The more I write about happiness, the more I read other blogs about happiness, and the more I see that often those who write about happiness are those who have experienced great sadness. Maybe experiencing sadness means you appreciate happiness more*. In any case, I wanted to share my thoughts on coping with grief with you. It may help if you’re having a rough time of it. And, if I’m honest, the writing of this is a little bit of therapy for me too. Here goes:
Stage 1 – Trauma
IT happens. This stage is like emotional jet lag. One moment you’re doubled up wailing and looking in the mirror and not recognising the face. The next, you might feel catharsis, something like relief. And sometimes hope and excitement and then back to grief.
Your concentration is terrible. You’re in something like shock – you might not tell your left from your right. Driving a hire car may be costly. You may laugh and cry within the space of a few minutes, often at completely inappropriate times. Going to the supermarket to buy milk, you may end up standing in an aisle, holding a pumpkin and wondering where on earth you are and what you are doing. You may find yourself phoning 118 118 and ask to speak to the man who sings that song that makes you cry. Your right shoe is on your left foot and vice versa. Certainly, nothing else in the world matters.
You may take up smoking in the morning, drinking at lunchtime and staying up until 4am. You can barely leave the house, your hair is greasy, you can’t sleep and you live in trackie bums. At times, you want to talk for hours and at times, you want to be left alone. Your friends are confused. You need to get your shit together and get healthy at some point, but not yet. Tell your boss and your friends – you can’t cope with work shit and any other shit on top of this.
If you imagine you have an open bleeding wound, then you just ripped the plaster off. It feels necessary and unstoppable and human. But also hopeless and uncontrollable, and just very, very sad. At times overwhelming, which is exactly the moment when you must call a friend or your mum and just cry. Thing is, you need to get through this to get to the next stage.
You can stop it of course – you could drink or medicate yourself through it, or ignore what you are going through (the plaster goes back on) but then you never get to 2. Your friends have been amazing but sadly, you need to spend time alone, cry, be sad, be brave and let yourself feel it all. Lay off the booze, be selfish, don’t book up all your time and cancel appointments. And, eventually, you get to 2.
Stage 2 – Regrets and what ifs
What if I hadn’t moaned so much, if I hadn’t been so selfish. I should have told them I loved them more, visited more frequently. I should or shouldn’t have done x and y and z and any number of things. There is an urgent desire to atone, to finish unfinished conversations. You may never be able to. But if you still can, you should wait until you’re less emotional – it could go horribly wrong and you might not get the response you want. And the other person may be grieving too and need their own time.
It’s good to write a letter or a diary. Start it as if it’s a normal letter – how you are, what you’ve been doing lately. Then what you wish you’d said or done and how much you love them and thank them for everything and tell them how much you miss them and are so so sorry. You may never be able to send it. But if you still can, don’t send it yet – what until you get to 4 and only if you still think you need to.
At some point you will reconcile yourself that what happened happened and you can’t change it. You may go back to 1. Or you may get to 3.
Stage 3 – Development
You may cut your hair, start an exercise routine, buy new clothes, book a holiday. You are likely to rack up debts. Try not to get a tattoo or a nose job or anything permanent – this too is a phase. Taking up hardcore drugs or a marathon is equally not wise.
This is a consolidation, a meditative phase where you realise what the truth is – what really happened, the fact that you could do nothing to stop it happening. More importantly, what it means for your future, what you can do to move on, the person you really are and what you really need.
You may realise that you slept OK last night or you didn’t cry today. At times you may feel like you’re fine – but you’re not quite there yet so be cautious. Friends may have stopped calling or texting, which can make you feel lonely. Make sure you tell them how you feel because you need them still. You may still go back to 1 and 2 but eventually, you’ll get to 4.
Stage 4 – Healing
Last night you slept. And then today you suddenly realised you felt happy. You may have felt positive, that life is full of possibilities. You smiled openly in the street. You told your friends how much you love them. It may have only lasted a short time but it was genuine. You’re almost there.
You’ve learned some things about yourself – who you are, what you need and what you want. You shouldn’t go back – it’s time to move on. Start a new course or think about making changes. Work on friendships and your family. Be positive – this process has made you a stronger, more knowledgeable person. Life is out there waiting for you – you’re ready and you WILL be happy again.
So what are you waiting for? The world is your oyster, your friend and your playground – go jump on the swings.
* See Kahlil Gibran’s On Pain where he says pain is the breaking of the shell of your understanding.