Grief Awareness Week
It’s Grief Awareness Day on 5 December. Sadly, we’ll all experience grief at some stage in our lives, and although as a society we shy away from discussing death and grief, it’s important that we’re able to do so.
Marisa Posadinu, senior support advisor at NABS, knows this both personally and professionally; in 2016, Marisa’s mum passed away from cancer. Here, Marisa shares her story as well as her advice for coping with grief.
The consultant said, ”It’s lit up like a Christmas tree,” referring to my mum’s first CT scan and the amount of tumours it showed. We knew then that there was little hope.
My mum was diagnosed with stage four melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. She was given six to nine months to live but, incredibly, she managed to outlive that and was with us for 17 precious months.
Before my mum became ill, everything seemed to be going well in life. I had started a new job with an ad agency in Soho that I was loving. The news of my mum’s diagnosis completely floored me. My manager was very supportive, but I knew that I needed to leave my job and move back up north to my family home to become a full-time carer.
Although it was the most challenging of experiences, paradoxically there were some beautiful moments during those 17 months. These moments were often the simple things that we easily take for granted. Because cancer and the side-effects of treatment can be so cruel and unpredictable, it really was about taking each day as it came and living in the present, which was perhaps the first time that I had truly done that.
I spent all the spare time that I had researching for information, sometimes even reading medical journals through the night searching for a glimmer of hope, or, at the very least, some knowledge to empower myself with. Finding the support group ‘Melanomamates’ on Facebook was a lifeline. Making connections with other carers and speaking to those battling with melanoma, was hugely comforting and more informative than whatever I could find on Google.
I was 32 when my mum passed away at the start of 2016. A year or so later, I trained as a volunteer bereavement support worker with Cruse and now help others to cope with their loss.
How can we navigate through grief?
Grief can be messy, devastating and overwhelming. No two people will experience grief in the same way. What’s helpful for someone else may not be helpful to you. What we do all share, though, is the inevitability of loss in our lives. We’ll all experience it at some point and grief is the natural reaction to loss.
It may feel that there is an expectation from society and from those around us to ‘get over it’ and ‘move on’ quickly after the death of a loved one. But there is no timeline to grief, nor is there a list of tick-box exercises to plough through to erase the pain.
However, there are ways in which we can support ourselves following a bereavement:
- Self-care is incredibly important. It can be very easy to dive back into work and keep yourself busy as a distraction, but in doing so you could neglect your needs. Be kind to yourself. Try to think of looking after yourself under the simple pillars of eat, sleep and movement. Have a routine to your day wherever possible and rest when you need to.
- Grief can manifest itself physically and this can be worrying: think loss of appetite, aches and pains or even panic attacks. Speak to your GP if you’re concerned.
- Focus on your own needs and what you are able to control (and try to let go of what you can’t). It’s also important to let your family or friends know what support you may need, both practically and emotionally.
- It may seem impossible to concentrate on anything or to enjoy the things that once gave you joy. Start small and do whatever feels manageable, whether that’s going for a walk, speaking to friends, having a relaxing bath or watching a film. If you’re struggling to focus at work, confide in your line manager, HR or a trusted colleague about how you are feeling, or give NABS’ Advice Line a call.
- Give yourself time and permission to grieve. This could be carving out time to think about the person you have lost and what they meant to you. Or it could be looking through photos or listening to a song that reminds you of them. It can be powerful and cathartic to write down how you feel or perhaps express yourself through art or music.
- You may hear cliché phrases from those around you about ‘keeping positive’, or they may talk about their seemingly perfect lives with their loved ones and not realise the impact this has on you. It can be helpful to remember that people generally have good intentions and that they won’t always get it right.
- You might experience an array of heightened emotions, and this is normal. You may start to feel like you are coping and adjusting and then, all of a sudden, it can feel as bad as it did in the early days. Or it can hit you months, even years, after the death. Know that this too is normal. Gradually, over time, the emotions should lessen in their intensity and the jolts of grief become less frequent. Seek support if you are concerned and feel unable to cope.
- Open up to someone. It can sometimes feel like we are a burden to those close to us. We might feel that we don’t want to dampen the mood or perhaps that no-one else understands. You might feel that you’re struggling to cope, especially if there are other things happening at the same time that are having an impact (think relationships, financial concerns, job security). Contact NABS Advice Line, a bereavement organisation or your GP to discuss your feelings in a safe space.
Things may seem very bleak but there is hope. Death and loss can signal tremendous change; it can be a trigger to re-evaluate your life and how you want to live it. It can also be a time to reflect and prioritise what’s important to you. You can find joy and meaning in life once more, when you’re ready, while still remembering and loving the person who has passed away.