The Reality of Grief and Learning the Art of Living again
Anyone who understands profound grief, the loss of a spouse or a child, understands that we become walking zombies, we spend all our time consumed with pain, the first few days, weeks and months are the worst, they are blurry memories, breathing even feels like hard work, and the crying is so hard, you think you will suffocate from your own tears and you don't care because you don't want to be here, you want to be with the one you lost.
Grief and Bereavement is something that every person will go through in life, it is a normal experience, yet those around us react as if it is not normal, it is alien to them, and only those that have been through it understand what you are going through. It feels like your life is destroyed, when the person you love dies, a part of you dies with them. The life you had together is also suddenly gone, you are in shock and left with a great deal of pain and loss, it´s the worst feeling in the world and very overwhelming. Bereavement is the experience of losing someone close to you.
Elizabeth Kübler Ross identified the five stages of grief
Grief is the emotional experience associated with processing that loss, the first stage being the mourning. Acute grief can be challenging to distinguish from depression. Many refer to Elizabeth Kübler Ross's five stages of grief. Still, I feel her studies are flawed and don’t apply to a person who has lost a loved one. Firstly, they are based on people who were themselves coming to terms with death after being diagnosed with terminal illnesses, so although it maybe useful for someone who is dying of a terminal illness, it cannot be comparable to most people who have just lost their soulmate or their child, or someone close to them in their family or friends. It is completely different.
Secondly, one deals with shock and the worst emotional pain that physically hurts the body so much so its hard to breathe. In my case I felt as though I was suffocating myself with grief since when I cried so hard, my sinuses swelled up so much I couldn't breathe, this was a daily occurrence that went on for over a year. The mourner has a sense of carrying a huge concrete block of pain, accompanied by being disassociated with the world and the pain of missing the person we are grieving for is so overwhelming and it continues for years to come. Although the mourner can recover some strength to focus on life again two to three years after the initial death of the person they lost, but they never feel that life is ever the same as it was before they lost the person they love. The griever's life has completely changed and is a different person with this pain, they have to navigate through the pain daily and find a way to live with the pain.
The griever never knows when they will get triggered to cry, and when they cry the tears are uncontrollable, it can happen any moment. This process is not an ordered stage of grief that one can tick off on a check list. It's more like going through a tornado of Kübler Rosses mixed and scrambled five stages, very complex waves of these messy emotions and fragmented feelings that are completely uncontrollable and unexpected. I call it the Grief Monster or the Grief Earthquake, followed by constant aftershocks.
This is like no other grief, and there is a great deal of guilt that those left behind are burdened with. It is extremely tragic for all concerned. There's an overwhelming sense of disbelief regarding their death, which can still occur for several years after the person´s death. Suicide grief is like an internal earthquake that fragments the heart and soul into a thousand pieces. The deep shock that they initially feel replays in the body's cells again and again, and mixed with the rest of the emotions it will feel like aftershocks of a giant Earthquake which can go on for a few years or more afterwards. This requires long-term therapy and counselling on one to one and possibly in a group with others who have experienced the same. Self-blame and guilt is a perilous stage of this grief, since the phenomena of feeling suicidal, goes with the self-blame. Therefore, seek counselling, talk therapy and as much emotional support as is possible to be able to get through each day and stay with the rest of us and to stay with the living world.
Acceptance is near impossible with suicide grief; its the toughest one to resolve, no one wants to accept death but especially suicide. When the death of a spouse or a child or a family member is suicide, we are left to blame ourselves for not doing the right thing to keep that person from taking their own life. Acceptance of what passed is very challenging, as the person who ended their life may have kept how they were feeling a secret. They may have felt they were a burden to everyone else, and by doing this they are relieving everyone they love of their burden, in fact, if only they knew their action instead creates a legacy of much more pain. The person who ended their life, did so because they were utterly desperate to stop feeling the pain they were in and they felt there was no other solution.
We know there are certainly far better solutions. For many mourners left behind after losing someone to suicide, there is a period of dangerous despair that also drives the mourner to feel suicidal themselves; this is a phenomenon that many go through, at this phase try and find a local group where you can connect with others who have experienced losing someone to suicide, there are forums online everywhere including on Facebook, but it helps to speak to people in a local group that you can physically go to, to share your experiences with others face to face and to work through your feelings.
I have been through this, very acutely after my husband ended his own life. When I was going through this stage, I ended up in tears at the doorstep of a grief counsellors office, I was the first person in all his years of grief counselling who had turned up in a very bad state asking for help without an appointment. I had spent about 6 weeks before in a comatose state of raw grief wanting to commit suicide and I was at the time in a new country and city which didn't help. My counsellor was and still is Alvero at Sentido based in Lima, Barranco, Peru, a suicide grief counselling centre, Alvero helped me a lot and invited me to the free local group that he hosted for people like me who met every two weeks. They had lost their sons, daughters, husbands or wives, and siblings to suicide. I met these people and heard their stories in Spanish, we cried together, embraced and connected on that profound level of understanding the lowest of grief pain.
Everyone had a safe space to share what they were feeling at different stages of their grief and to talk about the insensitivity of others and the social stigma that they were experiencing as a result. It helped me come to terms with some of my pain and it helped me work through my own suicidal feelings.
The most vital thing about the group counselling is it allowed me to connect with other people that knew exactly what I was going through and how I felt. For me it was a lifeline and I hope others will find the same supportive groups locally. Such groups are useful to those of us who are grieving due to a suicide death. Friends and family around you do not really understand, its hard for them to imagine what it is like if it hasn't happened to them. And there is a social stigma surrounding this topic in all societies and cultures no matter how open they may seem on the surface, people are very judgemental about suicide.
Due to the social stigma, it is rarely discussed in public and that makes suicide grief the hardest to understand, and for people who carry suicide grief, it is the hardest burden to process and the most complex form of grief. We can lose people we regarded as close friends and even some family members who don´t understand why we also feel suicidal or cannot move on with our grief. I lost a number of people I previously thought were close friends and even family members slipped out of my life, this is common for people going through suicide grief, unlike normal grief where people are more sympathetic.
There should be no expected recovery time period or rush with grief, especially suicide grief, which takes a lot longer than most other kinds of grief to work through and is notoriously hard to process. As I explained earlier, acceptance and self-blame are some of the obstacles in suicide grief. Once I was told just a year and a half after my husband died ´´to move on´´, by someone else who lost their wife, and similar advice from a friend who lost their father at a young age, however their loved one's deaths were not by suicide, but people who go through normal grief assume suicide grief is the same, so they need to be aware of the obstacles and differences.
In normal grief, one can blame the illness or accident or what ever killed their loved one, in suicide grief, one always blames themselves and feels very guilty. I've had so many insensitive comments that people have said to me, its best not to get angry at them, they really couldn't possibly understand, unless they lost someone the same way. So it is important to discuss the complexity of it and for people who are friends of the person who is grieving, friends need to be patient with the person who is grieving, and be as supportive as possible, don't pressure the griever, allow them all the time in the world to process their pain.
The path back to the living
Living with depression in the contemporary world is challenging enough, living with grief, even more so, as we are continually under pressure to tread the hamster wheel and when we are grieving, we can barely put one foot in front of the other. There is an art to learning to live again when one is this depressed. After the first year and a half, or more, one may start to come out of their grief cave and begin to see the light of life of what is going on around them shine in. It takes a lot of time and patience to get back into learning to live in the land of the living again. If you are someone who has lost someone to suicide, it helps to change your environment to a completely different one, change your living space, or redecorate, if you really cannot move location, but moving location helps a lot to move forward in life. Firstly, I didn´t want to do this since, I wanted to be close to all the memories of our last days together, but in the long run, it is healthiest for your progress and healing to relocated to another town, city, or country. Relocating is always hard for anyone and when we are suddenly a widow or grieving the loss of someone close to us, its harder as we don´t feel we can connect to anyone as it is. With all forms of grief, there is constant yearning to be reunited with the deceased, and missing them is an overwhelming feeling for years.
If you lost your partner or loved one in a traumatic way, in suicide or in some tragic circumstances that you may have witnessed, the mourner will also be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, where you will relive flashbacks to their death and the circumstances around it. Especially at morning when you wake up and at night before you go to sleep, these are the worst times. I tried to make sure I distracted myself during the day if these invasive thoughts entered my head, meditation didn´t help, I found mantras and Yogic Kapalbhalti breathing techniques helpful. Avoidance of situations, people and places are best during the rawest periods of grief and even years after that remind one of their painful loss, hearing or seeing the person or pet that died, suicidal thoughts as a way of wanting to reunite with the deceased., especially if you are also suffering guilt and blame yourself due to the loss.
Bereavement is a normal process, and there are times when a person will become stuck in one stage of the grieving process for a long period of time, which can become detrimental to their own emotional well-being and ability to function in everyday life. So no matter how well you think you may be coping try to seek support to work through some areas that you may benefit from talking through with a professional to find a way to come to terms with the emotions.
A person is more likely to grief abnormally when the person was unable to view the body of the deceased or attend the funeral and be able to express grief at the appropriate time when death was sudden or due to suicide. Or if there was a problematic relationship or unresolved issues with the deceased, or if there was a very dependent relationship with the deceased. Or if the loss was the child of the person, or their parent, or the person has lost an unusual number of people in a short time period.
When we are in raw grief, unable to clean the kitchen and keep it tidy, it may take six months, eight months or a year before one can really start caring for their surroundings because losing your loved one feels like your heart has been wrenched out of your chest and a larger part of you has gone forever with that person you love. You have no interest in self-care. When my mum visited me a year and a half after I lost my husband and had just returned to Europe, it was a big occasion, so I had to tidy my apartment before she arrived, and it was the first time I had seen her in three years. She took an interest in my balcony plants, she and her partner helped buy a few more pots and plants, and we spent a few hours organising the terrace plants together. You can invite friends or family to help you tidy your rooms, or garden or redecorate your house. I recommend this as part of your healing process. A way to reintegrate pain into joy and new chapters in life is a way to learn to become whole again.
When we have experienced being broken into thousands of fragments, we don't see that the way to reintegration is by allowing the spaces between those fragments to fill with new things, accepting the new experiences we have of life with pain and with grief. Over some time, we focus less on the thousands of separate fragments and start to see that healing is the process of wholeness being the glue that fills the spaces between the fragments with new experiences. We then focus more on the space between them and start to see that just because we feel broken, its an illusion and that fragmentation and wholeness are one the same.
Once you have lived a massive trauma, you are not the same person you were, that has to be accepted, it takes time coming to terms with the new you. But you can explore what you are now and what you will become may surprise you. I know all too well what it feels like to be broken and lost and not recognise who I am, and having Aspergers makes that challenge even more confounded. Another reason why practising gratitude and the art of living can bring back the sacredness into my life.
It´s your job to restore this quality back into your life; a therapist cannot do this for you, although they can help you make the steps and facilitate a space for you to gain momentum, no-one else can write your new chapter, only you can do that. Don't see it as a chore; see it as an experiment, a process, a learning curve that can lead to a new standard of living for yourself.
Start with better self-nurturing and self-care, where we learn to self-care, self soothe and nurture ourselves in a healthy, gentle and constructive way. You will feel that your quality of life will improve as a result. Start a weekly self-care list, but tailored to suit your needs, here is an example below-
Get a hair cut
Go for a walk in nature
Make a healthy green smoothie
Watch a Funny movie
Hang all the clothes up on my bedroom chair
Research something. For me it was Equine therapy
Meditate for ten minutes a day
Do a few Yoga stretches, its okay to stop when you feel you have had enough.
Listen to music for at least 1 hour a day
Speak to a close friend
Bake some gluten free cookies
Tidy up the lounge
visit a new place and take pictures
Make a photo collage
Learn a new language
Get a memorial Tattoo
Do some volunteer work
Put on your favourite boogie music and dance
Invite a friend over for dinner
Get a Massage
Do some gardening or buy some plants for your house and water them weekly
Eat more fruit and drink more water
We all had the inquisitive nature to explore learning how to live as children, everything is magical and children are in awe of nature and natural beauty. When you have even an inkling or a tiny desire to change, since you are tired of suffering from depression and would like to manage it better, the most practical way to take steps are to change your current habits and to reframe it from this perspective. Instead of being a victim of an illness, become self-empowered and learn to play with life again.
Ways to start helping to improve your daily feeling and your state of mind begins with your diet, doing new things you have never done before, and taking care of what you put in your body.
Depression is partly an auto-inflammatory illness; therefore, we must pay attention to what we eat and notice how we feel afterwards. Eating more kale and spinach, introducing at least 40 percent more greens into your diet can help heal inflammation. This, we will discuss in more detail in the following chapters which includes recipes and meal plans to help you take better care of your mental health, as well as your emotional health. In human ecology terms, your body is the soil to nourish your mind which is the flower that you want to see bloom. Treat the soil with care, keep it watered and give it plenty of healthy nutrients and nourishment, avoid an acidic environment, keep it alkaline, then your mind and emotions can become more balanced.
Lifestyle choices are an important factor, avoiding certain foods and drinks that contribute to inflammation and acid environment and overstimulate mood.
Try to moderate wheat, sugar, alcohol and caffeine, it requires discipline but switch to alternatives, instead of coffee drink Yerba Matte, it's an Argentinian tea that gives you a nice healthy energy buzz, I mix it with other teas to create different flavours, such as Chia tea or Jasmine. Instead of sugar use Stevia, its a natural sweetener. Instead of wheat, eat gluten free products. The reward is more valuable since you will feel calmer and suffer from less anxiety and depression. Eating more greens and adding superfoods and probiotics helps to promote a healthier gut and eradicate candida. I suggest foods like Kifer, Kombucha, Chia seeds soaked in pure water, 100 percent pure Cacao, Maca, Spirulina and Ginseng, to your diet. These foods help boost energy levels and antioxidants and improve your gut flora.
Eat well, nourish your body, nourish your mind, learn to take care of yourself again, learn to be kind to yourself and you will find a way back to the land of the living.
"Pain is like the cold deep in the winter, if it is endured for too long, we will die, Joy is a soaring moment that inspires you forever, or makes you cry, Love is both of these things because without them we cannot grow, neither can love".
- C SAuthor of