Chew On It: Living With Grief

In the past 10 years I have lost my favourite daughter, my daughter’s mother, my loving mum and, recently, my beautiful brother. Grief has become my unwanted constant companion.

I would like to share with you my journey with pain and how I have learnt to carry it while seeking and experiencing joy and pleasure in life.

The reality is that when there is life there will also be death, and sadly modern society too often sweeps it into the ‘too hard’ basket. As a result, many people don’t know how to express grief, while others are unsure how to care for those experiencing it.

Everybody will experience the loss of loved ones, and how they deal with grief is an individual and personal thing.

Grief can become unhealthy when one is paralysed by it or tries to mask or numb it with substances. It is imperative to stay with the grief and allow time to soften the blow. For me, the key to surviving tragedy is to learn to carry and live with the pain.

It’s like suddenly having to carry a heavy load. You need to get stronger to bear it – and at times you may forget that you’re carrying it, while at other times the weight of it may feel overwhelming.

Expressing your feelings to a friend or family member can help to lighten the load. Crying is also an essential part of the process – it’s a release of pain.

I have learnt to not be concerned about what people think; there is no shame in expressing sadness. Our society seems to be comfortable expressing emotions like anger, fear and happiness, but not sadness.

People often wear sunglasses at funerals to hide their emotions, but I tend to find comfort when others express their sorrow for my loss. Expressing empathy to those who are grieving can provide some solace.

At times, though, it may be better to show your love and care with a simple hug or touch rather than with words.

For example, imposing your beliefs onto others who may not share them is not comforting – I feel like I might scream if another person tells me my daughter is looking down at me. Words can also be ignorant and hurtful. I’ve had people ask me things like ‘Have you got over it?’ and ‘Didn’t that happen some time ago?’ and it really took all my discipline to keep my cool.

The great Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca wrote “But every great and overpowering grief must take away the capacity to choose words, since it often stifles the voice itself.”

One of the most important lessons I have learnt (and am still working on) is that I can be in pain, but I don’t need to keep hurting myself. While we don’t get to choose whether we experience tragedies in life, we can choose to keep moving forward instead of constantly looking back.

I’ve become acutely aware that life is precious, unpredictable and finite. And I have learnt to walk an excruciating path with a painful load, while choosing to see the beauty in life and actively creating new and joyful memories with my family and friends.