An Open Letter To Those Who Don’t Understand Grief 1

understand grief

We welcome back Kiri Nowak once again for another of her uniquely touching guest blogs around the topics of grief and remembrance. First she shared with us a few personal insights about what it’s like to lose a parent at a young age, then she told us how she plans to commemorate her deceased father at her upcoming wedding day, and today she’s shared with us her thoughts on grief. This is a truly valuable insight, one which has been informed by her own experience. Kiri has addressed this to ‘those who don’t understand grief’ which is in fact anyone who has never experienced the loss of a loved one.

understand grief

The experience of grief is like going into space. Yes really, just hear me out. My point is, only those who have been out in space really know what it’s like. How the G-force feels, the eeriness of going beyond earth and venturing into a starry black world.

Grief is similar in that if you’ve not been in that situation yourself, it’s difficult to even imagine what it would be like. And even when you do try and picture it, the reality is way beyond what you pictured.

I think one of the most frustrating things about dealing with grief is the reactions you get from those around you, at least that’s what I’ve found anyway. You see, grief should be spoken about, explored and supported, but this doesn’t always happen. Grief makes people act strange. Have you noticed that some people would rather avoid you than talk with you about your grief?

I know it’s very annoying, and it makes you feel like these people don’t care. They probably do care, they just don’t know how to show it. And because they can’t possibly contemplate what your grief feels like, they panic.

If you find some people drift away, give them time, and a few years down the line they may reappear in your life. There’s no need to hold a grudge because they weren’t there for you. At least hear them out and see how things were from their perspective.

I thought it might be useful to write down how it feels from a grieving person when those around you distance themselves, and what we’d really like people to do.

If I was to write an open letter to those who don’t understand grief, this is what I would say.

To whom it may concern…

I’ve lost someone who was dear to me, and now it feels like I can’t live without them, and I’ve fallen apart. I don’t quite know how I’m going to put myself back together. I know you can’t understand what grief feels like, but if I were to try and describe it, it feels as though someone is reaching inside your heart and squeezing it tight.

Except the squeezing never stops. Every time that person pops into my head, or I am reminded of what I’ve lost, the squeezing starts again, and if it gets too tight, my heart is going to disappear altogether. There are times when I’m getting on with my day like everybody else, and then out of nowhere my grief attacks me, and I’m paralysed.

When I voice my grief some people find it awkward. They don’t know what to say and are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Well, the truth is, sometimes I just want someone there as a sounding board, someone who can listen. And there’s really nothing you can say that’s wrong.

OK maybe there’s one thing, ‘it will get easier’. Please don’t say this. At the moment it feels like it will never get easier, and saying that it will suggests there will be a time when the person I’ve lost will become less important, and that thought terrifies me.

I know you might want to go and hide under a rock when I get upset or start talking about my loss, but I’d really love it if you try and be around some of the time. I don’t need you to show me endless sympathy or be there every single day, I’d just really like to just go for coffee or do things together that might help distract me.

I get that this is hard for you too, and that death and loss is a tough topic for anyone. It probably scares the crap out of you because you are terrified in case you lose someone. You might be drawing a blank when it comes to thinking of something to say to me, but I can help you out. I can steer the conversation and help you to avoid those quiet silences.

One important thing you need to know is that I’m not just going to snap out of it in a year or so. People with grief don’t just ‘move on’ when a certain amount of time passes. Instead of ceasing to exist, grief tends to evolve and change, and adapt to each person as their grief takes on new forms. A bit like a shape shifter that can morph into new animals.

Today my grief might feel like a tiger clawing at my skin, and next month it could feel like a dolphin diving through the waves, it just depends. I’d really like you to come on this journey with me. I can teach you a lot about grief and overcoming life’s challenges and our relationship will grow in new and beautiful ways. There really is nothing to be afraid of, I still very much want you in my life.

Your sincerely, Kiri.

If you’re experiencing grief, you might find our selection of articles on the topic to be helpful.

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1 Comment

  1. So true. Thank you for sharing. I wrote a Haiku poem about grief in 1996. It goes like this:

    Like storm approaching,
    Grief assails me, raging deep within!
    Subsides, to strike again.
    jmt

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How to Cope When You’re Spending Christmas Without a Loved One 0

Spending Christmas without a loved one

“’Tis the season to be jolly” – but if you’re grieving, the very idea of Christmas can be daunting. Untangling the Christmas tree lights, filling stockings, pulling crackers together: all the little family rituals of the season can stir up bittersweet memories, while the festive feeling everywhere can be isolating. The whole world is celebrating, and you’d … rather not.

If the prospect of spending Christmas without a loved one is filling you with dread, it can help to make a few plans and resolutions for the day. With the aid of Naomi and Steve Game-Blackmoor of Holding Dear, a service offering professional therapeutic support to the bereaved, we’ve put together some ideas for those coping with loss at Christmas.

 

How to cope with Christmas after a bereavement

Everyone grieves differently, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to coping with grief at Christmas. Take what you need from the tips below, and leave anything that doesn’t speak to you.

 

1) Remember that it’s okay to be sad – or happy

It's natural to feel sad when you're spending Christmas without a loved one.A lot of bereaved people struggle with sad thoughts at Christmas, but feel under pressure to “put on a happy face” for their friends and family. Others find a lot of happiness while celebrating, but discover that the idea of enjoying Christmas without a loved one there fills them with a kind of guilt.

Steve and Naomi say that it’s important to remember that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to how you feel. “Honouring how we feel is very important,” Steve explains. “Pretending we feel differently just to please everyone else is often unhelpful.

“We would want to reassure [someone who is bereaved at Christmas] that what they are feeling is perfectly normal and okay.”

Remind yourself that it’s okay to be happy, or sad – or, as is likely, a strange mixture of the two. You have a right to express those feelings, and not hide them away.

Don’t be afraid to accept or ask for help if you need it, either from friends and family or from a bereavement professional. You don’t have go it alone!

 

2) Make a plan for Christmas day

When you’re struggling with grief at Christmas, it can help to make a plan for the day that will keep you occupied.

Keeping busy doing something like cooking biscuits can help you cope with grief at ChristmasThis plan doesn’t have to be conventional. You could skip the traditional Christmas activities and go for a long walk with a picnic instead, for example, or join a park run or volunteer for a charity. You might spend some time in the evening calling up old friends to catch up, cooking up a storm, or watching films under a big blanket. Don’t be pressured into spending Christmas the way you “ought” to spend it.

If you want to be alone, Steve adds, that’s okay too. “There can be a very substantial pressure on us to be around others at Christmas when we’re not feeling up to it. We encourage people to give themselves permission to be alone if they wish.”

If family and friends are uncomfortable leaving you alone at Christmas, make it clear that this is what you want. Ask them to call you at some point during the day to check in, instead.

 

3) Find ways to remember the person who has died

A lot of bereaved families find it comforting to commemorate their loved one by bringing them into their Christmas celebrations in some way.

As Steve explains: “There need be no grand gestures – just simple gestures, but which never the less, serve to include our loved-ones in the festivities. These gestures could, over time, become a family custom and tradition.”

A lit candle can help you remember a loved one at ChristmasSome ideas for remembering loved ones at Christmas might be:

  • Visiting their grave, or the place their ashes were scattered
  • Lighting a candle for them
  • Raising a glass to them at dinner
  • Playing their favourite music
  • Sharing stories about them with each other
  • Cooking their favourite festive snacks
  • Writing them a letter

Naomi adds that such small, familiar rituals helped after she lost her daughter Katie: “During Christmas dinner, it has become a tradition for us to light a candle on the table and to have a flower arrangement close by.

“We feel that Katie continues to be a very important part of the season, and these traditions have helped us to cope with her loss, particularly at Christmas.”

A lot of funeral directors hold annual gatherings or church services for remembrance at Christmas. Ask the funeral director who arranged your loved one’s send-off if there is an event you can attend.

 

4) Look after yourself

Getting lots of rest is important when you're bereaved at ChristmasWe all over-indulge and over-extend ourselves a little over the Christmas period. Yet the late nights, the odd extra drink (or two, or four) – plus random mealtimes squeezed between shopping, cooking, and wrapping – can all take a heavy toll if you’re already feeling low and run-down with grief.

Guidelines from the charity Cruse Bereavement Care stress that, even if you’re busy, it’s important to look after yourself when you’re grieving. While the odd extra festive tipple can be nice, try not to rely on alcohol to make the day easier. Instead, it can help a lot to establish a good routine with plenty of sleep, regular meals and lots of relaxation. Make time for yourself.

 

5) Share your memories

Sharing memories can help when you're coping with loss at ChristmasWhen you’re bereaved, the person who has died is never far from your thoughts – especially at Christmas. So, why not share your memories of them with the people around you? Rather than “spoiling the mood”, you’re likely to find that it opens up space for friends and family to share their memories, as well. This can be very comforting, Steve and Naomi say.

“When visiting families to make the arrangements for the funeral ceremony, I encourage them to reminisce in all sorts of ways,” Steve explains. “The act of remembering can be incredibly reassuring when we’re grieving.”

Remembering loved ones at Christmas can also be painful, and you may feel sad. But that’s normal. By acknowledging your feelings, and expressing them, you and those close to you can help each other through the day.

You don’t have to talk to friends and family about your loss at Christmas. For a friendly, impartial listener, try Cruse Bereavement Care’s free helpline, which runs from 9.30am to 5pm, on 0808 808 1677. The Samaritans line is also open 24/7 at 116 123.

Spending Christmas without a loved one can be hard. But, over time, the day can take on new meaning, as a way to honour them and celebrate the happiness you shared with them. Just remember to look after yourself, and to go easy on yourself, too: there’s no right or wrong way to get through the day.

 

Steven Game-Blackmoor is an award-winning ceremonial officiant and grief therapist working in Staffordshire, where he works with other professional psychotherapists and counsellors to offer pastoral support to people who are grieving.
Naomi Game-Blackmoor is the author of ‘There’s No Place Like Home,’ a book for parents who have lost their child. A trained psychotherapist, she has worked alongside grief specialists and organisations since losing her daughter Katie, in 2003, and has recently joined the funeral industry.
You can find out more about Steven and Naomi’s work with the bereaved at the Holding Dear website.

10 Things Nobody Tells You About Losing a Parent 136

losing a parent

Grief will vary from person to person, though there are certain emotions and circumstances that many of us will experience. It can often be a source of comfort to hear from someone who has experienced the emotional rollercoaster of losing a loved one and has come out on the other side. With this in mind, we present this guest post from Kiri Nowak, who blogs over at The Content Wolf. Kiri shares her experience of bereavement after losing a parent, and some things she’s learned along the way.

It’s hard to even put how it feels to lose a parent into words, but the key thing to keep in mind is there is no normal way of reacting. I haven’t just felt one emotion since my father passed, my experience has been more like travelling the world. Each stage of your journey will be completely different, and as you wander through your grief, emotions will come and go.

It’s been nearly 11 years since my father died (I was 18 when it happened), so I think I can safely say I’ve been through it all; the shock, the sadness, the anger, the guilt, and, eventually, the acceptance. There’s no universal manual to help you deal with the loss of a parent, so when it does happen, a lot of feelings, occurrences and interactions with other people can take you by surprise.

bereavement

From my personal experience, I’ve put together some things which I experienced that you might not have thought about or expected to happen. As soon as you lose a parent it feels like your life has fallen apart and you are caught up in a whirlwind, but you do eventually get your feet back on the ground, I promise. The pain doesn’t go away, you just learn how to accept it, channel it and use it as a way of cherishing the person who was so cruelly taken from you.

Here are ten things nobody tells you about losing a parent.

  1. It doesn’t sink in for a while

Initially you might not feel anything. It may even seem like you are stuck in a dream, and everything that is going on isn’t really happening. I definitely went through the first month, if not the first year on autopilot, but eventually everything does catch up with you and you start to feel less numb.

It’s particularly hard when you lose a parent because initially you just can’t face the prospect of living your life without them, and the only way for some people to cope is to pretend like it’s not really happening.  Confronting and accepting that the pain is there is scary, but you need to do it to start the grieving process.

  1. You don’t have to be strong all the time

When my father died, I tried so hard to be strong for my mum and little sister, and show everybody how resilient and tough I was. But just remember you can only put on an act for so long. Pushing the pain below the surface so no one can see it is exhausting. It’s OK to lose your composure, to have an outburst of emotion in public or privately at home or to completely fall apart. We take a lot of strength from our parents, so when you lose one of them, it’s crushing.

  1. You will remember their best bits

One thing I’ve noticed is that you tend to idolise the parent you’ve lost. Why? Well, firstly, because they were your parent who you respected and loved, but also because you can’t bear to criticise them in any way when they aren’t around to defend themselves. It feels like the easiest way to remember them is in the best possible light. However, it’s important to keep in mind not everyone’s perfect, and it’s OK to have negative memories as well as positive ones.

  1. You will probably feel guilty in some way, but you need to let it go

I’ve gone through the day my father died a thousand times and thought about what I could have done differently. I wasn’t at home the last night he was alive, when he was in pain, for reasons I won’t go into. This kills me. But I can’t change it. I know if my dad was around he wouldn’t hold it against me.

I’ve also gone back and punished myself mentally for all the times that I wasn’t the perfect daughter, or when I was mean to my dad. My mum, sister and I used to gang up on him occasionally, because he was the only man in the house, but that’s nothing unusual and he took it in his stride. It’s not a reason for me to feel bad, because he knew exactly how much I loved him.

This isn’t helpful, and you are just being unnecessarily cruel to yourself. Instead of focusing on what you didn’t do or times where you messed up, remember the times you made your parent proud or happy.

  1. How lost you will feel

Your parents cared for you from the moment you entered this world, they nurtured you and showed you the way. So when you find yourself without one of your parents, you immediately feel lost. I think the hardest times for me have been when I’ve really needed to talk to my dad for advice.

When life has been tough, and I’ve needed his strength and his guidance, I’ve felt so lost and alone. But slowly I’ve learned to live with my father’s spirit inside me, and if I’m completely honest, I usually know what he would say or want me to do even though he’s not here to say it.

  1. Childhood memories fade faster than expected

My sister seems to have a much better memory than me, but one thing we both agree on is how hard it is to recall memories. It feels like he’s slipping out my fingers, and as the years pass, the memories fade a little more. However, the important, wonderful, powerful memories never leave you, they stay with you forever.

Like the time when he cried when we made him a photo memory book for Christmas, when his voice boomed at me when he cheered me on at races, and when we sang Bruce Springsteen Glory Days until our lungs gave out on car journeys to Spain. Don’t worry, even if you forget things over time, the best memories will never leave you.losing a parent

  1. After a year or so, other people won’t really care

People forget you are grieving. They offer their condolences in the first few weeks, sure, but not too long after that, they just get on with their lives, and it hurts. But don’t take it to heart too much, it’s just the way people are. It doesn’t take away from what you are experiencing at all.

Just remember there are others going through the same as you, and they will be much more likely to understand. They will be the only people who truly, wholeheartedly get what you are going through.

For other people life goes on, which is cruel and thoughtless and it will no doubt make you angry. But it shouldn’t, because they just don’t understand. They haven’t been through such a devastating loss. 11 years after my father’s death I still suffer, but my close friends don’t really see it. They can’t relate to the fact that on some days, the pain I feel is still as raw as the day it happened.

  1. How painful important milestones are

When you lose a parent, it’s the big milestones that really test you. The big birthdays, the achievements, the weddings and the thought of potentially having your own kids who will never know their grandad. However, there are ways to include your late parent in these milestones, and as time goes on, you see them as a chance to remember and celebrate their part in your life rather than simply suffering through these events all the time. For example, I’m getting married in eight months, and I’ve found some wonderfully touching and creative ways to make my father a part of the wedding, and these little things will no doubt help me get through the day and remember him with pride.

  1. How hard it is when you are unexpectedly reminded of your loss

Sometimes, you will be doing OK and managing your grief, when something catches you off guard. And then suddenly a surge of powerful emotion hits you like a tidal wave. For me I think the most challenging times have been when something has reminded me of my dad. When I watch a film and someone’s dad dies, or when a song comes on the radio that reminds me of him, or most recently, when I was at a wedding and the bride unexpectedly called for a father daughter dance. Ouch. That hurts, especially as my wedding is coming up. But these moments, even though they are hard, sometimes they are the perfect way to let go of some of that emotion you’ve tried so hard to keep from bursting, and after you’ve had a little cry, you feel a little bit better.

  1. How you eventually come to view your grief with love and appreciation

I’m not going to lie, like I mentioned, at times, the pain is just as raw as it’s ever been. But generally, I’ve entered a new stage of my grief. When I’m reminded of my dad, I use it as an opportunity to cherish his memory, and to dedicate a minute or two of my day to him, and someday, even if it doesn’t feel like it, you will be able to do the same. Now I live every day and my father is there no matter what I’m doing, and I’m grateful he touched my life in such a powerful and beautiful way.

If you’re struggling with a loss, head over to our help centre to see our resources on grief, loss and bereavement, or take a look at our article on coping with grief at Christmas.

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