April 10, 2024

8 Unforgettable Things Grief Has Taught Me.

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I recently lost my grandmother at the incredible age of 90.

It’s early days and she was and will continue to be a guiding light. We were extremely close, and in recent years, I saw her on an often daily basis. She was my best friend and offered me so much love, friendship, fun, and guidance. We would often cook together or just sit and put the world to right.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect and write—which I find so calming and cathartic—I realise that looking back to the days close to her death, I needed to know that there wasn’t a handbook; everyone’s grief looks, feels, and sounds different. That there is no formula or prescribed way to feel, be, or do. I publish this so it can be of benefit to anyone going through the grieving process; peace be with you.

In processing grief, I learnt:

1. There is no timeline.

The first few days after her passing are a blur, but I don’t recall feeling overly emotional. I was sad, but equally I felt numb, tired, and extremely drained. As a family we had spent a lot of time at the hospital, and the exhaustion was all-encompassing. Fast forward to around four days in, and the tears came, more than they ever had before. I couldn’t stop and I cried until it felt like my tears were falling dry. It looked ugly, felt ugly and desperate, but the tears were oh so needed, and they helped.

2. Grief hits you when you least expect it.

As above, I watched others get emotional, and whilst supporting them, I almost looked inward with judgement: Why wasn’t I crying? Why couldn’t I feel and process this so I could “move on”? I did and am continuing to process—in my own time and in my own way—and so will you.

3. It’s okay to smile.

I remember a quick dash to the local supermarket to collect fresh fruit, bottled water, and snacks for my devoted family who were spending night and day at the hospital. I was in the aisle of a shop when my boyfriend held my hand and did a funny dance—as he often does. In that moment I smiled momentarily and instantly felt guilty; how could I smile when there is so much sadness, so much pain?

I know now that those smiles were blessings. Those are moments that give our strength energy to persevere and prosper for what lies ahead. Use them and nurture them; they’re there for a reason.

4. Physical objects can help/hinder the grieving process.

Everybody is different, but for me, one physical item helped me feel close to my Gran in her final weeks and in her passing—a Welsh lovespoon that I gave to her to mark Spring, St. David’s Day, and as “Get Well Soon” gift. In the days that followed, it offered me strength and a physical reminder of the bond we shared. I’ll hold onto it forever, just like the beautiful moments, memories, and bond that we shared.

The house quickly became overwhelmingly full with flowers and sympathies cards, and at times it felt like there was no getting away. I know it meant that people cared and that in itself is beautiful and a blessing that I am lucky to have, but equally a haunting and sometimes too often reminder of the life that we’d just lost.

5. Embrace the kindness of others, but don’t expect too much of them or yourself.

I found telling people the hardest; it made it start to seem “real.” Nobody knows what to say in response, or often, how to go about saying it. Some are reminded about their own experiences of loss and some don’t know how to relate to you or what you’re going through.

Some friends get in touch straight away to offer their condolences and support; others give the space they may think you need. I found relying on my close inner circle key and regularly checked in with those around me and myself through meditation. Equally I sometimes felt further than ever away from those closest to me as if I was (and sometimes still am) in my own bubble.

Grief made me momentarily selfish; I forgot that others go through their own daily battles. I had to remind myself that what is at the forefront of mind may not always be the same for others and that it was okay to sit in stillness, and in fact, that was part of my grieving process, and still is.

6. Loss made me question my purpose and guiding principles.

What’s next? What waits for us? Where do we go when it’s all over? My Gran was a devout Catholic and in preparing her for her passing, her blessing of the sick and last rites prepared me for a life without her. I found a newly affirmed faith and hope that there is more to life as we know it, and a knowing warmth that she is no longer in pain and in a better place.

7. “Moving on”: It’s okay to be okay.

When is an acceptable time to see friends? Go back to work? Go to the pub? To the theatre? For me to get back on stage and sing my songs? I realise now that there is no such thing as acceptable—just acceptance. Once I realised that this was a long process, I decided (and continue to decide) to be kind to myself. Not to judge myself on the basis of what I can/cannot do or don’t feel like doing. Some days I’m okay, and that’s okay. On the days that I’m not, I try to hold on to the fact that I will be and give myself things to look forward to.

8. It comes in waves—and maybe always will.

I know from previous losses that grief never really goes away. I understand now that’s because our memories remind us of what we had and what we lost. They are a beautiful treasure and often present themselves in our imagination when we need them most, or are in need of the strength they provide. Birthdays, Christmas, and everything in between is never quite the same, as we navigate and slowly accept and embrace a “new normal.”

Yesterday, I was reminded of a book called The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson. We don’t take our belongings, our home, or even our wedding ring with us when we go. I choose to believe that we do take love. All the love we’ve given and all of the love that we’ve received. That’s what I’m also choosing to hold on to: love and the knowledge that we were so lucky.

May this be of benefit to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one now or in the future. Peace be with you.


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