When I started writing this a month ago, my keypad was so wet the “F” key stopped working. So I decided for the sake of my Dell, I’d revisit it at a later date.
It’s not easy to write about grief, especially when you’re deep in the belly of its awfulness. When you keep your grief holed up inside, it twists you out of shape and makes you a real pain to be around. But writing, talking, or clay making (whatever your chosen method of catharsis) does help.
Grief steamrolled its way into my life four months ago. My 96-year-old grandfather and the greatest man who’s ever lived decided to do the eternally “one”– leaving me disappointed (for him) that he missed a card from Betty Windsor, but mostly devastated.
Of course, at 96 I reckoned his game would be up soon. But still, much like a naïve child, I thought my hero would live forever. Having become accustomed now to not dialing his UK landline on a Sunday night, it’s time to share with others my six-step guide to surviving grief.
Step 1: Allow yourself to break
Allowing yourself to break is probably the hardest thing you will do because for most of us, it’s just not cool when we think others think we’re not coping.
This contained culture of ours celebrates the rational, the unflinching, the tearless, leaving the rest of us (the other 99%) somehow ashamed of our emotions and way less likely to have a public meltdown.
At my grandfather’s funeral, I watched veterans stifle their sadness into old handkerchiefs because they didn’t want to be a bother.
Lucky for me, I was born into a harem of criers, with my sister and her chin wobble at the helm. So I knew in that moment, facing a befitting mahogany casket with my grandfather’s liberated soul soaring high above my head, it was safe to break.
Step 2: Choose chocolate over wine
A common reaction of most adults upon hearing bad news is to reach for a bottle. I’m no exception.
In the week following my grandfather’s death, I’d describe my resting state as “oiled.” I found that a nighttime glass (or three) of my good friend Shiraz temporarily smoothed the edge off grief, only for it to reform in the morning with a roughness that would floor me. Let’s face it — no one finds peace at the bottom of a glass.
Where I did find peace was in chocolate.
I’m not saying “go forth and gorge your grief on 12 bars of Cadbury’s.” Show some restraint. But a nibble here and there in moments of vulnerability will do far less harm than a hangover.
Step 3: Tune out other’s shi%
This is also a tricky one, particularly if you’re naturally inclined to be a sounding board.
I pride myself on being available for people in times of strife — I’ve made a part-time career out of it. But when everything inside of you is struggling to make sense, you need to be your own patient.
Be honest with the serial complainers in your life. Tell them you’re just not strong enough (right now) to listen to their shi%. And, besides, that’s what hairdressers are paid for.
Step 4: Buy stuff
In the last four months, I’ve impulse purchased a sofa, desk, chair, clothes, designer bags, weekends away, flights, an extravagant scratching post for a cat, and a 43 track album called So Country 2016.
Did I need any of this stuff? No.
Did it make me feel better at the time? Yes. Well, except the album — that must have been a particularly bad day.
Step 5: Exercise till you spew
I’m a massive advocate of exercise, partly because there’s an obese person in me just dying to get out, but generally because you can’t deny its positive impact on mood. So when my gym advertised a free personal training session with no need to commit, I decided to give it a go.
It helps that my instructor is a cross between Chris Hemsworth and John Snow, but there’s something therapeutic about pushing my body so hard that my lunch makes a comeback. I can tackle my demons with greater clarity, and my bum is beginning to look great in skinny jeans.
Step 6: Let loved ones in
It’s a simple mandate, yet bewilderingly difficult to execute. Why? Because grief is something you don’t like to share, like dirty secrets or a large pizza when you’re hungry.
My wonderfully patient fiancé chipped away at my forcefield every day for a month. She’d hold my hand while I’d cry at any mention of old people and death on TV. She’d let me snipe and snap at her for no good reason. She’d consistently give me the largest serving of dessert. She’d pick me up from work and drive me to quiet places where I could avoid the crowds. And it was these subtle and tender actions that have helped me slowly heal.
If there’s one thing that these six steps have taught me and will hopefully teach you, it’s that when you lose someone you love, grief will take up residence in your life — and that’s OK. It’s there to be felt in all its horrible splendor.
Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com