*Trigger Warning - This article includes experience of baby loss.
This is a highly personal post which I think will help me and I hope might also help you...
In the last few years my father, my mother-in-law and, most recently, my mother have all died. Each of them had lived a good, long and happy life and their deaths were anticipated. Although very sad, for each of them death was a release from a life of dependence, limitations and the associated indignities of old age. We miss them all but death of an elderly parent is a normal and expected part of life.
Over the years I have also experienced the death of friends, other family members and much loved animals too. I’m sure that each person reading this will have had their own losses.
My most significant loss, which is difficult to write about publicly but which is important to include in this piece, was the death of our only son Fergus in 1997. Fergus was stillborn at full term and was a precious and deeply loved part of our lives in the short time we had him with us. We remember him frequently and often wonder about the life we wish he could have lived.
Grief comes, not only from the death of a cherished person but also from many other experiences such as:
Loss of a dream
Loss of a relationship
Loss of a pet
Loss of identity
Loss of a job, home or security
Loss of health
Loss of independence
There are many emotions associated with grief and the experience is individual and personal.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published a model of the five stages of grief, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and for many years this model was frequently quoted to those who were grieving as the “normal” process which had to be “got through”. Generally, this model has been discredited as there is very little evidence of moving through the process in an orderly fashion.
Instead, from my experience working in the NHS, subsequently in my current role and also from my own personal experiences, I believe that grief is far more complex than a defined process.
There can be a whole complex mix of emotions and they can come alone or they can arrive as a jumble all at the same time. Emotions can jump from overwhelming despair, through anger, to a sense of relief and back again to sadness all within one train of thought.
For me, the overwhelming emotions initially occupied my every waking thought, and a lot of my sleep time as well. Then gradually over time feelings have settled and acceptance has come. Nothing has been “got over” but happiness has returned and life has continued whilst memories have been cherished. I distinctly remember a friend saying to me some months after Fergus had died that she was happy to see that “my smile had returned”. I think it was at that moment that I knew I was going to be happy again.
A few years on from the death of my father, it is now the memories of him as a younger man which I recall rather than those of him in his last months. My feelings about my Mum are still too raw and recent but with time I know it will be happier memories which rise to the surface rather than images of her being so frail and helpless.
From my own experiences of the death of much loved animals, I know that the pain and emotions can be just as strong as they are for the death of a person. So if somebody tells you “it is just an animal”, in my opinion they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re just being clumsy with their words.
Grief is different to mourning. It is an internal set of feelings and emotions, thoughts and also sometimes includes physical pain.
Mourning is the public side of grief.
It includes the rituals of a funeral, sending and receiving cards and flowers, in days gone by the wearing of black clothes, time off work and away from socialising. With the loss of a pet it might include keeping mementoes such as a lock of hair or a horse shoe, having photographs framed and keeping a special item associated with that animal. The rituals of mourning all help with the internal grief and are an important aspect of our lives and society. If you have a religious faith then that can be a great help as can other expressions of spirituality.
Support from family and friends has been an enormous help for me over the years and I think I will share with you just a few of the things which I found of particular help and a few which actually had the opposite effect.
After Fergus died, the outpouring of love and support we experienced was almost palpable. Friends who simply called round and talked about him were the absolute best. For me, it didn’t really matter too much what they said it was just their being with me that helped. People who were prepared to listen to me without judgement and without chipping in with their own experiences were amazing. At a time of extreme grief, I really didn’t want to hear about any comparable situations as I was so absorbed in my own.
I don’t want to be judgemental about the things which didn’t help me as I am sure that people were trying their best to be supportive. However, being told that “you’ll get over it” isn’t helpful and especially unhelpful for me was people saying “You must be feeling …..” or “You will be feeling…..“.
Personally speaking I don’t want to be told how I must be feeling…..
Overall, the least helpful thing was the one or two friends who simply said nothing as they didn’t want to upset me. For me, I would rather that someone made a clumsy or slightly thoughtless comment, than said nothing at all. At a time of grief, saying nothing can be interpreted as simply not caring.
So if you are grieving in your own life, for any kind of loss, then I send you my love and support.
If you have a friend or family member who is grieving then simply be kind and show support by getting in touch and listening to them.
If this is something you are struggling with then don’t hesitate to get in touch and I will listen to you and offer you some help and support. I consider myself to be fortunate in my attitude towards death and loss in my own life. I see it as part of the rich tapestry of life and even though life hasn’t necessarily turned out as I might have expected when I was younger, I cherish each and every one of my life experiences.