Grieving for a loved one can be almost unbearably painful. At times, it may even feel as though we will never recover.
And yet, death and loss are a part of life, and so the profound feelings that accompany them are, in many ways, inevitable.
But just as loss is an inevitability, so too it our ability to overcome it. We all find ways to cope with our loss, and as time passes, the pain dulls, and we realise we are getting on with our lives.
In her TED talk, ‘We Don’t ‘Move on’ from Grief, We Move Forward with it’, Nora McInerny says when we experience grief, it doesn’t leave us, it becomes a part of who we are. We learn to ‘move forward’ carrying our loss with us, but the memories of that person and the ways they changed us always stay with us.
“I haven’t moved on”
Ms McInerny is no stranger to grief. In 2014, within a few months, she lost her second pregnancy, her father died, and her husband Aaron died from brain cancer. Since then, life has moved on, she has remarried and now has four children in a blended family.
“By any measure, life is really, really good,” she says, but she hasn’t “moved on” from her losses.
“I hate that phrase so much,” Ms McInerny says in the talk. Aaron is still present for her, she says, in the work she does, in the son they had together, and in the person she has become.
“Aaron’s life, and love, and death made me the person that Matthew wanted to marry, so I’ve not moved on from Aaron, I’ve moved forward with him,” she said.
Grief changes us, Ms McInerny says. “These are the experiences that mark and make us, just as much as the joyful ones, and just as permanently.”
Grieving is to be touched by “something chronic”
Once you have experienced grief, you understand you have experienced something profound, Ms McInerny said.
“You’ve been touched by something chronic. Something incurable. It’s not fatal, but sometimes it feels like it could be.”
Ms McInerny says it might be helpful to remember that grief is a “multitasking” emotion: you can feel sad and happy, be grieving and yet able to love, all at the same time.
Grieving a normal response to loss
Dr Grant Blashki, Lead Clinical Adviser with Beyond Blue, told HelloCare that grieving is a normal response to loss and that everyone experiences it differently.
“Grief is certainly part of the normal human experience and occurs in response to loss,” he said.
“It might be the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a pet, or even a phase of your life. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief is likely to be,” he said.
“There is no standard set pattern for grieving.”
“For some people it may be weeks or months, and for others it can go on for years. Many people find that the grief feelings ebb and flow, and often the grief resurfaces during anniversaries or other losses during life.”
Helping ourselves when we are grieving
In the period following a loss, Dr Blashki suggests taking the following action to help the grieving process.
- Take the time to lighten your workload or other stresses to give yourself some space and time to process the grief.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Spend time with friends or family who you find supportive and comforting.
- Even amidst the grief try to get enough sleep, eat healthily, do some exercise everyday even brief walks, and try to get outside in nature and get some fresh air.
- Some people gain a lot of comfort from their spiritual and cultural beliefs.
Elements of the person we have lost remain with us
Many of Dr Blashki’s patients say they have learned to live with their loss, and that elements of the loved one remain with them, as Ms McInerny describes.
“Many of them feel a great sense that the values and memories of the person continues to reverberate throughout their life,” Dr Blashki said.
Those who find they remain preoccupied with their loss after six months and are unable to get pleasure in other aspects of their life, should discuss their feelings with their doctor.