City Scope Hong Kong

Grief — why you shouldn’t struggle alone

Grief — why you shouldn’t struggle alone

Life is full of uncertainties. The only thing that you can truly be certain about is death. Everything, eventually, must come to an end. Unfortunately, there is no other way around this. Often we hear people say, “If I die in the next 20 years,” etc., not realising it is always a matter of when that happens. The great Gautam Buddha once said, “Life is uncertain, death is always certain.” And with death comes grief. While everyone has their own way of processing grief, no one should struggle alone.

As a therapist, I get clients from all walks of life facing various kinds of issues. Post the pandemic, the cases of people dying have been on a sudden rise. Most people are unaware of how to deal with the departure of a loved one. They are unable to fully understand how to process grief. Before delving deeper into how people grieve and how no one is alone in the struggle, let’s understand the basics.

Grief is a natural response of a living being to losing someone or something that holds importance in life. It can also come from losing a job, ending a long-term relationship, or even moving to a new city. It often brings with it a number of other emotions like despair, denial, anger, etc. Truth be told, there is no single cause for it and everyone processes it differently.

Since this emotion is very complex, it’s not felt in a single moment. It is non-linear in essence. Let’s start by understanding the stages of grief. A person can be in different stages at different points in time. There is no manual for grieving and no defined manner to process it. There is definitely no set path to reach the end point where it completely ends. Let’s discuss the five stages of grief.

Five stages:

When humans lose a loved one, it can get hard to accept the loss and deal with it. This feeling represents the first stage — the denial phase. Here, people try to understand what happened to them. However, they aren’t able to accept the new reality where their loved one is not present. People in this phase often feel themselves in shock and numb to what’s happening around them

When a person finally comes to terms with accepting a loss of a loved one, they come face-to-face with the pain of it. Loss can make a person feel angry, frustrated, and helpless. These feelings get displaced towards the person who passed away. They can also be displaced towards other people, towards God, or even towards his or her own self. The anger arising out of the fact that a loved one passed away without saying a proper goodbye or that they left and one will have to deal with life all alone is one of the many hurtful yet natural outcomes in this phase.

Here, people spend a lot of time thinking about what they could have done differently to prevent this loss. There are many examples of how one deals with sorrow in this stage, such as people bargaining with God to bring their loved one back and asking for another chance to make things right. People feel that they could have done things differently and then they would not have been in the unfortunate situation.

After trying their best to change things, once people come to terms with reality and realise that this is how it is, sadness sets in. It is when people begin to understand the actual effect of death on their life. Depression could mean wanting to cry continuously, having sleep issues, feeling overwhelmed, and having a decreased appetite. One may not even feel like going out anymore, doing activities they enjoyed earlier, or interacting with others. One may feel lonely even when surrounded by others.

At this final stage, people realise that no matter how much effort one puts in, nothing will change. Although life is still hard and people should take it one day at a time, this is the stage where people are finally able to start moving forward with their lives.

As I mentioned, there is no manual for how a person should process sorrow. Different people go through these phases in their own unique way. One may be in denial in the beginning, then move to depression, skipping both anger and bargaining and then come back to anger later. One may go back and forth, even skip one or more stages altogether. To each his own, when it comes to covering this journey.

Every person experiences this emotion differently. There are times when people feel guilty about enjoying things soon after experiencing loss and about finding joy in the little things in life. There might also be times when they think they don’t deserve to be happy. On one hand, where one might feel joy, there will be times when they will also feel numb or times when they will want to cry at the top of their lungs and give up. All this persists because, at the core, human beings crave affection, connection, and protection. The lack of an outlet for love and also not being able to receive the same love, are both key elements of feeling sorrow.

As a therapist, if my client asks me about dealing with grief, I ideally discuss its stages, helping them understand and identify which stage they are at and then providing therapeutic support, as per the phase. Grieving alone is hard and painful. People often keep asking themselves how long will it hurt. There is no need to struggle alone, in fact, no one should struggle alone. Dealing with losing someone in the post-COVID era has a whole new meaning.

During the pandemic, society came across a new term called ‘collective grief’. There were multiple deaths of aged people, young parents, and small children all over the world. It was a devastating attack on mankind and even though we didn’t know most people who passed away, we all grieved for them. This phenomenon is called collective grief, where everyone actively supports all others. It was during that time when people were running post to pillar, not just for their loved ones but also for complete strangers, just to ensure no one has to suffer a loss. People were making sure everyone has gas cylinders, blood, and medicines. This act of being there for each other even when everyone is a stranger, helping others cope and deal with a major loss, is collective grief.

Having a support system in times when someone is grieving is extremely important. “Grieving alone is like carrying the weight of a dozen gallons of water. It is so heavy you feel like the water may fall from its container, busting and leaking out all of what is inside,” Tacoma Christian Counseling. Do not try to hold all this weight of the water alone. Ask for help.

What can one do to manage grief?

Our main goal in therapy when dealing with grief is not to ignore or forget the memories or try to make the moments go away — it can be counterintuitive to do so. The more a person tries to forget the memories, the more he or she loops back into them. The goal is to actually find the right balance in the things one is dealing with and thinking about. Everyone feels scared looking at their parents growing old and realising they will eventually not be around. The hard pill to swallow is that we all need to come to terms with death — it is the only constant and no one can ever escape it.

One must think about how to let go of what is not in their control. There are things one can control and act upon — healthy eating, going for walks, being with our family, loving each other, and letting go of our differences. And there are things that no one can control — a pandemic, sudden deaths, illnesses, people growing old etc. If the focus is always on what can be controlled, things will be much easier.

It is also important to live in the present. It is so because delving into the past or thinking too much about the future can be overwhelming. One should always remind themselves: “I am okay”, “my loved ones are okay”, “I have food on my table”, “I have a roof to live under”, “I have my family beside me”, and “the world is an okay place to live in”. Right, it is easier said than done but breathe — breathe the present in and realise that in this present moment, you are alive and nothing is wrong.

As a human being, one does not need to actually experience something personally to be able to help someone else going through it. However, I do think that experiencing a loss has educated me in ways nothing else could have. When it comes to being there for others, it is important to live with compassion. It is an important element when it comes to supporting people who are dealing with loss and are in sorrow.

Those who deal with loss also need to be compassionate towards themselves since it could be a never-felt-before feeling. Often such people are very hard on themselves and they try to do their best in such situations. What is important to remember is, it’s okay to be vulnerable and to falter. Discussing grief with family, friends, coworkers, partner etc. and telling people how it has been — “I cried last night because I miss my father”, “I have been having a hard time concentrating at work because it is my dog’s death anniversary”, etc., is important. Sharing and discussing your feelings lessens the burden.

It is essential to acknowledge the pain, anger, and hurt that comes along with it. Losing someone is not easy and dealing with the loss is even more difficult. Your duty is to understand your feelings and gradually overcome them.

Andrew Garfield- famously known for playing the character of Spiderman once referred to the grief he feels for the loss of his mother as “unexpressed love”. He said, “When we grieve the loss of a loved one, a big portion of what we miss is never being able to hug or hold that person again, to laugh and smile and be silly together, to hear the sound of his or her voice. It’s all those moments we won’t get to express our love, affection, and warmth and the end of being able to experience receiving those things from the person whose presence we are grieving”, as quoted by Patty Green in her blog, Verily.

In this heartfelt interview, he said, “I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her. And I told her every day”.

Astha Anand

Astha Anand

Astha is a therapist and the founder of theperspectiveco. Best described as a learner learning to unlearn and relearn. She is on a mission to normalise therapy and create awareness.