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Because family life matters

Do it your way

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Our Widowed Young Support Coordinator shares how we all grieve in our own unique way and that it’s important to be guided by people who understand the pain of untimely loss.

One of the many difficult things to deal with after the loss of a partner is other people’s lack of understanding about how we are coping. I remember a well-meaning friend of mine saying, “it’s been a year since Jo died, you need to have fun now.” What he was really saying was, “you’ve been grieving too long. You’re miserable to be with. Snap out of it!”

Grief is neither linear nor predictable and no two individuals grieve the same way. How a person experiences and handles grief is unique to them for many reasons, such as the cause of death, their personality, the support they have around them, their commitments and responsibilities, and their financial challenges. Current government restrictions due to COVID-19 are also having a profound negative impact on people’s grief.

Here are a few phrases which you may have heard people say from time to time:

“You should be getting over it by now.”

What these people are really saying is “I hope you are getting over it because that would make me feel better. I want to help you, but I’ve run out of ideas, time and energy.” They don’t understand that the grief journey can be a long one and they may need to be with you for the long haul! This is where you find out who your true friends are.

“You ought to be strong, don’t give in to your feelings.”

People can feel uncomfortable about witnessing our feelings, they try to distract us from our emotions. But it’s good to cry! Grief tears release stress hormones. To experience that pain is vital to our recovery – otherwise we will never accept the reality of our loss.

“Well, at least they didn’t suffer.” or “It was all part of a bigger plan…”

It’s natural for people to try to find positives. However true or not true those statements may be, they can persuade us to look for short cuts to recovery and minimise our grief. The different journey from lost dreams to a future of new possibilities includes feeling the pain of loss and one day accepting what currently seems to be unacceptable.

“Isn’t it time you moved on and found someone else?”

Moving on is an unhelpful phrase, suggesting denying or minimizing your loss. Moving forward suggests that we’re creating the necessary space for our feelings and emotions to ebb and flow, and eventually lessen in their intensity, without forgetting our loved one and the impact they had on us. People sometimes think if you find a new relationship then your grief is over – you’ve moved on and they don’t have to worry so much about you. So they might try to persuade you that you ought to be ready for a new relationship. But you are the only one who can know if, or indeed when, a new relationship might be appropriate.

There’s no such thing as “should” or “ought”.

Family and friends want to help us and to do all they can to make it better. They don’t like to see us suffer. The difficult balancing act is accepting their help, but not their unhelpful advice. We do want to show our gratitude to those helping us, but only we know how we’re feeling. You are the best judge of what you need and when. Give yourself permission to be you and make your own decisions.

Sometimes we think we must grit our teeth and bury our true feelings. ‘What if?’ and ‘if only’ thoughts can lead us up blind alleys on our journey. They usually stem from guilt, in most cases false guilt, and these thoughts can hold us in the past. If there is real guilt, forgiving yourself is the only way forward. In most cases a reality check (best done with a trusted friend) will show that there is little to be guilty about – and help you highlight all the things that you are doing well.

Trying to simplify the grieving process or following advice which is not right for you will lengthen your journey. Our grief is as individual as we are. Eventually the intensity of the feelings and emotional pain will change and lessen, and a new normal will emerge. When you feel the “shoulds”, “oughts” and “if onlys” affecting you, give yourself permission to be yourself and to grieve in your own way. Find people who are prepared to take this journey with you, perhaps those who have already walked in your shoes, to be reassured that you are on the correct path to renewed hope.

We in Widowed Young Support are very willing and able to journey with you.