Kate McLisky is a clinical psychologist with a background in mental health research. Kate works clinically with an integrative therapeutic approach to help clients of all ages to manage and reduce symptoms of mental health disorders.
It's an understatement to say that losing a loved one is difficult. It is also natural to feel shocked, depressed, guilty or many other complex emotions after the loss of someone close. This is a process known as grieving and it's a journey that affects everyone differently with no set pattern. Let's look into the complexity of grief and how to begin to cope after losing a loved one.
Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.
What is grief?
It would make it easier to understand if grief could be neatly defined, with a clear set of symptoms and behaviours, a neat prognosis and set of strategies that are known to help. The fact is, there are as many forms of grief as there are versions of love, or relationships, in the world. Grief is the scar that is left when someone or something we love no longer exists in the same way. Usually, this is the death of a loved one. But we can also grieve the loss of relationships that come to an end, roles we identify with and periods of time we have loved in our lives.
The complexity of our relationship with the person might affect how we grieve, but also how they left us. Death after a long illness, for example, might bring a different grief than losing a loved one to an unexpected accident or to suicide. In the same way, moving on from a relationship or workplace is more tolerable when we have chosen this path, instead of being broken up with or fired.
Grief is complex
In our society, we tend to associate grief with a feeling of loss and sadness. For the most part, this is true, although grief can also include feelings of anger or relief and can sometimes lead to behavioural symptoms such as overworking, risk-taking, isolation or substance abuse. Usually, we expect the most intense grieving to occur within six to 18 months of loss, however, some people find that grief will be delayed (not begin until long after the loss) or last for much longer than expected.
For some people, these unexpected and seemingly "wrong" versions of grief can lead to self-judgment, criticism and shame. It's really important to know that every individual's experience of grief is valid - even those that don't look like you'd expect. Try to stay with the reality of your experience, not how you think you should be grieving.
How to help yourself
Be with your feelings
You're having lots of feelings: huge feelings, perhaps bigger than you've ever had before. They might even scare you, and it may seem like if you get any closer to them they will swallow you up and you'll be stuck in them forever. There will be a huge urge to avoid your feelings, to run from them (Wine, anyone? Stay at work until 10pm? Get lost in Netflix?). It's ok to distract yourself sometimes! Feeling this way is completely normal and understandable, but healing from your grief will only happen when you are ready to allow yourself to be with, acknowledge and respond to your emotions. Underneath that big scary grief monster is a part of you that has loved deeply and is so sad. It needs to be seen, heard and loved. Therapy can be helpful in bringing you closer to and understanding feelings.
Grief is a sign that you have a huge capacity for love. No one will replace the person or relationship you have lost, however, it's important to allow yourself to be supported by those around you, to build and strengthen other relationships and not to starve yourself of the connection you are missing. If you do not have a close-knit group of friends or family, grief counselling groups can be a helpful way to engage with others who have also experienced loss. You don't need to spend your social time talking about your grief, and if you'd prefer not to speak about grief, simply let someone know, "I'm not ready to talk about it yet". Instead, plan to do something you enjoy (or used to enjoy) alongside a trusted friend or loved one, and give yourself a break from your grief to experience connection.
Give yourself permission to live
For many people who have lost a loved one, it can be difficult to go back into the world, and into your regular life, when your loved one is no longer here. It can feel surreal that the world is still turning, time is still moving forward, and people are buying coffees and going to work when your world has been completely shattered. It's okay to feel both of these things at once, even though it's dizzying. Yes, you are grieving and lost, but you can also be stacking the dishwasher, walking your dog or laughing over a coffee with a friend. These two things can exist at once. Keep reminding yourself of this, and see if you can bring some normality back to your life - it's a bit like having a life raft to hold on to as waves crash around you.
If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.
Article written by: Kate McLisky
All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.