The Grief After Loss


There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Grief is something none of us can escape. It comes in many forms – the death of a loved one, pregnancy loss and infertility, an end of a relationship, the illness of a loved one. It is our natural response to loss. Grief is an outpouring of a myriad of emotions, can affect many parts of life, and we can respond to it in unique ways. Simply put, to grieve is to act in sorrow.

I have sat down to write this piece many times over this last year. Every time I’ve put words to paper, I never felt that I captured a coherent message that resonated with me. Rather than spend time trying to get the words just right, I decided to write knowing that this is a step forward to speak my grief.

While I have had many forms of grief in my life, the unexpected loss of my younger sibling recently has been particularly difficult. At times, it has felt that nothing can truly comfort or bring relief from the jarring sense of our family loss. And yet, there have been many moments over this past year that small practical things have helped.

What helped?

The most important lesson I have learnt is the need to speak the words around grief. The words may not always be coherent, they may not be pretty, they may come at inopportune times, but they need to be thought about, shared and heard.

Importantly, speaking about grief does not always have to be an unloading of intense feelings through words alone. I learnt this lesson many years ago working with children who experienced loss. Their grief was intense and raw. It impacted every aspect of their lives and development. In my work, it was important to observe, listen carefully, and wonder about all their experiences, whether they were joyful, awful, sad, or fearful feelings. I have always felt that it was the slowing down of the therapeutic interaction and participating in the everyday-ness of play in therapy with them that helped most. This involved thinking about the things that were unsaid between us, giving myself permission to misunderstand, being authentic when this happened, and making attempts to repair our relationship when I misunderstood. In particular, I felt that it was my curiosity about all their experiences that helped these little ones to feel understood, and helped them make-meaning of unbearable feelings.

Therapy also involved creating a safe place to do this work. Creating a safe place when you are grieving can be helpful. A safe place could be a physical space (therapist’s office, a coffee shop with a friend, a support group), a spiritual endeavour, a creative outlet, or engaging in a helpful physical activity (a walk or a run). At times, what helped me most was engaging in a reflective space – a place to think and be curious about the ordinary moments in between my intense feelings.

While there is a need to talk through, be curious or to try to make meaning of our grief, it can sometimes help to find simple activities to get through. Holding our grief too tightly can make us miss the everyday moments of life.

So:

  • Give yourself permission to talk about matters unrelated to loss with someone.
  • Structure in time to do something creative or meaningful.
  • Watch and enjoy your kids play a game.

Over these past months, I have found that there is an everyday-ness in grief and this is okay. We can miss this sometimes if we push grief away or hold it too tightly. Grief changes us, and we need to honour this. For me, finding small moments to think through, understand and share my grief when I felt safe to do so, helped. And, some days it helped to enjoy everyday things without feeling guilty. It is my hope that on some days, you too, might find small things to help you through, to speak your grief and feel understood, and to make meaning and purpose of sorrow when you can.

And remember, there is help. Please contact your GP or a therapist if you feel that your grief has become more entrenched. There is always someone there to help.

Lifeline 131114

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

Your Local GP or Your Local Mental Health Clinic


Catherine

About Catherine

Catherine Daly is an Occupational Therapist and Psychotherapist working with children and families struggling with emotional, behavioural, developmental and mental health difficulties.