was something else beginning to emerge and we had been robbed of our chance to see where it might take us.

I also found that well-meant platitudes of, “it get’s better in time” did nothing but make me feel more angry. I found that as time wore on it healed nothing, it just took me further away from the point of impact. I found more solace in the quote by Rose Kennedy, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” than anything else anyone could say.

Depression took a terrible hold on me, I struggled to do even the simplest of tasks. I was in the process of getting a home office set up for my work and had bought a flat-pack desk which required assembling; it took me 3 solid days to put it together when the instructions advised it should take 2 hours. I did my best to get a routine going for work but it was difficult as I was a field-based employee and had to set my own timetable which I struggled with at first as I felt I had no direction. I was lucky that I was being mentored by another field-based colleague who lived fairly close by and they helped me with organising my working day. I wanted to do well in my job and I started to throw myself into working hard which helped give me some focus again but at times it felt very hollow as I had no one to talk to about it – J was gone and I still had the status of “Black Sheep” with my family. I was still in touch with old work colleagues but it felt wrong to call them up and howl in pain down the phone at them, I felt that they had endured enough of my dramas following the split with my husband and I didn’t want to burden them any further with tales of woe. So when I did speak to them I told them only about the different countries I was getting to see and the important people I was getting to meet; they were so delighted for me that I couldn’t bear to tell them the real truth – that I was lonely and missed them all dearly, that I cried every night and was struggling to get out of bed each day.

Eventually I confided in my work mentor and they suggested that I should try to find a club or society to join in order to provide me with an interest outside of work and to meet new people. This turned out to be the best suggestion anyone had for me – I joined a local walking group and a camera club and although it was tough to get going at first it turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made.

For anyone else going through something similar I highly recommend you try looking for local groups in your area using http://www.meetup.com/ it is a wonderful, free resource and could well be the change you need when you are ready for it.

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