Content Warning: talk of death/grief
I chose the title to this article deliberately. There is no getting “over” grief, you merely get through the worst of it. The way I do this will be different to everyone around me, just as they will be different from each other, but there are some techniques we can apply to all our experiences and make work for us.
I wanted to write this, not only because of the crisis we’re in at the moment where undoubtedly someone reading this will have lost a loved one as a result of COVID-19 but because someone I really look up to lost her Grandma this week. Liv, if you’re reading this, I really hope things get easier. I also lost a friend. I can’t say I knew her very well, but she was always there for me and her death at the hands of her mental illness was a tragedy I am so, so devastated about.
As always, I want to share the things I have learnt in therapy about dealing with grief, in a bid to make the things I learnt more available without having to sit on a year long waiting list, only for your name to be ‘lost’.
When I was 14, my Grandad was very suddenly diagnosed with cancer. I truly believed that if I just stayed up every night and just worked harder and harder I could find the cure and save my Grandad. What I my increasingly ill mind couldn’t comprehend was that some things are inevitable and even my stubborn, hard-working attitude couldn’t cheat death. I was setting myself up to blame myself when he did pass away and that was not the way ahead. I am all for changing the things I cannot accept, but not at the detriment to myself, or the people around me who I love (turns out barely sleeping for four months turns you into a horrible human being- who knew?). When someone is dying or has passed away, it is important that we don’t say things like “I could have done more” to ourselves. We are human beings. We are naturally loving and if there was anything more we could have done at that moment, we would have done it. And deep down we know that, yet we still love to beat ourselves up. Practise positive affirmations and remember how much you did do for that person when they were alive. Sometimes we never realise the positive difference we make.
During my first hospital admission, I had a fantastic psychologist (If you’re out there Jemma, thank you). She used to say that painful emotions were like beach balls, the harder we push them under the water, the more painful it is when they inevitably pop back up and hit us in the face. You’re going through hell and it’s important you cry if you need to (no matter what our sex or gender) and it’s important we feel the love we had for that person. Difficult emotions are unavoidable, and we all process them differently. Personally, I reassure myself that there’s nothing more I could have done, that they are no longer in pain and that whatever is on the other side is completely out of my control so I need to keep living my life. Not because “they would have wanted me to” (that puts far too much pressure on us and allows us to beat ourselves up again when we fail), but because I want to. Because I know what is best for me and it is me I need to look after the most. “If you’re going through hell, keep going”
One damn awesome history teacher once said to me “control the controllables”, and he was right. We cant change what happens to people after they die and we can’t change the grief we will feel. But we can control how much we eat, making sure we shower and get dressed, all little things that will seem like mountains at first but will ultimately get us back on the road to something like a life we had control over. I still remember the day I first did my hair after being expelled from school. Having sat crying in my pyjamas for the best part of a month there’s nothing quite like a half up french plait to convince you you can do it again. (Have a look at the instagram hashtag boringselfcare, you wont regret it.)
There is no easy way to lose someone. But sometimes the fact they leave such a hole in your heart shows just how much of a place they had in it. They were wonderful people and you are too. You deserve to look after yourself and you deserve to be cared for if you need it. Say you’re struggling, say you miss them. We’re all human and we all love to help where we can.
Photo by Samartha J V