Tomorrow, 13 May, marks the start of Death Awareness / Dying Matters week. I’m passionate about this subject as I feel that many people see death, dying and grief as taboo subjects, making it difficult to talk about these painful, but important areas. This can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, guilt, depression and more.
Benjamin Franklin is famously reported as having said:
Everyone is faced with death at some point in their lives: for example parents, friends and eventually our own. Some of these can feel like part of a natural progression of life, for example the death of an older person, such as a grandparent. Others can feel very ‘wrong’ and deeply disturbing, for example the death of a young child, or the sudden and violent death of a close friend in an accident.
Some losses can feel very isolating because others might not understand the depth of our feelings, for example the loss of an animal. To the owner, they might have felt like family, but to those looking in from the outside, a pet might seem easy to replace.
Miscarriage, too, can be a situation where parents are expected to ‘recover’ and get on with things, whereas they might still be struggling, but also feeling that they can’t talk about it because, to everyone around them, the matter appears closed.
I would love to see a world where people are free to talk about death and dying, and that grief no longer carries any stigma.
There is a movement which aims to support this. Death Cafés are being set up in lots of towns across the country. I’ve been to a couple and, contrary to what you might think, they are fun and uplifting occasions with lots of laughter. There’s also a great sense of openness and connection as fears and concerns are shared and begin to lose their scariness in the light of day and the gentle supportive words of the others in the room.
A lovely networking colleague of mine, Jane Grayer, a Celebrant with Create Ceremonies, facilitates a Death Café in Abergavenny. She and I will be facilitating a workshop on Grief and Grieving next Saturday, 18 May, here at Equenergy. It will be a small group, allowing people to share their stories in a safe space, surrounded by Nature which can be so nurturing for those hurt parts of our being.
The workshop sold out within a couple of days, which just highlights to me the need for this kind of space and opportunity to talk about our experiences around loss. Jane and I are now collecting names to gauge interest for running a similar event(s) in the future, so if you would like your name to be added to this list, please get in touch.
Everyone’s experience of grief is highly personal and is based upon their unique perception of the situation. Events trigger different reactions in different people and our responses to trauma and emotional shock can vary hugely. They can also depend on our past experiences, beliefs and values. In addition they can be influenced by the other things going on in our lives at the time, which can leave us feeling particularly vulnerable or sensitive.
People vary widely in the way they cope with feelings, and grief affects us in many ways. Anxiety, fear, agitation, restlessness, anger, blame, resentment, depression, shock and feeling detached are all very normal responses. As is guilt.
It can be a time of inner turmoil and we can begin to question our judgement and decisions.
The phases of dealing with grief are highly individual, and some people also experience physical pain or illness. It is important to recognise that it is a natural way of processing loss, and that we need to be kind to ourselves and allow time for these emotions to flow. Often the depth of the pain comes as a shock and can feel completely overwhelming.
If you are struggling with grief, you do not have to do this alone. Firstly, realise that this is a natural process. You are not crazy. You’re not losing your mind, even though it can feel that you are.
Whatever you are feeling, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to experience grief. However, if your feelings are overwhelming, it’s ok to ask for help. Please don’t feel that you have to bottle things up. If you can’t talk to family or friends, there are professionals who will offer you time, support and a non-judgemental, listening ear.
Your GP might be able to help signpost you to support services or groups in your area, and if you’re struggling with sleep or other physical symptoms, they should be able to help with these too.
If you don’t want to go down the route of medication, you might prefer to try natural remedies such as homeopathy, essential oils or Bach Flowers. I would recommend approaching a qualified practitioner to ensure that you get the best remedy for you, but for some self-help options you can read my article on Bereavement and Loss.
If you know someone who is experiencing grief and you want to support them but you’re feeling anxious because you don’t know what to say, please don’t worry. The most important thing is just to be there. Be a listening ear. Offer them the opportunity to talk – and don’t be afraid if they say some things that appear strange. (Trust your gut that you will know if they need further, professional, support.) Generally it’s just the hurting parts of them struggling to process their loss. What they need most is someone who will allow them to talk openly about what they’re feeling as this helps in processing the emotions in order to adjust to their new circumstances. Also, be aware that you might need support for yourself in this situation, and again there are professionals available to offer this for you too.