Yesterday you were laughing. Today that song came on while you were buying laundry powder you found yourself back in the car, sobbing.
Just getting to the shop in the first place felt like an out-of-body experience. Friends keep asking how you are and you can’t even begin to express to them what it is you’re feeling. How could you when it feels like someone just kicked your heart with a steel-capped boot?
Will you ever feel anything other than this gut-wrenching pain again? How are you supposed to get through this? And if grief is so universal, why did no one ever teach us this stuff?
You’re not alone. And you will get through this.
Here are the tools you need to help you move through grief even when it feels like everything’s falling apart.
Fire Princess Caring
Asking for help can be incredibly tough, especially for we women, who are taught to be everything to everyone at all times.
I remember sitting in a reception area, in physical and emotional pain after my miscarriage and reading the first thing that came to hand — a children’s book called Princess Caring. Princess Caring does absolutely everything for her friends and never once asks for, or receives help from them. I desperately needed the Princess Caring story to end with her asking for help — because I so desperately needed help— but it never did. Princess Caring just kept on giving.
Truth is, all of us need help, especially at a time of grieving.
So get rid of Princess Caring. Right now. She’s fired.
Take people up on their offers of help. And if they haven’t been specific in the ways they’d like to help, it’s OK for you to be.
Repeat after me: It is OK to ask for help.
Say, “Right now I would really appreciate if someone cooked some meals for me” or “If someone could look after the children one night this week, I’d really appreciate that”.
Most people really want to help. And this is your turn to be on the receiving end of that help. So don’t be shy — ask for what you need now that you need it most.
Embrace the feels
There’s no way through it all but to feel it all. We put immense pressure on ourselves to “move past it” or “get over it” or “be strong”. Loved ones inadvertently put this pressure on us too, because they want us to be happy.
What no one tells you? Happiness and grief can co-exist.
The sadness will come. And when it does, you get to feel sad.
Feel without judgment. Just feel. Let the tears come, let the anger wash over you, let the despair sit with you for a while.
You’re still you, at your core. You’re you, inside, observing your emotions as they come and go.
When we numb our ‘scary’ emotions, we also numb the ones we adore — joy, excitement, exhilaration, peace. We need to feel all of our emotions in order to feel our favourite ones.
Bash the silence
Isn’t it amazing how many fundamental human experiences we go through in our lives that no one ever really talks about? Grief, unfortunately, can be one of those things.
This isn’t how it should be. You need to talk. You need to say your loved one’s name and talk about them as much as you want. You need to talk about the feelings you’re going through.
Talk to someone close to you and if you don’t know how to broach a subject this painful out of the blue, then talk to a therapist or join a support group — it could make all the difference in your grieving process.
You do you
You may have heard that grief looks different for different folks, and this is true for you too.
Don’t let well-meaning friends bully you into doing things they think will help. You’ll have the friend who thinks socializing as soon as possible is the best medicine. You’ll feel pressure to respond to “how are you” with “I’m very well” (implying you’ve completely moved on from grieving).
“I’m healing” is a perfect response to “how are you”.
“I’m healing” is also reminder to yourself to do what it takes for you — not anyone else — to heal.
In whichever way you need to. No judgment — especially from you.
Accept the squiggles
You know how you think life is going to be one long line, with each step leading logically from point A to point B but instead it’s a bunch of squiggles intertwining and squiggling off every which way?
Grief is like those squiggles. It might actually be one of the sneakiest emotions in the universe — suddenly hitting you like a freight train at 80 miles an hour in a grocery aisle, at a birthday party, or lying on the beach watching people go by.
Don’t beat yourself up for still feeling grief after x-amount of time. Grieving isn’t a linear path.
There will be joy and there will also be sadness — this is how grief works.
Build a monument
Creativity is one of the most powerful tools we have for healing. When things get too much, getting into a state of flow can help us cope, channel our emotions and feel energised and ready to face life again.
You don’t have to be a master painter or an award-winning novelist — any project that allows you to get into a state of flow will do.
So pick your project. Maybe you want to sand and paint a chest of drawers or start journaling about your experience.
Not only will the creative process help give you something concrete to focus on when the grief feels overbearing — your project will also be a tangible monument to the person you lost.
Become the giant
You know what’s great about thinking of that one thing? You can incorporate that quality into your own life.
That’s right — you can become the best part of the person you loved.
It’ll be like having a part of them with you all the time, to help you become braver, more curious, more adventurous or more caring.
Whatever it is you’ve always wanted to be ‘more’ of — you can become so, thanks to having known the person you lost.
What a comforting thought — to always have the best part of your loved one with you, and to become a better person through that.
Get on the roller coaster to enjoy peace on the other side
Grieving can be scary as hell — but you’ve already taken several big steps by starting to move through this frightening process.
Keep embracing the roller coaster ride of grief, accepting that unpleasant feelings will pop up periodically. When it does, keep feeling what you feel.
Keep talking about your feelings — and about your loved one. Keep doing what it is you need to do to work through this. Keep channeling your feelings into a creative project to help you cope.
As you do, you’ll start to heal, a little bit at a time. As you move through each nuance of grief, you’ll discover more tools to get through this.
And you will reach a peaceful place, where the raw emotion of grief will give way to a softer, more gentle reminder of the one you lost. Your life will be a wonderful monument to the work you put in — and the person you loved so much.