By Faye Keenan MBACP, Relationship Therapist at Relate Bradford.
Whether you celebrate Easter or not, it’s hard to deny that this time of year signifies re-birth and new life for many. This year however, almost a month on from the UK’s National Day of Reflection, where we all took time to think of everyone and everything we have lost to the pandemic, it may be unthinkable to buy into the Springtime festivities.
Sometimes we wonder if we will ever get over our loss, or if the loss we are grieving is even justifiable; here are some things to try remembering when the wave hits;
Everyone experiences loss in their own way. There is no definitive timeline, structure or formula for grief. There are some great theories, such as the ‘Fried Egg’ analogy, which articulates how the loss stays with us but our lives become full again over time. Although how you move through, around, over, under and any which other way you navigate this emotion is unique to you and your frame of reference.
Honour your emotion, or it will bite you in the butt! Emotions are our internal GPS, which signal to us that we are heading in the wrong (or right) direction. When we feel grief, sadness, emptiness and other such emotions, we tend to find them uncomfortable and unwelcome. It can be so tempting to push them away, only to find your GPS has taken you off the edge of cliff further into your journey! Give these emotions some attention, even if for a few moments. Ask these emotions what the problem is and what they need, as though you were caring for a loved one. Keep listening and attending to these uncomfortable emotions and try to see them as messages to keep your GPS on the right track, as you navigate your way through a difficult period.
Identify and plan for your triggers. Big life events, anniversaries and celebrations such as Easter can be an especially triggering time. This can be due to the emotions tied up in the memories of the person or thing that is no longer in our lives. Be realistic about expectations of how you might cope during these times, and plan some self-care around events that are unavoidable, but intensely emotional for you. When we are using our Amygdala or our ‘emotional brain’, our frontal lobes, which are responsible for rational thinking, are shut off, which can make it difficult for us to think clearly, or put any of our self-care intentions into action. Have a go-to list of things, activities or people that will bring comfort or support during this time. Write them down and keep them close by when you feel you may struggle to recall them.
If the loss you are grieving is a death, despite the infamous Kubler-Ross theory where eventually you arrive at acceptance, you don’t have to pressure yourself into gaining closure if this doesn’t feel right for you. When will it ever be okay that this person is no longer with you? The answer may be never if it was someone who you were close to, loved dearly or was a big part of your life. Shift your focus to think about how your emotional relationship with this person lives on, in your thoughts, decisions, imaginary conversations, ‘What would my friend say now?’, and actions. Create new memories that symbolise this change, not ending, of how you experience the emotions of this relationship; after all they are still present for you. Think of things that are meaningful, things that you had planned to do or things you would’ve loved to show them and put these intentions into action.
Grief an be a very unpredictable experience, you may feel fine one day and in despair the next, this is normal. Allow your feelings to just ‘be’ and stay curious about what you are feeling emotionally, physically and mentally. Over time, the grief will still be there but you will learn how to work with it so it is not as disruptive and traumatic, particularly by implementing some of the ideas above.
If you are feeling a prolonged feeling of grief, despair, hopelessness or any other kind of low mood or your health and daily functioning is being impacted in a harmful way, such as unhealthy coping mechanisms, please consult your G.P who will be able to direct you to an appropriate service for specialist support.
References and helpful reading –
Fried Egg Theory, https://www.funeralguide.co.uk/help-resources/bereavement-support/the-grieving-process/tonkins-model-of-grief
Kubler Ross, 7 Stages of Grief pdf - https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/stages-of-grief-education.pdf
If you are struggling with the end of a relationship, Relate Bradford and Leeds can provide subsidised and, in some cases, fully funded sessions for those living in the Leeds/Bradford area. You can find out more about the service by visiting relatebradford.org. If you are not in this area, contact your G.P who will be able to direct you to a suitable service.