The shock of losing someone that we love can be so overwhelming that we just don’t know how we can face tomorrow. For me, the worst thing I have ever imagined happening to those I love is dying.
I lost my Dad and my mum’s partner, who I was very close, to within five weeks of each other. When my mum’s partner was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he was so ill that he hoped each day would be his last, I realised that the worst thing is not dying, it is suffering.
Five weeks later, the shock and devastation of losing my Dad suddenly to a cardiac arrest caused me to flash back our whole lives together and to carry the weight of any imperfections in our relationship on my shoulders. For the first three weeks afterwards I seem to have walked around in a complete and utter daze. I can’t remember much to be honest. So how can we make sure we look after ourselves when we are grieving?
Don’t blame yourself
I felt guilty that I didn’t do enough to help my Dad have a better life. Guilty that I didn’t call an ambulance to get him checked out the night before he died and guilty for always nagging him and telling him to do things the way I felt was right. Feeling guilty absorbs energy like liquid to a sponge and I found myself feeling exhausted, even though I hadn’t actually done anything, other than churn thoughts around in my head.Feeling guilty doesn’t change anything. He is still gone. It just makes me feel worse. I have realised that although what has happened was out of my control, one thing I can do, is control how I think about it.Don’t waste the little energy you have thinking ‘if only’ and ‘I wish I had done things differently’.Recognise that it is not physically possible to always live a life with someone at the level we would, if we knew they were going to die tomorrow. It is impossible to sustain for an unlimited amount of time with all our loved ones. Real life gets in the way for us all and we must remember we are only human. Trust that you would have done what you believed was right at that time. I felt that I was not only grieving for the loss of my Dad, but also grieving for the way things could have been. ‘Pain from loss is inevitable, suffering is optional’ David Kessler Grief.com
Take time out from your own thoughts
Grief can be all consuming. It can make us feel like we’re going mad with the same thoughts spinning around and around in our heads. Like an everlasting nightmare restarting just before we’re about to wake up.Take time out from thinking and get some fresh air. The change of scenery, temperature and even people walking by can take your mind off of grieving. Even if only momentarily, it can provide a well needed break from your own thoughts. I remember walking round the streets close to my home crying, but once I got home I felt a bit lighter. Better still, if you are willing and able to do some form of exercise, perhaps a bike ride or a gentle jog, it can have a positive psychological effect. When we exercise, our bodies release chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in our brains that reduce our perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling, similar to morphine.
Look after yourself– Speak to friends and eat good food
You may have days when you feel low and don’t want to leave the house, days when you start to feel a little better, then just like a rollercoaster you can swoop back down with the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. Talk to friends about how you’re feeling. Some people are worried about calling a grieving friend- they fear they might not say the right thing and that they may upset you. Don’t be afraid to call them to confide in them and seek support. You don’t have to go through this alone.You will have some days where you struggle to get out of bed, let alone feel motivated to cook a nutritious meal, but try to eat good food. Have a supply of high protein and nutritious foods on tap- bananas, avocados, eggs etc and don’t be afraid to accept the offer of a home-cooked meal from a friend. Most people like to help, they just don’t know how to. One of the nicest things someone done for me when my Dad died was bringing round some home-cooked frozen meals.
Grieving is individualistic
Take your own time. Everyone grieves in a different way and takes a different amount of time. There is no end date. Don’t let anyone rush you and don’t try to rush yourself. I find writing my feelings down on paper therapeutic. It stops me from churning the same thoughts round and round in my head and it gives me some control over how to process my thoughts.Remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way. Grief changes over time and the intense sharp pain will subside into a dull ache. It may never go away but you will learn to live with it. ‘She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts’ George Elio
Develop a positive inner voice
Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy and we can punish ourselves with our thoughts.Talk to yourself with the same compassion and advice as you would give to your friends. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it and your loved ones would not want you to punish yourself with the suffering you are allowing yourself to feel. Acknowledge that if you don’t start to look after yourself, you may not make it to the age your loved ones were when they passed and you may make yourself sick.Cherish the memories and remember the good times. Nobody can take those away from you.
‘If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.’ A.A Milne, Winnie the Pooh
If you are finding it difficult to cope and come to terms with your loss, speak to a bereavement counsellor- see below for details.
Cruise Bereavement Care- 0808 8081677
Bereavement Trust Helpline: 0800 435 455 (6pm-10pm every evening www.bereavement-trust.org.uk)