Grief and Loss

❝I miss your unique presence, I miss the way you touched my life every day, I miss your corporeal form being in the world.  I don’t know if we’ll meet again, but one thing I do know is that I knew you, and for that, I will always be grateful❞

The above I wrote about a friend who I lost earlier this year, and who pervaded my mind in recent times, prompting this article, which I dedicate to him.

When I suffered my first major loss, I remember feeling completely lost in it, and gradually coming to terms with the finality of death.  That person is no longer in this world; I cannot call him, see him, or have a conversation with him.  He no longer lives.

Grief and loss are sadly a part of life, and none of us are exempt from this unfortunate reality.  Indeed, I have lost some people along my way and also had the privilege of working in a grief counselling role, supporting others who have lost loved ones.  I have experienced and witnessed how losing one so close can evoke a torrential burgeoning of emotions; pain, denial, shock, anger, despair, and confusion, to name a few.  Grief is one of those few things that affects everything and is affected by everything.  And I have learned that how we process it is in ways universal, and yet, unique for each of us. 

But, some things helped me during this most trying of times, like when I read a beautiful piece of writing which normalised my experience, and made me realise my reaction was a natural one.  I was able to relate to this piece of writing and this surprised me because, before this, I felt I was alone in my grief, something that, amazingly, I had not even realised until then.  I have included a paraphrased excerpt here, as well as the link for the whole piece, below:

The process of grief is like being in a shipwreck; at first it feels as though you are drowning, with wreckage all around.  All you can do is try to remain afloat as the waves, which can feel 100 feet tall, crash over you, relentlessly. They come only seconds apart; offering no time to catch your breath. All you can hope to do is keep your head above water.  After some time passes, perhaps weeks, or maybe months, the waves though still 100 feet tall, come further apart.  They continue to crash hard over you, they exhaust you but in between, there exists space to breathe, the ability to function returns.  You can never be sure how close the grief is, what will trigger it….but in between the waves, there is life.  As life goes on without the loved one, the waves gradually shrink, they are only 70 feet tall, or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart.  Sometimes you know when they will come; an anniversary or some other important date… you see the wave coming, and try to prepare for it, and even though it hits you, somehow you know you will come out the other side.

I later read about a psychological model of grief which appeared to encapsulate the above ‘grief as waves’ analogy, and was very useful for my work with people who were experiencing the lonely, and life altering experience that comes with loss and grief.  Here I will briefly discuss the model, which is perhaps not as well known as the more popularised stage theory of grief. 

 The dual process model describes the process of grief as being dynamic, with oscillation between loss and restoration.  In practice this means that rather than a continuous state of ‘grief work’, it is healthier to experience grief in doses, with some avoidance of it.  This may seem difficult for those who are in the early stages of grief, and even later on as individuals may feel guilty about ‘taking a break’ from grief, when they are permitted fleeting moments in which they forget, and perhaps even laugh.  However, some avoidance of grief is favourable and necessary, because constant confrontation of it can become maladaptive.  Certainly, carrying grief all of the time becomes an overwhelming burden to bear and potentiates complicated grief, i.e., when individuals become ‘stuck’ in the more difficult stages of the process.  Indeed, it is only when one is able to oscillate, that healing can occur, furthermore, this vacillation appears to hint at adaptability, a constructive function for confronting loss and this was emphasised by some of those I worked with.  I, too, found that wavering between loss and restoration helped move me through the ‘stages’, i.e., denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

And indeed, the notion of swinging like a pendulum between those darker moments and the not so dark, offers a more well-rounded approach to loss, and a somewhat positive way of viewing the grieving process.  It also illustrates that no one theory is wholly right or wrong when it comes to the complexities of human grief, as no one person’s experience is the same as the next. 

So for those who have left, grieve, but in their honour, live well.

Further reading/support:
Bereavement support: https://www.cruse.org.uk

Models and theories of grief:
Stroebe and Schut’s Dual Process Model of Grief
Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief            

Gief comes in waves: https://www.reddit.com/r/Assistance/comments/hax0t/my_friend_just_died_i_dont_know_what_to_do/c1u0rx2/

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