December 1st, 2014 is a day that will be forever etched in my mind. The day I arrived back from traveling was also the day my dear grandma took her last breath. It’s been three years since that day, but it’s taken me until now to embrace and look forward to a Christmas without her. Grief affects each and every one of us at some stage in our lives, and yet we rarely talk openly about what it feels like to grieve for someone we love. So, this is my experience of grief, to show others that there’s no right or wrong way to get through it, but, mostly just to say keep going and have hope for the future, because things do get better.
There’s a strange sort of numb feeling that lingers after a loved one passes away. It’s almost as if feeling nothing is your brains coping mechanism and automatic response to the pain, shock, and trauma that you feel. The first hours, days, and weeks you live without them become almost irrelevant, and it feels as though the entire world should pause to allow you to come to terms with your grief; to come to terms with the loss and the fact that your life will never be as it once was.
I think even if we know it is coming, nothing prepares you for how it feels to lose someone you love. Nothing prepares you for the way grief consumes you, for the emptiness you feel, or the raw emotions that come flooding in when you least expect them. Nothing prepares you for seeing how the loss of a loved one affects someone else you love either. And, how your heart can break two times over, not just for your loss, but for the loss of others who loved them too.
Losing someone you love is just about one of the most terrifying things you can go through, it makes you question everything you thought you knew about life. Learning to live again after their existence can be tiring, and you might feel like giving up sometimes.
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from losing loved ones, it’s that life carries on regardless and, that when you’re ready for it, life will carry on for you too.
You will get past the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach the second after you wake up on a morning because your resting mind forgot that someone big in your life had passed away. In time you’ll remember them by fond memories, not by the pain felt from losing them. And, although your life will never quite be the same, there will be good times—lots of good times.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Denial, overwhelming loss or sadness, as well as anger and abandonment are all part of the grieving process but don’t expect to feel a certain way at any given point. Feel what you feel, and take each day as it comes. You’ll find that it’s best to allow yourself to experience emotions as they find you, rather than to let them lay dormant, only for them to resurface later. Talking will help you to heal through your grief; because talking allows our minds to replay events that have been too difficult for our brains to process and it helps us to put everything into order so that we can come to terms with what has happened. Sometimes talking to those who knew the person you’re grieving for will provide you with the most comfort but, also talking to the people that didn’t can be a big support too. And at times, being around your other loved ones can be the only savior, so keep them close.
The first milestones are undeniably difficult. The first anniversary of their passing, the first birthday they don’t celebrate, the first Christmas you won’t share with them. Once you’ve got through each of these, they become a little easier every year. Realising that they won’t experience some of your firsts with you will hurt too; things like your wedding day, graduation, the birth of your children, new jobs, new houses and all the other things we celebrate along the way. Try not to think too far ahead though, and instead use something that they taught you as you go through life so that a little bit of them is always with you.
People will tell you that time is a great healer, and to some extent they are right. In time you won’t hurt the way you do in those first days and weeks, but I’m not sure that time is responsible for that. I actually think that learning to live without their presence makes you become stronger.
When you have no option but to keep going, to keep living and keep loving; you discover how to heal from the grief, and you see in time that everything is going to be OK.
You’ll think of them every day in some way or another, and sometimes something you see or smell or taste will trigger a memory, but this trigger helps you realise how you are learning to live without them. How you are carrying on with your life, even though at times you couldn’t see a future without them in it. Remember that you can’t stop living your life because someone else’s has been cut short. Our time is limited and nothing shows us this more than losing someone we love; so over the Christmas period spend quality time with those who take up the big spaces in your heart, because you can’t take for granted that you will have another year, to show them just how much they mean to you.