Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Essential Pain

A friend who is travelling along her own grief journey posted this video about Grief on facebook.  Its an animation by an amazing lady called Megan Devine, you can find much more about her and her story over on her website Refuge in Grief. 

I am sure I have shared before about the complexities of grief.  My journey into trying to understand and feel grief started after the death of my 36 year old sister in 2008.  In fact this blog was started just a few weeks after at the beginning of 2009 when I realised that something inside me was just 'not right'!

I grew up in an atmosphere where I was not encouraged (in fact actually discouraged) to feel emotions.  My mum's life had been a struggle for survival in a world where she felt (and was regularly told in actions and words) she did not belong and her 'feelings' were not valid.  No real surprise then that in her parenting of me there was something missing!!

The grief experiences that I was having were so alien it took a long time and eventually some specialist help to try and understand why I reacted to situations as I did (and still do occassionaly).  Discovering that I had real emotions that affected my behaviour and relationships also made me realise that I was in dire risk of passing on my emotional numbness to my children.

As a society I'm hoping we are moving on from having 'the British Stiff Upper Lip'.  However I can see that we still have far to go in acknowledging our emotions, accepting them in order that we can then continue on our journeys of self-discovery and maturity.  That is what this video made me think about this morning.  How many times have I tried to cheer someone up when all they needed me to do was be along side them.  How many times have I tried to encourage others to 'look on the bright side'? For those that know me well, I think you would agree that I am generally a 'sunny side up' person, my glass is usually half full not half empty.  This is a part of my nature and I really would not like to have to give it up.  It always has and I would like to think that it always will be a saving Grace on more than the odd occassion, helping me to keep my sanity.  What I do need to remember though is that when others are experiencing deep sadness, it is not my job to try and pull them out of it.  They have just as much right to feel their own emotions, just as I have mine.

After my mum died by suicide in 2013, I remember crying out in those raw messy moments following her last breath "I tried so hard to make her life worth living" to the deaf ears of my now estranged brother. The cold flat truth is, we can not make people feel the emotions we want them to feel.  I am now learning that in fact by allowing those we love to express, wrangle and own their feelings and emotions is the most precious (and helpful) gift we can be a part of. 

This video talks about acknowledgement, if you try and acknowledge how someone is feeling you may discover that you are not understanding them at all. That's also okay and might lead to a conversation, moment of better understanding, or even helping someone identify how they are feeling.

So  how can we practically help those who are grieving? I would like to add just a few suggestions of my own that I have felt to be helpful, it's okay to say:

  • "I'm so sorry you feel so bad right now".  
  • "Is there anything I can do to help you right this moment, a hug, a distraction, a walk, etc" - make sure you only offer what you can give!
  • "Would you like to talk?"
  • "Would you like some company?"
  • "Can I bring a meal over for you?" - as long as you make it clear that you are not going to come over and sit and watch them eat it, reassure them it can be put in the fridge or freezer to eat when they are ready.
Of course, these things can be so hard to put into practise when we cannot predict how a person may react to us. This is the risk we have to take if we really want to show how much they mean to us.

Another story I found some years ago was a middle eastern tale -

A man was out with friends when he entered a river and started to panic, his friends kept reaching out to him shouting "give me your hand".  The troubled friend could not do this and the situation got even more dangerous.  A wise man saw a commotion and went to see what was going on.  He heard these friends shouting at their friend and told them to be quiet.  He reached out his hand and said to the troubled man "Take my hand". The troubled man took the hand offered to him and he was safe.  The moral of the story is, don't ask a drowning/troubled man to GIVE you anything, instead offer them something to TAKE.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, have you had any experiences that have helped you through emotionally tough times?

Jane x

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