Grief, it's not very glamourous, and it's not something we often talk about openly. But death is part of life and therefore grief is too.
I was lucky enough to spend 22 years on this earth without the loss of a loved one, not even a pet slipped past me. Whether or not that made things easier or not, i'll never quite know.
But then one afternoon in February, six years ago everything was pulled from underneath me, I'd received the worst phone call of my life and had learned that my dad had taken his own life. From that point forward the world as I knew it, would never be the same.
First up was shock. I sat down - there were no tears, no screaming, no crying, just moments of silence and still. In fact I did the only thing I knew how to do; run. I pulled on my trainers and walked to the oval around the corner from my apartment at the time, at first I sat and watched others run and wondered what they were thinking, how had their days unfolded, what was running through their minds.
I got up and I joined in, I ran too.
Lap after lap, after lap. Around and around the oval, I lost count how many times I went round. The sun set and before I knew it, it was dark. How long did I run for? No idea - I was full of adrenaline and part of me wanted to run forever, run from my problems, run from the tears and the grief that awaited me.
Grief can be a beast all in it's own. Messy, complicated, unresolved, angry, confusing - it's torturing and I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy.
I found myself so lost in the year that followed that call. I tried hopelessly to make sense of what had happened, what was happening, I looked at websites, support groups, websites - I struggled to talk to others about it. How could anyone understand this pain and loss as I did. I got caught up in my own head and so lost.
What I learnt is that there is no one single way to grieve. I wish someone could have explained grieving and grief a little to me in preparation for the tumultuous years that lay ahead of me.
Here are a few things i'd love to share about grief...
You may grieve something other than a person
I was young, only 22 when this all happened. All of a sudden any chances of my Dad and I meeting, interacting again was definitively taken from me. The idea that my father would one day hold my hand and walk me down the aisle was snatched away from me - and things like sharing my own children and making my Dad a Grandfather were completely a dream now.
It's then that I began to realise how much I'd been counting on these future milestones, maybe even had taken them for granted that they'd come.
Sadness deepened with every passing week, as my brain had more + more time to accumulate more and more - "Daddy will never be here for ........ and Daddy will never experience ....... etc."
In the lead up to my dads death he had bought me some jewellery, I had become obsessed with these 2 pieces after he died. I wanted something physical to prove I’d been important enough, that our relationship had been real, that my devastation was justified. As if me being half of his DNA wasn't enough?
Last year I lost one of those pieces and devastated would be an absolute understatement and it took a few months to realise its presence would have offered little comfort in the long run.
Identifying the source of your grief is integral to moving on; it is difficult to treat a wound if you don’t know where it is.
There is no right way to cope
What I want you to all know is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve! It's such a personal thing - and two people may grieve the same person in 2 totally different ways.
Maybe you gain weight, lose weight, feel numb, or feel devastated.
Maybe it's talking to a counsellor that helps to soothe you and your incessant thoughts of what if? Maybe it's talking to friends to try and make sense of it all. But for some, much like myself I chose to loathe talking about it - I wanted life to get back to normal as soon as humanly possible. I didn't like the attention this series of events had brought to me.
BUT if you're finding that your grief is interfering with your work to the point that it is endangering your career, or maybe you’ve cut yourself off from friends, family and colleagues for too long, or if you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself, there are small but active efforts that will help you toward healing that might be the lifeline you need.
I used simple mindful tasks to help me get on with my day to day business of living: cleaning the house, laundry, homework from design school.
If my mind had gone on a rampage with thoughts and images of Dad, that were making it too damn difficult to focus on anything else, I’d try a grounding exercise and name objects in the room. (Table. Chair. Fridge. Window. Vase. Rug. Lamp.) Sometimes I’d have to name 15 things before my mind could disconnect from the grief and attach to my here and now. Sometimes it was something as simple as wiggling my toes around in my shoes and really feeling that sensation.
Radical acceptance was a hard one for me to come to terms with. To became familiar with the acceptance of the fact that Dad wasn’t coming back, and that I really was going to have to go through life without a father. For a verrrry long time, I lived in a place in my mind where I had frequent thoughts of this whole scenario being some sick game that everyone was in on - maybe Dad wasn't dead, maybe this was like the Truman show?
If anyone ever said they had a surprise for me, I automatically thought that my dad was coming back, and I am so aware how crazy that sounds. But your mind has crazy, weary ways of coping. I had to come to grips with the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye, and that this pain wasn’t going anywhere for now. It was never comfortable, but it was less exhausting than the effort of constantly trying to fool myself otherwise.
Sometimes I set aside time to cry, time to really lose it, times when I knew I wasn't going to be interrupted, when I could close my front door, turn my phone off, sit with my dog, play sad music and wail. I found that helped. A lot.
Breaking my day up into mini tasks was a really great way to get through the tough days. Getting through things just one at a time was an achievement in itself at the best of times.
If I couldn’t manage the idea of a simple thing like going to school, for example. I didn’t just think ‘Right Dan get dressed and go to school’; I simply had to get up. Next, I had to shower. After that, I’d find clean clothes. Next, I’d put them on. Then shoes. Now I’d find my bag. My laptop. Next, I’d get my diary. Finally, I’d pick up my keys. Drive to college.
Each task was one more thing done, one very manageable thing in a straightforward sequence of manageable things, during a time when I didn’t feel I could manage very much at all.
Be gentle with yourself
I’d always been a quite 'together' person, I wasn't outwardly emotional and the idea of public grieving on social media or to friends was out of the question to me. The idea of presenting myself as hysterical to the world would have been deeply humiliating to me.
But in hindsight I wish I would have asked for help sooner, someone to talk to more it would have made the whole scenario more manageable —and less painful. I wish I would have extended myself the compassion that I would SURELY extend to someone I love going through a tough time.
When grieving, allow yourself bouts of unreasonable sadness. Yes - unreasonable sadness! Stop beating yourself up because you needed time, or that you didn't reply to everyone on social medias sympathies. Forgive yourself for thinking your dad will knock on your door asking to see his daughters new apartment. One day soon, you will thank yourself for your own generosity and kindness.
You will discover emotional time travel is possible
Grief is a mother fucker. Sometimes 2 years feels like day 2 and sometimes one hour of grief feels like two weeks worth of grief crammed into 60 looooong minutes of pain.
I was once told grief is a 5 year thing - I can wholeheartedly say that for me, that is not true. I'm 6 years in and sometimes it just hits, at the strangest moments - sometimes it's the happiest times when it hits. And i've talked to enough people to back me up on that.
So for grief there really is no timeline, know that grief definitely has stages and how long YOU take to for those stages is personal, sometimes it's weeks - sometimes it's months or more. Just be ok with it all, and take things at your own pace.
Previous experience doesn’t adequately prepare anyone for the messiness of grief.
It would make sense that the earliest days would be the hardest - trust me they’re not necessarily! We may imagine that the moment someone passes is the moment we’ll accept it. Instead, the idea that someone is permanently gone takes an unsettlingly long time to fully sink in. You probably imagine the funeral to be the worst day. But for me and for many others there is so much going on that day! The funeral is fueled with so much frenetic activity and endless support surrounds you. The funeral in itself can be distracting, so absorbing, exhausting enough that grief is funnily enough not front-and-center on what would be considered the saddest day.
Anniversaries can be the hardest. Birthdays can be the hardest. The first morning you visit a store and see something they’d like can be the hardest. Random Tuesdays can be the hardest. There can be a multitude of hardests.
Yet, mercifully, some things will be easier than you imagine. Walking into their room, seeing their picture, watching their favorite movie; some of the things we imagine will be another paper cut to the wound may be weirdly soothing.
Of course, one person’s hardest will be another person’s easiest. Mourning is as individual as people themselves. There isn't a one size fits all.
Grief is not a straight road you walk down metre by metre. Grief put simply is like a maze, just when you think you've got it all figured out you find yourself looping back to where you were before. But that doesn’t mean you’re not working your way, steadily, toward the way through it.
If you or anyone you know are struggling with grief, dealing with a lost one or are considering any form of self harm - please seek help!
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