On grief

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.

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15 responses to “On grief

  1. Good to have a post on grief on here I think, Sasha. I’ve come to realise in my research that for many people when it comes to understanding their own happiness, many of us need to understand our own, personal unhappiness. It’s not an enormously pleasant notion to confront – what makes me unhappy?’ – but if we can appreciate that, we can get closers to appreciating the opposite. And anything that helps people realise what happiness means to them is a good thing in my book!

    Oh, yeah, I should get on and write that book ….

    • Thanks Steve. I know I have a lot of readers who much prefer posts on burgers and coffee though, which I will get back to soon!

      I definitely think you need to be unhappy and then DEAL with it and understand it, to truly understand yourself and what makes you happy. It means sitting and taking it, not bottling it up or ignoring it, to get to a happier place.

      And yes, write the book please. I’m looking forward to reading it! x

  2. Hey Sasha

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s very timely as I recently lost a close friend and one of my friends just lost her mother. I think you’re absolutely right that you need to accept these feelings and work with them rather than bottle them up. When I was younger I lost 2 close family members and bottled the feelings up to be ‘strong’ for everyone else. Of course about 3 years later it all came pouring out anyway.

    As you say, positives can emerge. I wrote a post about the experience of losing my friend a few weeks ago about how important it is to reconnect with people. Let me know what you think.

    http://www.lifetothemaximum.com/2010/10/importance-of-reconnecting-with-old.html

    All the best, Michael.

    • Thanks Michael. I’m going to take a look at this later on today. I also lost someone very close to me and bottled it up but the next crappy thing that comes along, it all hits you again. I think I’ve dealt with it properly now which is why I felt I could write it. I’m sorry to hear about you losing your friend.

      Love the name of your blog too. Think I need a glass of wine and a few hours to take a proper look 🙂 Thanks again for the comment x

  3. A very honest and reflective post – I think it is an important topic to write about since someone who reads this and is grieving might recognise and alter potentially harmful patterns. It’s also reassuring to know that you are not the only one going through such phases.
    Thanks for posting x

    • Oh thank you Jenn. Yes, I found it really helpful to write and hoped it would help others in similar situations – just so you know that what you are going through is normal and that it will, with time, pass. And that you will be stronger at the end. Never good to bottle these things up. But never fear, I’m writing about wine and burgers again soon.

      Thanks for lovely comment as always 🙂 x

  4. Souffrir passe,avoir souffert ne passe jamais’-Leon Bloy
    ‘Pain is the holiest angel, who reveals treasures that would otherwise have remained hidden in the depth for ever. People have become greater through it than through all the world’s joy’ Deitrich Bonhoffer

  5. I’ve now got no idea how on earth (or where from) I stumbled upon you, but I clicked in as I recognised The Happiness Project, and I thought – ooh one in London too! Then I saw your latest post was about losing someone. Having never really had my heart broken, a recent break up brought it home to me that, although breaking up with someone is nowhere near as devastating as losing a loved one from bereavement, you are, in a way, still mourning the loss of someone, and grieving for them…going ‘cold turkey’ on talking to someone who has been a best friend. Man it is hard. But all of the advice is brilliant and true – I’ve found that letting myself feel miserable if I want to is good solace. And then seeing friends/family/loved ones makes a little cozy glow again, and life starts to feel a bit more hopeful.

    Cooking has helped me too! It’s hard to cry when you’re trying hard to follow a recipe (although I’ve heard the same is said of running, somehow that never quite seems to work for me!).

    Thank you for such a lovely thoughtful post, it has really helped.

  6. Thank you sweetie. This post was written about both – losing someone close to me and a recent break up. The latter brought home the first and I realised I hadn’t dealt with it properly so went through the process anew. I think I know what you need to do this time. Friends and family stand out – all I can do is try to be there for them like they were for me in future.

    Going to check your blog out soon too! xx

  7. Interesting journey Sasha. I’ve come to regarding the impact of emotions (good or bad) like a virus; it takes time to work through your system. Best to keep your body and your mind in good shape for a random virus-strike. So I try to ride my bike up a steep hill most days. And I’ve adopted what the medics call a ‘pulsed dose’ approach to (a reduced intake of) alcohol – if I have some one day, I have the next day off.
    Good luck on the rest of your travel…
    John S

  8. I often write about happiness in the times I feel most sad as do you
    Really glad someone noticed that
    Thank you for this. As you say, you can achieve great happiness once you know what great sadness is. x

  9. I like Michael Rosen’s Sad Book with Quentin Blake’s artwork – for any age (it looks like a children’s picture book). Like your post, it’s a reminder & a bit of a comfort that at least one other person has been there.
    http://www.michaelrosen.co.uk/sadbook.html

  10. An excellent post – as someone who has lost their father and is going through a divorce, I’d say this is spot on for both situations. I’d also say that the grief of a break up feels far, far worse – as there seems less chance of “closure”. When someone dies, you eventually rationalise it and accept they are gone. But when you break up with someone you love, they still exist and you are therefore constantly reminded of what you’ve lost (even if you don’t have any contact with them). I wish someone could help me get to stage 4……. x

    • Oh Gina. I am sending a super big bear hug your way. Funnily enough I also wrote this about the same things – my father dying (6 years ago) and a breakup of a long term relationship with a man I loved. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to break up with someone I’d married and the pain of divorce. I’m actually reading Eat Pray Love at the moment and, however cheesy it is at times, it is incredibly poignant and thought provoking about soul mates and the loss you suffer after a marriage ends.

      To get to Stage 4? You will get there, I promise. All it’s going to take is time – tear-soaked, wine-and-sadness-filled time. I’m so sorry Gina and I wish you all the best xxx

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