Grief Awareness Day today is all about raising awareness of grief. How to cope and how to help others. Sometimes in life, things will happen that are out of your control, but which will affect you deeply. I recently shared with you that I lost my best friend last month. Nothing could prepare me for the overwhelming grief that followed. The one person who I loved to bits, phoned up to 5 times a day, to laugh with, tell my problems to, listen to. Someone who I love and loved me unconditionally had gone forever.
So I thought I would commemorate this day. I know that I am not alone right now. Whether you are going through a bereavement. Relationship breakdown. Job loss. It’s important to learn how to cope with grief and to help others too.
The 5 Stages of Grief
If we are to help ourselves or others cope with grief, it’s useful to first understand what grief really is. Grief is a normal response to the loss of someone or something important in your life. We perhaps forget the impact that can come from losing someone close to us. It affects every part of your life.
Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote the five stages of grief, which are illustrated above. These stages are not fully linear; we don’t always go through them once and are done. Each person is unique. Each person copes with grief differently.
Let’s work through each of the stages of grief:
First is the stage of denial. You are in a state of shock and disbelief. Just being there for people going through this stage helps. I know that I felt like a living zombie for days and couldn’t function fully in the real world. I am surprised I managed to accomplish so much. However much of the time I was on auto-pilot and oscillated between this and crying uncontrollably for hours in despair. Denial is a way of your body coping with the shock of what has happened and this is the start of the healing process.
Second is the stage of anger. I was incredibly angry for days that I had lost my best friend. I was angry at her doctors who I felt had failed her. Angry that I hadn’t spent more time with her this year. I felt abandoned by the person that I loved so much in this world. It felt like the lights had done out and I was left in terrible darkness. Anger is an outlet for the pain you are feeling. Obviously don’t let that aggression hurt the people you love, but channel it rather than lashing out at other people. Understand too that this is a way of trying to cope with your loss.
The third is the stage of bargaining. In this stage, you may find yourself ruminating on what you or others could have done differently in order to prevent the loss or change. You may also think about all the things that could have been and how wonderful life would have been if this had not happened. ‘What if’ and ‘If only’ things had been different in some way. I personally keep going back to this stage. I just want my best friend back.
When depression hits
The fourth stage is depression. This is the moment when the grief becomes very real and hits you hard. Maybe the depression was there prior to your loss due to the situation you found yourself in. However, this is when the depression really comes to the forefront. This moment can be very hard to deal with, but helping yourself or other people by reminding them of the good things can help as much as being there for them. Talking about my friend to other people has really helped me. Sharing photos. Stories. Hearing from people who knew her. Depression in this instance should not be confused with mental illness. It is a natural reaction to overwhelming grief and the loss of someone.
The final stage is acceptance. This is not to say that we are suddenly ok. I don’t think you ever are ok with losing someone you love. This stage is accepting that our loved one will never come back. We must live in a world without them. I haven’t quite reached this stage. Speaking to her friends and family really helps me. Admittedly, I listen to her voicemails just to hear her voice and look through her photos as well as read her messages on Facebook. I now wear a beautiful heart-shaped locket with her photo enclosed to feel that she is close to me wherever I go. I will never forget this beautiful woman who made me giggle each day and feel so loved.
What we can do for today…
By recognising Grief Awareness Day, I wanted to offer us all an opportunity to be there for one another. If you are grieving right now, you are not alone, which might not make you feel better or worse about your situation. Remember too that you may be vulnerable right now. Try to be around people who love you. Don’t put yourself in the company of fake friends or those who offer their support from a position of self-interest. Be careful not to seek solace in drinking or other pass-times which may hurt rather than heal you too. You may need time off work so speak to your line manager and/or HR who may be able to offer compassionate leave or some form of absence to help you through this difficult time.
If you know someone who is grieving, don’t abandon them or think they don’t want your company. Sometimes your comforting presence or a simple WhatsApp/Facebook message is enough.
Each of us can help in different ways. No matter what the situation, be there for others and offer your support whether they first take it or not.
If things are perhaps too overwhelming, look into a counsellor, therapist or other professionals who can help you work through the grief.
In honour of my best friend Tracy ♥
Important: If you are feeling suicidal or unable to cope, please do get professional help and support. Either seek out the NHS or a Mental Health Professional Body.