Christmas is often referred to as a time of great joy and celebration, a time for uniting and being with family and friends. However, for those who are bereaved it can also be a time to reflect and remember the friends and family who are no longer with us.
Grief does not disappear over the festive season; in fact some would say it is heightened as we remember and grieve for our memories of past Christmas’s with our loved ones. It is those memories that reminded me of a poem I once read:
Memories are a special house
We build inside ourselves
Where love and laughter linger,
Where all our past life dwells.
On holidays like Christmas
We can draw upon the store,
Reliving happy times
And feeling all that warmth once more.
Wherever we may travel,
This house is always there
To help to blend the old and new,
To build on . . . grow . . . and share.
This house can never get too full,
Just grow from floor to floor,
Because the joy of memories
Is always making more
I found this poem quite poignant in that it reminds us in the midst of our grief, there is a future, however I for one can say that you never get over grief, it stays with you.
It is true, Christmas IS different, both physically and emotionally…. it IS hard …and it CAN be difficult and in the lead up to Christmas, the feelings of sadness can feel overwhelming at times.
Grief is a very personal emotion with every person’s experience being unique to them. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, just like there is no time limit as to how long it takes, in fact I believe that we always grieve, it never leaves us… however in time, life grows around that grief which makes it less overwhelming.
Reflecting on my own grief, I find it comforting to remember the special memories of my late husband. Including his smile…..his unique sense of humour …..and his ability to always be grateful for the presents he may not have chosen himself but received with the greatest of gratitude.
It is okay for our grief to make us sad sometimes, after all our love will never lessen, but that love is what gives us hope and the capability to keep going and to remember those who are no longer sat beside us with the greatest of warmth and adoration.
I think hope is a really important word when you talk about grief….it’s important to remember that at the heart of our individual and united grief ….there is hope. Hope that we can remember our loved ones……..Hope that we can keep their memory alive through us living……..but more importantly hope that we can take that love that intensifies our grief and use it to help us remember our memories into the future.
The Grief Garden
Metaphorically, you could think of life after grief like a garden, we have an idea of how we want the garden to look like and we can be meticulous in our thoughts and actions, however, life has a tendency to grow a ‘few weed’s’ sporadically which at times can feel a little out of control.
Even when the clouds are darker and the grief within the garden seems a little unruly, never give up hope. Like the garden, grief takes time. Take it day by day and week by week. The garden will grow again and although it may not be the same, it can still be beautiful, it will just be different.
Like grief, the garden needs time to find a new way of living alongside adversity.
With good support we start to develop the coping strategies needed to live alongside grief and loss which helps us grow around our grief.
Like the garden you may still have days when you don't feel like you are moving forward and those 'weeds' are reappearing. Yet there will also be many times when you start to feel a sense of resilience and stoicism. The garden suddenly starts to bloom once more.
The secret is to learn to find a sense of light in the darkness, but at the same time, appreciating that life is like the appearance of the sun and moon. There will always be times of darkness, but there will also be times of light. This is the eternal circle of life. After grief the light and the dark have to work together in order to create each day.
THE HEART PLASTER
Grief is like an emotional wound to the heart.
Imagine you have a wound to your heart; it’s bleeding and it hurts so you put a plaster on it. The bleeding stops and for a while the plaster is covering the wound.
On the outside, there are no longer any visible signs of the wound (pain of your grief) but underneath, the pain is very real and the heart feels broken.
Now, imagine taking that plaster straight off…..the result would be that your heart has not healed and it will then continue to bleed and be painful. Like a wound, grief takes time to heal, we need time to get over the pain and the initial shock of our loss and we cannot just simply ‘get over it’.
Like a wound, if we simply left our wounded heart unattended, the pain may increase or get worse. Just like a physical wound, we sometimes need a little more support to help us through the healing process. Talking to a bereavement counsellor, a support service, a friend or family member can be part of that healing process.
Over time, you can start to take off the plaster, a little bit at a time. When the plaster comes off completely, the initial pain may have lowered but there is a scar left by the grief and that scar stays with us for life. Occasionally, when something triggers our grief, the scar hurts for a while and we are reminded of our loss and the pain we felt and still feel.
Our emotional scars make us who we are, they are a reminder of the grief we have experienced but also they are a reminder of the physical and emotional strength it takes to heal after a bereavement.
Creative Ideas in Grief and Bereavement
Writing a Letter
Writing is an excellent way of processing our emotions, especially difficult emotions such as grief. Writing allows you to put into words what may be difficult to say out loud. It may be that you wish to express an anger about a situation or just feel like you need to share your thoughts to rationalise them.
Expressive writing has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, as well as promoting good general mental health and wellbeing. It allows you to really ‘feel’ the emotions associated with grief and bereavement, and also to start to work through them over time.
All you need to do, is take a pen and paper or a laptop, and start writing. Think about how you really feel. Remember you don’t need to worry about upsetting anybody, so really write about what emotions or feelings that you have.
*Important* …. This letter should be kept private, so either keep it somewhere safe, or after you have finished simply destroy the letter/file. In the letter, you can tell the person who has died, how you really feel, maybe tell them something you wish you had said, or maybe just tell them what’s going on your life right now, there really is no right or wrong way to write a letter as long as it helps you.
An example of some excerpts from letters could be:
“Dad, I’m really sorry that I never got to tell you that I loved you, I was always so busy with work. I do love you though, I always have and always will. I miss you so much”
“I smiled today, and I thought of you. I felt guilty for smiling at first, but I know you would be so proud of me, and your children for staying strong. We miss you so much.”
“I am so angry with you for leaving me”
“I feel so sad today, I just want to cry all the time. I know you would have stayed if you had the choice. Someone asked me today if I’m okay, I said yes. What I actually wanted to say is that my heart is breaking and no I’m not okay.”
This is an incredibly powerful exercise to do and one which can re-visited as many times as you feel is helpful, however, if you feel it is too upsetting then it is important to stop the exercise and seek support from a bereavement counsellor who can help you to start to process those difficult thoughts and emotions.
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