Grief is not solely confined to losing a loved one through death; it can also be experienced when a relationship comes to an end. It is not uncommon to feel ‘lost’ following a break-up, with individuals often feeling overwhelmed not just the loss of a loving companionship, but of the numerous other losses too.
Other losses could include the loss of financial support, a shared home, or parental care of children, to name but a few. These feelings of loss are highly individualised, meaning that there is no definitive right or wrong way to experience grief following the end of a relationship.
In the wake of a long-term relationship, occasions such as birthdays, anniversary's or valentine's day can serve as poignant reminders that the person you once loved is no longer there, intensifying the feelings of loss.
When preparing for the days which hold personal memories, it is important to consider how to achieve emotional balance throughout the day. You may choose to completely disregard the day and avoid any triggers that may cause distress, which is completely understandable.
Following a bereavement of a loved one, it can be beneficial to find a way to feel connected to your partner/spouse and honour the day in a way that holds personal significance. There are numerous ways to accomplish this, and there is no right or wrong approach to remembering your loved one. For instance, you could visit a memorable place, or take a few moments to reflect on cherished memories of the person you loved. Nevertheless, how you choose to observe the day, it should be personal and meaningful to you.
Relationships and Grief
There are many theoretical models used by Grief Counsellors and whilst personally, I’m not a fan of using models directly in my role, I really love the 'waterfall' analogy.
Over a lifetime, we travel down the ‘river of life’ and whilst we often experience a few ‘rapids’ and a ‘few waves’, we navigate through them and seem to find a way through those difficult times.
When we experience a bereavement, its more than just a few waves or rapids, it’s a waterfall. Sometimes, we see the waterfall approaching, which we can relate to a loved one being ill or receiving end-of-life care, for example. Sadly sometimes, it’s a sudden bereavement and the waterfall is unexpectedly just there in front of us, with no time to react.
After a bereavement it can feel like your ‘free-falling’ over and down the waterfall. You can feel scared and overwhelmed and there may be times where you wonder how on earth you will survive.
When you reach the bottom of the waterfall, you realise that you have survived, yet the water (the grief!) is still swirling around, making it feel like it’s hard to catch your breath and keep your head above water.
During those initial days, week’s or months, it can often feel like the water will never calm and you will always be grieving/trying to survive. Thankfully, over time, the water does begin to feel less overwhelming as we start to grieve for the loss of our loved one.
As you navigate through the new waters, grief support could be viewed as a ‘temporary life jacket’, allowing you to simply take the time to breathe and to process the journey you have been on since going over the waterfall. How long that journey takes, is individual with no time pressure and no right or wrong way of grieving. Sometimes, just being able to ‘keep your head above water’ for a while and talking about your grief will nurture and grow the inner strength you need to finally take the life jacket off and move forwards independently.
The grief support life jacket is temporary and isn’t always needed, as many people navigate their way through their grief, with the support of family and friends, however for those who would benefit from the safe, non-judgemental setting of grief counselling, it can be an invaluable step towards moving through grief and finding happiness, love and a sense of ‘new-normal’.
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.
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.
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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