I’ve been thinking a lot about the grieving process lately, having lost my 70 year old Mum to cancer late last year. While I dealt with it all surprisingly well, it’s been interesting to watch myself unravel a little now the dust has settled and a few unexpected stressors have come into my life.
What I’ve observed with a lot of people and this certainly happened with me – is that initially there’s some relief because your loved one is no longer suffering and you don’t have to watch them slowing dying. Then of course reality sinks in a little later.
Reflecting on the deeper effects of losing my Mother, who was such a gentle person and had such a calming presence, the family dynamic has really changed now she has gone. Especially now what I call the ‘honeymoon grieving period’ is over. Initially you don’t notice the changed dynamic as much when everyone is so mindful of the loss and are extra caring and supportive, then over time it gradually goes back to ‘normal’ - or a new kind of normal anyway. There is a period of adjustment which can take many months to get used to.
Not surprisingly when everything in your life is going well, you are better able to cope with such a huge loss and was the case for me. When Mum died I was busy starting a new business, completing further studies and helping get my daughter get through Year 12 – (which was surprisingly fun because she’s a beautiful free spirit that laughs her way through life’s ups and downs,) so I had lots to occupy myself with. But 6 months later - add a few unexpected challenges to the mix and all of a sudden my coping mechanisms were a little shaky, without my Mum –aka my No1 cheerleader - to support me.
Luckily I could see the signs, as I’d had depression many years ago and had worked bloody hard to regain control of my emotional state and get myself well – physically, mentally and spiritually. After years of research and trial and error to find what worked for me – in large part natural health solutions and energy medicine ‘work’ - I vowed never to let myself go back to that self –defeating place again. So when it reared its head for the first time in about 15 years, it scared the shit out of me to be honest. Could I ward off a major depressive episode?
I beat myself up about it saying things like ‘I’m a Mindset Coach FFS, I know too much about emotional/mental health to let that happen again.’ And yet, here I was really struggling with negative thinking, very low mood and feeling that horribly feeling of extreme lethargy that forces you to stop and rest. Your to-do list is seemingly growing by the hour stressing you out more and more. Choosing what to make for dinner becomes ridiculously hard and keeping on top of the housework let alone the dishes becomes a herculean task.
Guilt sets in because you never feel like you’re doing enough. You isolate yourself from even your closet friends. PMT becomes even more of a roller coaster ride. You take out your sadness on your family when they annoy you, when it’s not really them, it’s you. None of which is helpful and only makes it worse.
I had to use all my inner resources to pull myself through this period, taking all my own advice ten-fold. I had to bring HUGE amounts of self-care into my daily routine and amplify my spiritual practices to keep it at bay. I also had to enlist extra help from the wellness practitioners in my life – from my Kinesiologist, to my Reiki girl, to my Accountability Coach. With all of this I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and started to appreciate all that I was learning through this challenging time.
For every breakdown there is a break-through waiting to come to the fore. It isn’t helpful to beat yourself up for ‘not coping’.
There’s always so much opportunity for growth during the tough times. The perfectionist streak in me wanted it all to just go away, telling me I wasn’t handling things well enough but I politely told it to f%#k off.
Going through these challenging times can make or break us. We can choose not to let it consume us but rather let it teach us valuable life lessons and show us how strong we truly are. It’s also important to allow ourselves to feel vulnerable during these times. As such, part of it is also a lesson in learning how to receive love from others. We are often so good at giving, giving, giving to others but don’t truly know how to receive an equal amount of love in return.
This was definitely the case for me throughout this grief journey. If someone showed me too much kindness, it could leave me crying in the car park – as happened once after a session with one of my natural health practitioners. It felt like ‘too much’, like I was too much somehow. On the one hand I really needed some extra love and support but was so scared of it at the same time. I wasn’t used to being so vulnerable but over time I have become more comfortable with accepting it in all its various forms which is freeing.
Going through profound grief also gives us the opportunity to hold a mirror up to ourselves and to see all our glorious weaknesses with a magnifying glass. We can choose to turn away from this opportunity of self-reflection and use the grief as an excuse to not deal with it or put our big girl panties on and take ourselves head on.
Similarly we can self-medicate with alcohol/drugs and suppress our feelings, which only means it will rear its ugly head later on in a much harder way physically, mentally or emotionally. Above all we need to be kind to ourselves during these times. Get the extra support and help you need. Give yourself time to move through it and gradually process it as you are ready and able. As long as you keep moving forward you WILL be ok.
Cry bucket loads of tears when they need to be released but make sure you still see the joy in life and laugh and dance and sing to keep your vibration high. There will be some big troughs but they will lessen over time and you will be oh so much wiser for the experience. I am so thankful I can use my experience to help others going through their grief with my work because as they say, ‘We can only help others as much as we have helped ourselves.’