The one thing that many of us will hear when it is our time to grieve over a loved one is this: there is no time limit on grief. And while it is true that we all process our grief at different speeds, and some of us never truly get over the death of a loved one, it is also true that the nature of our grief changes through time. While it can feel scary to consider grief as something that may never truly leave us, it does also reduce the pressure of the need to ‘get over it’.
Some losses may be just that simple. Other, deeper and more significant ones, may stay with us and shape us for the rest of our lives. In those cases, grief is not something to ‘get over’ – it’s something to learn to live alongside as it changes with us.
Most of us have heard of at least some of the stages of grief. And while death does not necessarily get easier over time, it certainly becomes far more ‘normal’. As a young person, those around you, and to an extent, you yourself, feel a sense of immortality. It’s a luxury that simply isn’t afforded as easily to those of an older generation. Losing a first important loved one will certainly feel like more of a shock than losing some close much later in life when death seems far less like a mysterious concept.
Additionally, the way that we react in the first days and weeks of a loved one dying will depend on so many factors. How close we were to them, the circumstances under which they died, what other traumas we are dealing with at the time. For example, losing both your parents within days of each other is likely going to shatter us far more and make it more difficult to navigate than if we lost them years and years apart. Even whether or not you have been tasked with organising the funeral of your loved one will play a significant role in how well you are able to process your grief.
The initial, rawest stages of grief will look different for every single person. Some will kick and scream and isolate themselves from others just to stay sane, others desperately need to get back to work in order to survive it. Others, especially those losing loved ones at an extremely young age, don’t even feel much overwhelming emotion at all until much later in life. In many ways, it is not only the most unpredictable period of grieving, but also the most potentially volatile.
We hope, as we experience more loss throughout our lives, that the volatility of this initial stage will lessen with age, that despite the pain not necessarily ceasing, picking ourselves up will become more intuitive than before.
Picking yourself up from the initial sadness, shock and the crushing nature of grief has no time period. But whether it’s through choice or necessity, there will come a point where going back out into the world, even partially, will be a reality.
Perhaps it’s the first time you accept a dinner invitation from a friend that you’ve been rejecting for the longest time, or perhaps it’s just that you’ve finally stopped crying every day and there are moments when you feel as though life is proceeding as it might have before. The moments may be, admittedly, fleeting. But it’s hopefully a sign that healing is starting to take place.
Unfortunately, for those looking in on someone else’s grief, this change in behaviour – a loved one’s reappearance into their social circle, or a slightly cheerier attitude – could be mistaken as having “moved on” from their loss and able to carry on as they did before. For the grieving person, this is an entirely unique sort of stress. It may not be as upsetting as the initial stages of crying and just about functioning, but it’s only natural to feel pressure or tension.
For both the grieving individual and family and friends, this period may be one of uncertainty and of learning. Boundaries may have to be set and it’s likely that even as you attempt to re-emerge into your social life, you will find that certain topics may trigger you. Patience is key
When the days, weeks and months of tears have eventually subsided, when you feel like you can enjoy a joke, have fun at a party and return to a semblance of normalcy, to perhaps feel like yourself again, what sometimes follows is a period of reflection. Death, for all the misery and pain that it brings, can also teach us an extraordinary amount about life itself, what we want, and how we are living our own lives.
Of course, it’s important to remember that while some people may truly be able to move past their grief, to live their lives completely as they did before, for others, this is simply not the case. Life may be able to go on, but on some level, they feel that their loss has fundamentally changed them. This is often the case with a significant loss, such as that of a parent or grandparent. These sorts of deaths often signify not only the loss of a loved one, but of a whole new stage in someone’s life that they must now understand and live through.
When it comes to these significant losses that can even alter the course of your life, it is likely that the pain will never truly subside as though it was never there to begin with. Rather, it shifts into something that becomes a part of yourself going forward, something that you carry with you for the rest of your life and that defines your personality and certain decisions you may end up making for your life. Rather than the grief consuming us as it perhaps had during the initial period of despair, it lives as a part of us, alongside us, reminding us of what is important in life and of the lessons that our loved ones taught us.
It’s hard for us to understand the way that grief will shape our lives, especially if it’s the first time we’ve experienced it. And while we cannot hope to predict how we will react, or force ourselves to move on in accordance with other people’s wishes, what we can do is understand one thing; for most of us, grief will slowly subside, even if it is not in a perfect downward curve, and even if it may not ever truly leave us.
There may be spikes, there may be moments that trigger us. But ultimately, we understand that without grief, there is no life. All we can hope is that in the end, we learn something from it, we cherish our bonds with others, and truly appreciate all that life has to offer, no matter what stage of grief we are in.
We are a family-led business offering funeral services in Essex since 1958.