Grief is a natural, normal response to the loss of someone or something we love, and grieving is the process we have to go through to come to terms with our loss. As we grieve, we experience a range of emotions, mostly painful, but including some good ones as well.
Being human, we would far rather avoid the painful ones, but that ultimately will not help. We simply have to accept the emotions as they occur during our grieving. The more we allow ourselves to feel, the more easily we will experience good feelings as well as bad ones. It is quite true that “to feel is to heal”.
For many people, there may well be a feeling of guilt surrounding the death of a loved one. These feelings are usually accompanied by the thought “If only I had …” Guilt is almost always a negative emotion that can eat away and prevent us moving forward. The most important thing to do with guilt is to test it to see whether the facts justify the feeling. Quite often a friend, relative or someone who really knows you well will be more objective – so explain your feelings and ask them to help.
Most people will eventually come to an understanding that there are few real reasons to be guilty. For the small number where guilt may be legitimate, confession and forgiveness is the key. We need to forgive ourselves – although it may not be easy and will take time.
Anger may be another strong emotion that many experience. Perhaps anger is directed at others – the medical profession, the other driver, at God for ‘letting it happen’ – or perhaps we’re just angry at losing our hopes and dreams for the future. These feelings are natural and understandable, but can get in the way of our being able to move forward if we don’t recognise and deal with them.
There are three main ways of responding to anger in grief:
For many, feelings of despair and utter loneliness will fill our lives. We are feeling the pain of our loss – heartache is a real physical response to an emotion. For most, these are natural feelings that time will heal, so accept them as such and don’t fight them. Try to ‘ride the wave’. It won’t be easy. It may be a long way to the shore and you will feel as though you are drowning at times – but calmer waters will eventually come.
You are going through some of the most traumatic times anyone can face, so if you can, take time out to be kind to yourself – you’re worth it! Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. Many people will be only too happy to help out and some will give you emotional as well as practical support.
Believe it or not, from the very early days of bereavement, there will be seeds of hope. The danger is that we may miss them because there seems to be so much darkness. Light can come from dark, good can come from bad, the future can still hold hope – not, perhaps, the hope we once had, but a new, different hope and a different journey. Take care to look for the seeds of hope. Water them, nurture them, and begin to re-invest in the future.