A different view of grief in lockdown
I'm sat at my desk, on a Bank Holiday Monday, exactly one week since my Mum died. For those who might be concerned, it's OK, my relationship with my Mum wasn't typical, and this is the reason for writing this article.
My experience of grief for the death of my Mum isn't what you would usually expect and it certainly hasn't matched my other experiences of grief and loss.
Being a coach often involves me helping other people overcome their grief, the grief process is a well-documented one with many viewpoints over how grief can affect us.
The most common emotions are felt so very much in an order that there is a name for them, the Kübler-Ross model or the five stages of grief:
I went straight to acceptance the day I heard, tinged with sadness but mostly acceptance. I know this may be quite surprising to many but I hope that this will resonate with some who might feel similarly about the loss of someone close.
We are bound to our family by blood, and for some people, that family may not be the people that we wished or hoped for and that is ok.
Firstly, I'm going to give a brief background to my personal insights before I move on to explain why I feel it important to write this article.
Along my journey, I have had to learn and implement a lot about acceptance. Acceptance that my Mum failed to protect me on numerous occasions, made a conscious decision to place me at risk to protect herself, many times and often resulted in me, as an 11-year-old, having to lie to an aggressor (my Dad) in order to protect her. As a child and an adult, she let me down multiple times, often causing so much emotional pain and abandonment that I became ill in my late thirties.
I write this with complete acceptance of her, for despite her failings she always tried her best, just sometimes her best was well below what would be considered an acceptable way of parenting.
I have no doubt that she loved me, in her own way, she struggled with her own mental health for as long as I can remember, from non-epileptic seizures caused by stress to bouts of depression, rage and an embedded victim mentality that became stronger and more vehement the older she got.
Needless to say, I learned some of these destructive behaviours and carried many of them into my early forties when I finally learned some skills, sought therapy and embarked on my own journey to ensure that the pattern of learned behaviours did not extend beyond me to my children as it had been passed from my Mum to me.
She was a fantastic rescuer of other people's dramas, it gave her a sense of importance, of value, of purpose, something I think we can all relate to in some way. So, at times, when things went wrong, she could be counted on to be in the thick of it, if it benefitted her or there wasn't a bigger drama calling her attention.
So on to why I am writing this.
You cannot begin to understand another's grief and predict how they are going to respond - yes there are models that most people can expect to progress through, but these are just models, the majority, the assumption that the grief comes from a loving, meaningful relationship and therefore follow a mostly predictable pattern.
Not everyone will experience this kind of grief, some will feel many other emotions too. The last seven days have brought me a multitude of emotions and my model looks more like this:
- lifting of a burden
- feeling free
- letting go of the past
- it's over
I've felt an immense sense of sadness for her, for the person she could have been - had she not been plagued by her own struggles, unable to see the wood for the trees, we, as a family, tried so many times to reach out and help her but it was like throwing her a lifejacket in the water and watching her throw it back.
If you've read this far, then this holds some interest for you and I thank you for bearing with me.
Acceptance of how you grieve
The acceptance of others that is so often readily available also needs to be directed at yourself. If you don't experience grief in the way that is anticipated or expected, please don't think that there is something wrong with you, your story, your experiences, are unique to where you are now. They will have made their own imprint on you, as they have on me, and will define how you process and respond to grief.
What is important, above all other expectations, is that the way you deal with the loss or grief in a way that is beneficial to you.
Have the courage and confidence, to be honest with your interpretation of grief. Be accepting enough of others, especially if they don't 'get' you and the way you are responding, and communicate to them how you feel. They will thank you and you will thank yourself in the long-term as you can then avoid the inevitable guilt of other's concern being directed at you that feels somehow fraudulent or misplaced.
Be open to communicating to those who want to support you, what the best way to support you is - tell them, then they can feel that they are being useful and you can feel supported in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to you.
It has taken over 20 years for my partner to understand the distance, the disconnect that surrounds the relationship between me and my Mum. He had a loving relationship with his Mum and grief hit him hard. It is only very recently that he has accepted that I do not share the same version of grief as he does, for at least 15 years he could be found saying, "It'll be different when it happens to you". Our experiences in the death of our Mums couldn't be more different, as if we are aliens on different planets talking a different language.
Tips to help manage many variations of grief
So having lived, and experienced many variations of grief, if you do not feel that you fit the 'model of grief' then here are my insights to help you:
1. Be self-assured about how you feel
The word 'should' is banned for this as it's anothers' expectation and not your authentic experience.
2. Be accepting of your emotions
Whatever they are, whenever they show up, validate them, write your own rules and be prepared to break them.
3. Communicate your needs
Have the confidence to communicate your needs to those around you, they are not telepathic, their version of grief will come from their own experiences, so be ready to be crystal clear about what you do and don't need.
4. Control your stress
Reduce your load, your stressors, give yourself time; time to just be, time to reflect, time off from the demands of life, time to focus on activities that give you the headspace you need, time to think clearly. Work if you want, don't if you can't.
5. Find acceptance
Be accepting of yourself and those around you, we are all doing the absolute best we can at any given time.
6. Find external support
If you need professional support, then seek it. There are many modalities of therapy and counselling and finding what kind would help you most is the first step. A good professional will offer a free consultation, find someone who is a good fit for you.
If you know someone who has recently been bereaved, then please ask them how you can be of help, listen to what they say, accept what they say and resist the urge to judge them from your own experiences - it's human nature to do so but it may be useful to park this for now.
If you have been affected by what I have written and need some support then please contact one of the many helplines and support organisations available. You're not alone, even though it might feel like it sometimes.
Every now and then I check in with myself, am I still in acceptance mode? So far the answer is yes but I will keep my options open and deal with grief in a way that is best for me, you know the old saying, "don't judge someone unless you have walked in their shoes." Only you have walked in your shoes, only you know your story.