Loss and grief

by - March 19, 2023

Sunset and seaside illustration

I have thought about writing about this before on various occasions, but tackling this topic scared me and I wanted to make sure my experience was recent enough that it felt authentic. I debated whether to even post about loss and grief because it is so personal and is such a complex and difficult process.  

Death is a taboo subject in our society and it makes people uncomfortable. As no one knows what happens after death, it often feels intimidating and is one of those subjects that we avoid thinking about until we are forced to confront it. But the truth is all of us will experience loss at some point, and not talking about it only makes it that much harder when we have to go through it. As loss is something everyone will encounter at some point, and it is rarely discussed I thought it might be helpful to document my experience for somebody else to read. 

My experience with loss and grief: 

Loss can feel different every time. 

Having lost people I care about before, I thought I knew what grief and loss felt like. I assumed it would feel largely the same every time as my experiences with loss and grief had been similar in the past. Then I lost a close family member in December 2022 and it was not quite the same as other times I had lost people I love. It forced me to reevaluate the way I saw grief and loss. For the first time, I experienced losing someone who was fully aware they were dying. I was forced to confront in a relatively short period of time the reality that someone who was leading a normal life just a few months prior would no longer be alive. Would no longer be able to get out of bed. To cook or clean again. To laugh. To talk. I had to accept that whilst they were still alive, they were also dying. 

Grieving someone whilst they are still alive brings up a lot of difficult emotions. Life and death felt one - two sides of the same coin. I felt as if I had to make the most of every second as I never knew when the last moment would be. I found myself trying to guess when they would die to in an attempt to prepare myself and to be able to make the best use of the time left. It was hard accepting the inevitable reality that their health would only get worse with time and accepting in a short space of time that I was losing someone I loved. I had previously experienced expected deaths, but it had been over years as opposed to 4 months, so I had had a lot more time to wrap my head around it. Thus, the new experience had me feeling lost and very overwhelmed. It made me realise that loss and grief is a lot more complex than I had originally imagined. No matter how many people you lose, the experience of losing someone else can feel different each time, even if there are some similarities. 

It is not just losing a person, it is also losing a part of your life. 

Loss is so much more than the person you lose.  The people you care about shape an important part of who you are.  Loss means feeling like you have lost a part of yourself and a part of your life. It is losing the moments that you used to be able to share with them and you can no longer share. The conversations you can no longer have. Agonising over things you wish you would have said. The thoughts of all the things you wish you could say to them now they are not here anymore but can't. Replaying all the memories you shared together in your head and realising you will never be able to live them again. The hugs you can no longer give. 

You will sometimes think you are fine and then hit rock bottom again. 

After a few months, it can feel like you have made progress and honestly sometimes it may even feel that as difficult as it is, you have accepted and made peace with the loss. Then suddenly you hit rock bottom again and it feels like you are back to where you started. Something small might happen that makes you feel disproportionately upset and you realise that actually, you are still grieving. That small thing going wrong was merely a catalyst that enabled you to let out your emotions. Or other times it can feel like grief hits you again out of the blue, and all the progress you thought you made feels undone. It is not. Grief is complex and takes time to work through and is a process you simply cannot rush. You have to take it as it comes. 

There is no right way to grieve or way you should be grieving. 

Grief is so much more than sadness and often brings up a range of emotions. I have sometimes cried for hours and other times felt empty or numb. Sometimes I have been in denial and the loss did not feel real. Other times I have felt really detached from everything and felt like I was watching everything happen from the outside. Some people channel their grief into other tasks and may outwardly seem fine. Since loss and grief are very complex and personal, there is no "right" way of grieving or "right" way to feel. I know I have sometimes felt at odds with feeling numb because I expected to be crying all of the time. The reality is sometimes you will feel numb and other times you will cry your eyes out. You may have a different reaction such as feeling angry, or frustrated. There are many ways of channeling and coping with emotions and everyone does this differently. 

Loss can cause you to question your faith and that is okay. 

Usually, when I have experienced loss, it has brought me closer to my faith. I would feel more connected and take comfort in faith. The last time I lost someone close to me, although initially feeling closer to my faith, this quickly changed to feeling massively disconnected and lost with it. I was confused and felt let down. I also felt frustrated that when I felt I needed faith the most, it completely slipped away from me. I know I will not be the only one that has felt like this, but I don't hear people talk enough about this so wanted to make a point of it in case anybody else needs to read it. Of course, faith is incredibly personal and not something everyone will relate to so only take this point if you find it helpful. This point is in no way intended to enforce any beliefs on anyone. Faith and religion is incredibly personal and everyone will have their own beliefs and experience. 

You learn to live with it. 

I find although in some senses it can feel like with time, the loss of your loved one is easier, it is more a process of acceptance. I still miss people I have lost years ago. But, I have learnt to see a life without them. It is ultimately a hard change you have to adapt to. At the same time, I have found time can heal a lot. The longer it has been, the more I can cherish the good memories and smile when I remember them as opposed to just feeling a deep sense of emptiness, sadness and crying. 

You will never feel ready. 

No matter how expected death is, coming to terms with losing someone is incredibly hard and there will never be a point where you feel ready to let them go. It is something we are simply forced to deal with when it happens. 

Do whatever feels helpful to you. 

I remember once being given the advice not to go and see the body of my loved one again. I was told it was better for me to remember them for who they really were. Whilst that advice was helpful to me then, I found recently when I lost a loved one over Christmas that it was not so black and white. I felt a need to be with the dead body for a little while. It was what felt right at that moment. You will have different needs at different points so do whatever feels the most comfortable and comforting to you in the moment.  

"A veces lo que parece ser el final, es en realidad un nuevo comienzo" - sometimes what looks like the end is actually a new beginning. 

This was printed on the cardboard box packaging of a plant my family was given at the funeral service and I found it helpful to think about. Life is a cycle after all. Although that person's life may have now ended, they live on in loved ones' memories. Their body whether cremated or buried will eventually be new life, whether that be a new plant or eaten by another animal. 

Keep me going 🙂:

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