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Grief Awareness Week: Holding My Breath For A Year

*Please note this blog is a personal reflection of grief after losing someone to cancer so may contain upsetting details or be triggering for some readers*

Grief is not linear. You have probably heard of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) but that is not a guide of how it works nor what you can expect. I was speaking to a friend just recently who asked very earnestly how I am. I thought about it, and in that moment, I said, “it feels like I have been holding my breath for the best part of a year”.

I am guessing that would count as denial, although I know I have flipped from anger to acceptance to just all out dirty crying and sitting in a deep pit of sadness with a lot of chocolate. What I have found is that through all the theories and models about grief, my own feelings do not neatly match any categories or labels, and I am absolutely fine with that.

I am a hugely hands on and practical person. I am a problem solver by nature and so when I tried to approach grief with the same mindset, it didn’t produce the results I was hoping for. I organized the funeral and all that went with it, and I helped dad sort through mum’s clothes, all a short time after her passing… so surely that was grief done with me then, yes?

Oh, how naïve. There is no beginning, middle or end to grief and it is most definitely something you can’t project manage. I even went onto a Macmillan support forum online and asked: “am I doing grief right?!”.

This was unknown territory in not being about to at least find an answer as to how to control grief or when I could look forward to turning it off. As cliché as it sounds, this wave is one I am having to ride but I know I won’t be going backwards (I may spin in a circle a bit) but I will always be moving forwards.

What makes the journey bumpy are the unexpected trip ups or ‘rug pullers’ as I like to call them. A song on the radio, walking by someone who looks likes them, smelling a familiar smell, coming across their handwriting, a photo, birthdays, anniversaries… they can come out of nowhere and before we know it our physical reaction has happened before our brain has had a chance to thoroughly process what is happening.

For me seeing grandmothers with small kids tends to be a trigger, as was walking and driving by the hospital where mum died. Tears streaming and heart racing was the immediate effect before I could really grasp why I was a gloopy mess at seeing these things. It is ok when this happens. It feels like a loss of control and can be shocking and quite traumatic. But this energy needs to go somewhere, and I find having these responses is a bit of a cleanse for my mind.

Despite the 'rug pullers' and the recovery afterwards, I know that it will never be as bad as it was at its rawest (the main reason I don't want to get out of bed these days is because I'm knackered not because I am emotionally paralysed). It doesn't get easier, it just gets different, and there is a strange comfort in that.

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