My next few blogs on the topic of grief look at ways in which we can mind ourselves while we go through the deeply painful process of grieving. This first blog looks at support and grief. As human beings we need to have the face-to-face support of other people as we heal from grief and loss – but this is often not as simple as it sounds:
Our strong urge to withdraw
The pain of grief can often cause us to want to withdraw from others (including people we are normally very close to) and retreat into our shells. It simply feels too much to try to do anything else, at least in the early days. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to talk about your loss, or indeed talk about anything much at all – it’s more about the comfort that comes from just being around others who care about you. And who themselves may also be grieving the loss. You might go on a gentle walk with someone, you might sit and have a cup of coffee together. The key is not to completely isolate yourself, however much you feel you need to.
Accept peoples’ awkwardness
One really good reason for avoiding people is that we are aware that however much they may care about us, they simply won’t know what to say. Or they will say totally the wrong thing. Sadly, one of the most painful things we can experience is a sense that people are avoiding US – and it often is for this reason – as a society we often feel very awkward when trying to comfort someone who’s grieving. Grief can be a confusing, sometimes frightening emotion for many people, especially if they haven’t experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to comfort us but if a friend or loved one reaches out to you, it’s because they care.
It’s OK to let people know what you need
You may need to set out some ground rules in the early stages about what you are able to do/not do, talk about/not talk about. Often, people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need—whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or just someone to hang out with. It could also be practical tasks like doing some food shopping or accompanying us when we do it in the early stages, or baby sitting so we can get time to ourselves.
Remember that it’s OK to let people know what you need and what you don’t need. Grief can be like a rollercoaster: there will be times when you want to talk and other times when you don’t. Sometimes you might want a distraction and to not think about it, at other times all you might want to do is talk about how you feel. You may not know what you need from others and this can be confusing for you and them. Remember that there are no rules – whatever you’re feeling is OK.
A mix of companionship and solitude
Francis Weller in his wonderful book The Wild Edge of Sorrow says that inevitably we will be alone much of the time with our grief, and that solitude can be rich, as long as we know we are held somewhere, somehow, by others. Our friendships and our community enable us to go into that dark space alone. He quotes the Irish philosopher John O’Donohue who had a concept he called the “reverence of approach.” He said, “When we approach [things] with reverence, great things decide to approach us.” What if, instead of trying to outmaneuver grief, we came to it with reverence? Grief is not a passive state you’re “getting through.” You must find a way to engage it, to sit with it, to mull it over.
The alchemy of grief
Weller talks about what he calls “the alchemy of grief”. He says that “ if we have both an adequate level of companionship in our sorrow and periods of solitude that aren’t about distraction or avoidance, then grief will transform itself into tender melancholy. This life we have is incredibly short, but we’ve been blessed with it. When we shut off our grief, we forget that. To let grief work its alchemy on you yields gravitas, by which I mean the ability to be present with the bittersweet reality of life, which always includes loss. There’s no way to be spared sorrow. I wouldn’t even wish that upon someone. But we shouldn’t get stuck in our grief; it’s not a permanent address but a companion that walks beside us.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!
See also: Finding Meaning in Grief