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How to cope with bereavement

If you’ve lost someone close to you, however long ago it was, you’ll know the indescribably impact bereavement has on your life. Two of the strongest threads that bind us together as human beings are the fear of dying and the unutterable heartbreak that shakes the foundations of our identity when we lose someone we love. Grief and the experience of death affects our sense of belonging, it reminds us that we are not immortal.

Loss of loved ones is an anticipated natural part of life. And yet it is devastating – so how do we get through it?

Here are five things I’ve learned about how we cope with grief, whether you’ve lost someone recently or many years ago.

1. Accept grief does not have an expiry date – and let go of expectations

You might have read about the seven stages of grief, and many speak of the first year after your loved one has passed as being especially hard. In my experience, any of the seven stages of grief can come at any time.

Six years after losing my loved one I went through a period of immense sadness when it hit home that they would never meet my daughter, that they were not here with me through the terminal illness of my mother – these feelings of loss and sadness could never have been anticipated in the first year after their death..

While it may seem depressing to think one can grieve forever, there are positive ways to embrace grief. Ask yourself how you can honour those who have passed, making that practice a regular part of your life.

  • It may be fish and chips on their birthday or changing photographs of them regularly.

  • It can be looking up when walking amongst the trees and simply inviting the memories back in.

  • It may be writing a letter to them – updating them of all that you have in your life and letting them know what you miss about them.

  • Speaking of them. Telling your family and friends about them regularly.

Your loss and your journey through it will never be like anyone else’s.

So stop questioning whether you are doing things “right”. You know what you need. Ask your heart, and ask your body – they will tell you if you listen – not the voices in your head of external expectations.

2. Forgiveness matters

It is difficult to start looking at what forgiveness needs to take place, when you know you’re never going to be able to have another conversation with the person you’ve lost.

But it’s an important part of the grieving process.

Forgive yourself, for all those thoughts you may have:

I didn’t do enough with them… I wasn’t enough … I shouldn’t have said… I should have said….

Forgive them for the moments that sting, let go of the negative memories and replace them with happier ones… it feels better.

I held on to a memory for a long time of the last time I saw my brother before he died unexpectedly. We had a terrible argument. I clung on to this memory for years, until one day my coach asked me if I could let this go and replace it with a happier one.

I tried it, and I felt so much lighter. It was so simple. And it enabled me to really honour our relationship and his memory, instead of dwelling on a painful interaction.

3. Some people help, and others don’t. That’s OK.

When I was in the midst of grief, I found that some people’s energy was loving and holding whilst others didn’t know what to do.

Our cultural paradigm doesn’t like to see the messy side of grief. We tend to cover this up or keep it behind closed doors. Yet I found it was the people I least expected, often ones who had experienced loss themselves, who were able to cope with my snotty red nose and smudged mascara eyes.

Hang out with those who can, not those who require you to suppress your feelings.

Don’t be afraid to look inward and towards the loss. It is only through embracing it and the acceptance of death that we can truly live our fullest life.

I believe that our loved ones still teach us, even when they have passed. Listen for it. Ask yourself – what would they have said? How can they comfort you, even now?

4. Love conquers all

Love yourself enough to be patient:

  • A grieving brain can be a thick fog. Expect forgetfulness, expect lack of enthusiasm for most things.. be compassionate to you.

  • Wrap yourself in cotton wool at least for a little while. Know that your loved one would want you to be eating well and hydrating.

  • Grief is draining, and I constantly felt tired. Allow yourself enough sleep.

Allow others to love you:

When they say “let me know if you need anything”… Let them know.

  • Maybe you need some cheering up today.

  • A hearty meal because you are exhausted.

  • Some time to do something completely different, or space to talk about your memories.

Whatever it is, let them know.

5. Plant your roots again

The gales of grief can knock you to the floor. Uproot you, leave you blowing aimlessly for what can seem like an eternity.

It is therefore vital that you grab the ground in whatever way you can.

Start with a small, simple morning ritual like making a heart-hugging cup of tea. Do this one thing every day to ground you.

When you start feeling able, add another little ritual that will help you.

Plant some seeds to reconnect and embrace cycles of our great mother earth.

Look around you and embrace the seasons. Nest, make your home a beautiful space so that it can hold you.

Know that you are now part of a sacred group – you too are now a grief guide.

Want more support?

If you’ve lost a loved one, are feeling alone and could do with some support, join Debbie at the Dragonflies Club to be supported as you rediscover your purpose and joy. Click here to find out more.

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