I have had many conversations about this recently, It’s a big question, and I want to take this opportunity to explore it within my own story.
What does grief mean and how long can it last?
Is there an end point?
Does it disappear?
Do we reach a place where we are no longer grieving?
Can we grieve without suffering?
The definition of grief in Collins Dictionary is ‘a feeling of extreme sadness’. The Cambridge English Dictionary define it as ‘very great sadness, especially at the death of someone’.
These definitions could suggest that once the extreme sadness has passed you are no longer grieving. But, do we ever stop feeling extremely sad when we have lost someone we love? Especially if they have been taken too soon!
I have posted about this topic on my social media, and have had mixed responses, understandably. Grief leaves us feeling bereft and exhausted in the early days, the raw emotions we feel consume every corner of our lives. Then we read a post stating ‘grief lasts forever’! That is not what we want to hear, this fills us with fear and dread. There’s no way we want to feel like this for the rest of our days. But we can’t see a way out of it, we don’t know how to fix it!
I entered the world of grief when my husband died nearly four years ago. A world in which I felt scared, lonely and vulnerable. The life I knew had gone and I didn’t know how my life going forward was going to work. So many raw emotions, yet nobody had any answers for me, did I just have to feel like this forever?
People say ‘just get through the first year’, ‘be kind to yourself’, ‘take it step by step’. I had no real idea what any of that meant, neither did I have the energy to figure it out. I had so much to do and two young children to love and support through their grief.
So, I got through the first year, with a LOT of support. Family and friends stayed with me, helped me with my children and even took us on holidays. I overcame so much and I achieved amazing things, things I didn’t ever believe possible. Somedays I would feel utterly invincible and full of pride, (If I’d had wonder womans physique I would have worn her outfit and cape for sure) however, this feeling didn’t last. I would soon come crashing back down to earth with a bang, minus the wonder woman outfit.
I somehow made it to the end of the first year…… so, what now? It still felt hopeless. I didn’t wake up relieved it was over, I was just filled with dread at the thought of having to do it all again. Where on earth would I find the energy? Surely it should be better by now right? wrong! in fact, in many respects, the second year was worse than the first. I knew what was coming, I was tired and I didn’t want this to be my reality.
Half way through my third year I was completely lost. I couldn’t figure out how life was going to look, and I was still heavily grieving. I didn’t want to feel this way anymore, I knew i couldn’t accept this as my reality moving forward. So, i got myself a coach and never looked back. I learnt so much about who I was now, and, about my grief. I learnt it was ok to want to find peace, hope and happiness again, yet still grieve the loss of my husband.
I discovered joy again, I gained a sense of empowerment and freedom and I became comfortable with the good and with the bad. I was ok with it all, bad days would come, but less intensely, and then they would pass. Good days, no actually, great days, would come too and it felt liberating. I was getting to know myself, the new me, and I was accepting the person I was had evolved into something different.
It’s not just the death of our loved one that affects us, it’s all the secondary losses too. We grieve the loss of our future, the loss of ourselves and who we were. The loss of financial security, intimacy, future memories, milestones and what could have been. Not to mention the fact our children have lost a hugely significant person in their lives too. Someone that would have taught them so much in life and love.
I still have days where i’m incredibly sad, There’s barely a moment I don’t think about Simon, and if I could change it all I would, but I can’t. However, I am now incredibly grateful for having had Simon in my life. His death has taught me so much about myself, things I don’t believe I would have discovered otherwise. That doesn’t mean I’m glad he died, it means I can find meaning in his life and in his loss.
David Kessler, the worlds foremost expert on grief, has written a book called ‘Finding Meaning, The Sixth Stage of Grief’. In this book he states “In this sixth stage we acknowledge that although for most of us grief will lessen in intensity over time, it will never end”.
It is my belief that grief is the love we have for our loved one, yet we have no way of showing it. So, for me, I’m ok with grieving forever, as I don’t ever want to stop loving Simon. I will miss him everyday, and even more so on the milestone days. The days when the girls graduate, get married, have children etc, I will grieve his absence and what could have been.
I also believe that as much as I have made peace with the fact I will grieve forever, this doesn’t mean I have to suffer. I am entitled to live my life to the best of my ability, I want to love with all my heart and enjoy every god damn moment I can. And, in doing this, I absolutely know it in no way diminishes my love for Simon, that is not going anywhere, Ever!
Maybe, as time passes, I will develop a different point of view. I guess this is one of my biggest learnings, we all have a different stand point on this, and it changes as we come to different stages in our grief. And that is absolutely ok.
There is no right or wrong. There is no time line or expiration date. And it is absolutely essential that you live with your grief in your own way. It is always about you and nobody can tell you otherwise.
So, If you, feel happy living with the knowledge you will grieve forever then that is ok. Or, If you believe grief does not last forever, like Christina Rasmusses, Author of ’Second Firsts: Live, Laugh and Love Again’, Then that is fine too. Christina states “Grief does not last forever — only confusion and fear can last forever”
But, whichever your standpoint, know this. The fact that you have lost a significant person in your life does not mean you have to live in misery for the rest of your life. You can move forward whilst honouring your loved one. You can be the things you loved most about the person who is gone. And you can create a vibrant life full of love, peace and joy.
Grief is an individual journey for everyone. Depending on the loss, the grieving persons background and their individual values, it will hold different meaning.
We will always hold opposing perspectives on what it means for us, like a lot of things in life. But, essentially we don’t need to search for answers. We just have to find a way to navigate through our own grief in a way that is right for us.
In that, we must respect other peoples beliefs too, lets not enforce restrictions and personal beliefs onto each other. Love, respect and understanding is what everyone needs in life, whether grieving or not.