A ramble through grief and loss
I spent all of last week desperately wracking my brains for a topic to write a blog post and video on. And when I did eventually come up with some ideas, I had no motivation to write them. My creativity and motivation were not the only things to have dipped this last week. I’ve generally been feeling a bit low as this coming week sees the first anniversary of my nan passing away. After an unproductive last week, I started to dread sitting down at my laptop to write this week’s blog post. Whilst chatting to my partner about this problem, he suggested that I write about what I was experiencing, about grief and loss and so here it is. It’s not a “full of tips” kind of post but I hope you get something from it. I know I have from writing it.
My nan, Joan, who you can see pictured with myself, was a wonderful lady. The photo was taken just 6 months before she died. She lived a really good life with all her family around her. She particularly enjoyed visiting me on my narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon Canal. She enjoyed the trips up the canal, looking out the window at passing boats, scenery and wildlife. She even had to walk the plank on a few occasions to get on and off the boat – no mean feat for a 97 year old! She was an important part of my life - she was like a second mum. When she died, it was a big loss for me.
People often talk about the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Even before my nan passed away, I wasn’t sure about these stages. Upon looking in to the perceived stages of grief some more, I discovered that the model related to the progression of emotions that someone who has just been diagnosed with an illness, typically one that is terminal, experiences as opposed to the emotions someone has when a person close to them dies. Now those stages make a lot more sense in that context and it feels good to know that the stages are a myth in relation to how we grieve when someone dies and that I haven’t been grieving “wrong”. There is no empirical support for the notion that there are stages of grief, let alone five. The way we experience emotions after something has happened, whether that’s a bereavement or something else, affects people in different ways.
What is going on in your life at the time someone close to you dies can impact how you cope with grief. This is something that I’ve experienced first hand too. When my grandad died, I was already in a difficult place as I was suffering from chronic pain and all that goes with it. As a result, I found it much more difficult to cope with my emotions and thoughts. Whereas, when my nan died, I was in a really good place. I loved my life, I was excited about expanding my business and learning new stuff, and I was just about to start as a classroom assistant on a hypnotherapy practitioner diploma. Whilst it still hit me hard and affected all areas of my life for some time, looking back, I feel like I’ve dealt with things a lot better. It could be because I had “been there and done that” already to some degree but also that I was better equipped in my mind.
With my clients, I often compare two people’s stress buckets and how they might be effected when something bad happens. Here is the image I normally draw.
Person A has a full stress bucket and Person B has just a few things in there. I usually use the example of two soldiers in the same battalion in some war zone and something traumatic happens. They have the same experience but they cope very differently. Person A is already at his limit so when this traumatic event occurs, he struggles to deal with it. Whilst he has had years of training to be a soldier, he might find himself freezing and not knowing what to do, which might endanger himself or those around him and after the event, when he returns home, he is more likely to experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whereas, with Person B, because he has coping space, he is able to deal with the situation more effectively, reacting appropriately with full access to the training he’s had over the years and when he returns home, whilst of course he will be affected by the ordeal, is less likely to experience PTSD. Whilst, I’ve taken this to the extreme with the trauma in a war zone example, you can see that that event can be the death of a loved one, or being diagnosed with an illness, or having to change career, or a relationship break up., for example. If we have a lot going on when something like that happens, we’re going to struggle more.
I recently posted on Facebook a link to a short video on grief. The therapist featured in the video drew a circle which symbolised the person and then squiggles inside which filled up the circle which represented grief. It was once believed that over time, the grief shrinks down so it no longer fills us up but it is believed now that instead, the grief stays the same but our life and us as a person grows so that we become more than the grief and it doesn’t consume us. I really liked this explanation especially as I cannot ever see that my grief over my nan passing will ever go away as she was a very important part of my life and special to me. But I can see myself continuing to grow and my life expand around it. This is the video so you can watch it for yourself
Self care and self compassion have been serendipitously popping up in a number of different places in my life recently. And would you know, that is exactly what I feel I need this week. Often as a therapist, I can be harsh on myself believing that with all the tools I have available to me, I shouldn’t get affected by things and be able to soldier on. Whilst I might have a good understanding of how our minds work and how thoughts affect our feelings and behaviours, I’m still ultimately a human being and can struggle at times. Kristen Neff, a researcher in self compassion, talks about three main components of self compassion - being mindful of what you’re experiencing in an accepting way, recognising that you’re not alone, and being kind to yourself (treating yourself like you would a close friend). The podcast, with Kristen Neff, in which she talks about self compassion is really interesting.
With the anniversary approaching, I’m right back in that grief but it’s ok. It’s completely normal and it’s ok to feel that way. I know that I’ll also move through it. I’ll get my creativity and motivation back and I’ll be back on form. But for now, a little self compassion will go a long way this week.
We typically associate grief with bereavements but it can occur in other situations too. Children might experience grief if their parents separate and they lose one of their parents. Also with relationship break ups, you can grieve for the loss of the other person and the relationship as a whole. When people get older, they might grieve their younger selves and all that they used to be able to do. Same goes for when someone has a life changing accident or illness and grieve the loss of health, independence, and perhaps in some cases, a physical part of themselves. So as you can see, grief and loss can be experienced in a variety of situations.
I’ve seen a number of people over the years to help with grief, in all its forms. Hypnotherapy, in particular the cognitive behavioural approach that I adhere to, teaches you ways to relax and manage your emotions. It helps you build an awareness of your self talk so that you can make changes where necessary. We also have a look at your thoughts and possible thinking errors that might be going on and how to restructure them into something more supportive for you. Hypnotherapy is never going to bring that person or part of your life back. Nor will it make you forget what has happened. And it won’t get rid of the grief. But it can help you to move through the process of grief, helping you to grow and expand your life around it, enabling you to cope more effectively with day to day life.