*** Trigger warnings: reference to death & suicide ***
I’ve titled this editorial ‘The Art of Grief’ because, having experienced, thought and spoken about the subject in some depth and for some time now, I’ve come to the conclusion that grief is like a work of art.
It’s messy and unique, it’s sometimes difficult to understand, it’s striking and bold or subtle and unclear and sometimes it’s utterly beautiful and full of love. The understanding and feeling of grief, like art, is personal to the person viewing and experiencing it. None of us will ever experience, live or feel it in the same way.
“I get the messy and difficult but how is grief beautiful?” I hear you ask. No, I’m not completely delusional, but most of the time I choose to embrace my grief as one of the most beautiful things I have in my life. It is every moment and every memory and expression of love and happiness that paints the most vivid pictures that bring a smile and an overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude. That is beautiful; the memories and the reflection of all that was and still is amazing.
Grief is something that we will all experience at some point in our life and sadly, as we witness the global pandemic of COVID-19 and are faced daily with news of death and loss of people we both know and complete strangers, we witness how grief becomes a reality for us all.
COVID-19 has not only changed our way of life, but the way of death too. Here in the UK, we are living in a world where no loved ones can be at the hospital bedside of those in pain and dying and limits of five people at a funeral.
For those losing loved ones during this time of global uncertainty and lockdown, my heart breaks for you. I have so much gratitude for the fact that I could hold my husband until he took his very last breath; I could reassure him and tell him I love him.
He too died in the same way as many victims of Coronavirus; not from the cancer he had fought but the complications that led to ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). It was a heart-breaking battle with oxygen (the necessity that keeps us alive and breathing) that he couldn’t overcome and the ventilators and oxygen just weren’t enough. He was weak and compromised, but he had me by his side.
Regardless of how someone dies, whatever our experience or our loss, the emotions and feelings are real, strong, unique and personal.
I’m not just talking about grief as a consequence of death from a virus though. Millions of people, like me, are already living with grief and many will experience the death of friends and family during this time of lockdown due to natural causes, other illnesses, accident and suicide.
Factor into this that death is not the only way to experience grief and you soon see that so many of us are experiencing something that is still a taboo subject and yet no one wants to talk about it; but you know me… I’ll start the conversations about grief and mental health and any other taboo subject because it’s important, it’s necessary and by talking we can better understand, empathise and support ourselves and others.
By lifting the mask on our grief, we show a beautiful honesty that can truly help, support and strengthen others.
So how else can we experience grief if it’s not always about death?
It could be the loss of a job, work or a business, a relationship or a pet. It could be the consequence of not being able to do the things and see the people you love due to lockdown. It could be the feeling of isolation and loneliness; the loss of your lifestyle and routine as you know it and the not being able to be there for others as you once had.
Today, as a self-employed business owner in an economically unstable climate I can also feel the pressure mounting to not lose my business; the possibility and pressure is real and if my business didn’t make it, I know I would mourn and grieve the loss for years to come. The thought that every moment of hard work I had put in over the last 12 years, every part of the legacy of my husband and all he worked hard for just gone? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
There are so many ways you can experience grief and right now, as the world is on lockdown, maybe more people than ever are experiencing the emotional rollercoaster that is grief.
Now add that feeling onto the shoulders of those living with grief following death and you can see why, for the benefit of better mental health, we need to be talking more about this subject.
This is why I’m happy to talk honestly based on my personal experience and also share with you a few ways I found that can help us to help ourselves whilst we settle into co-habitation with grief.
Five Tips for Living with Grief
• Keep talking and sharing: open, honest, non-judgemental conversation not only makes us feel better, but empathy and sharing experiences can help others to both understand and know they are not alone.
• Allow yourself to feel your emotions: you will experience everything from happiness to sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety, joy, love, pain and so much more, often within the space of the same minute. Embrace those feelings and feel them in all the weirdness, inappropriateness and confusing ways they fire at you. This is good and normal to feel something.
• Build your resilience: I honestly believe you don’t ever get over grief; it doesn’t go away, but instead it becomes a part of us which we embrace, manage and co-exist with. Whilst you accept it won’t go away, work on building resilience which will be your key to managing and living with it day-to-day harmoniously.
• Don’t feel guilt or shame: you must NEVER feel guilt or shame for feeling your emotions and living with grief or your response to grief, regardless of why you are grieving or how long you have been experiencing it. There are no rules, boundaries or timescales. Your experience is unique to you, but building your resilience will help massively improve your response to grief and how you continue to move forwards at the same time as learning to live with it.
• Love yourself: yes, learn to love yourself exactly as you are. This means being kind to yourself, looking after yourself and becoming resilient and strong to be the happiest version of yourself even in the times that feel hardest. Focus on the things that are good for you and don’t be concerned with the uninvited opinion of others.
There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about and feel a whole ocean of emotions following the deaths of my husband, my Dad, my brother, my pets my friends, other family and complete strangers but alongside the pain and sadness there is so much love, beauty and gratitude and this is what I hold on to; what makes me smile and creates my happiness.
Grief, in any form and for any reason, is cruel. It is an emotional baseball bat with a mind of its own and by hell, it knows how to take a massive swipe when we least expect it. We can’t control it, but we can control our response to it and that is going to be the single action that helps you manage it; controlling your response.
Grief is, and will be, a part of all our lives; let’s just talk about it, make it less taboo and in the process help ourselves be less scared and try instead to see and focus on the beauty, happiness and love of memories that paint the art of grief.
If you need or want to talk my virtual door is always open. Just visit www.modefor.co.uk or www.facebook.com/modefor
Further support is available from:
The Samaritans - phone 116 123
Cruse Bereavement Care – phone 0808 808 1677