Written in collaboration with my strong and resilient friend Rebecca Gauder, aka Becky G.
Ok, so this blog post may be a bit darker than usual so maybe go elsewhere if you’re looking for some Xmas lolz. I tend to write about what’s going on in the moment, and I use this blog to spew it all out in a – cathartic scribbling it in a diary – kind of way.
This week’s been all about grief.
Christmas is tough when you’ve lost someone. It makes you reflect on the year gone by. Especially if you had traditions with that person. Then it’s even harder to accept they’re gone. Maybe you’re grieving for a relationship you’ve lost? A monumental part of your life that isn’t there anymore.
Christmas is all about family and spending time with the ones you love and so it makes you think about absent loved ones even more, which inevitably makes your grief bubble on up to the surface. There’s also a huge pressure to be full of cheer and joy, even if you feel really fucking sad.
A lot of people close to me have died in the last eighteen months, but when my good pal – Becky G’s lovely partner Paul died from bowel cancer last year, exactly one month to the day I lost my father to MS, we kind of gravitated towards each other in a – shared sadness/let’s compare notes/let’s get shitfaced and cry – kind of way. And so every Wednesday, when my husband was out skating with the boys, we’d get together to – ‘Talk it out. Cry it out. Laugh it out.’
We called it Grief Club. First rule of Grief Club? We must talk as much as possible, about grief.
So what did we learn?
Read on and we’ll share what we found to be positive and healing. The tools, the techniques, the podcasts and the books. The mantras, the forums, the groups (ok maybe not that Facebook one where a woman made a pillow out of a picture of her late husband) and the tips that will help you get through it.
So here goes…
Top 10 Ways to Deal with Grief:
- Ride the wave – When my dad died someone send me a link to a letter an old man had written about grief (see here) and in the early days it really did help. In the beginning the waves are high and are crashing in one after another. You can’t stop crying, you can’t think, eat or sleep. In the beginning even simple tasks like getting out of bed and showering may seem almost impossible. Time passes and the waves calm down. They get less frequent. But then when you least expect it, another huge wave may come crashing in. It maybe a song, a smell, a special date, or something someone says. In these moments you must learn to hang on to the pieces of raft that keep you afloat and make those the things that help ground you when the waves are too high. That could be a person who always makes you feel better, singing a certain empowering song that makes you feel strong, it might be a place, an item of clothing or jewelry they owned. Anything that you can hold onto to make sure you don’t drown.
- Be mindful – When your busy running around being a mum or whatever, it’s easy to hide, bury or ignore the grief. Sometimes you stop and think – why am I feeling so teary? Why am I so snappy? Why do I feel angry? That’s your grief. When you feel the grief, sadness, anger or bitterness. Pause. Recognize the feeling. It’s ok to feel this way. It’s normal. It’s part of being a human being. Once you have let the feeling just ‘be’, try and think of things you are grateful or thankful for. It is proven that even the act of just searching for things we are grateful for can release happy chemicals in the brain.
- Do not be an island – Remember that we are not alone, billions of others are going through the same thing. Suffering is a part of life, it’s a common humanity. We all struggle in our lives. We will all experience grief at some point. Do not suffer alone. Do not think you will be a burden to others if you want to talk about your grief. Do not worry about crying or getting upset in front of others. Would you think a friend was a burden if they came to you and talked about their grief? Whether it be leaning on your friends or finding a Facebook group for support – do not go through this alone. You are not Tom Hanks in Castaway, I mean even he had that coconut ball head guy right?
- Talk it out – Keep talking to friends and family about your grief as much as possible. Talk to your doctor. They may refer you to a grief counsellor. Talk about the person you lost. It may be painful at times but eventually those memories will make you smile and will help keep that person alive in your heart (cheesy but true). There are Facebook groups, online forums and Instagram accounts where you can feel part of a supported community and where you can safely say whatever the fuck you want to about your grief or how you’re feeling. It’s not just good to talk, it’s essential.
- Cry it out – Sometimes we need to ‘consciously grieve’. It is so cathartic to break down and have a good old sob. A wailing, snotty, convulsing, hysterical sob. You must consciously let yourself grief and mourn. If you’re feeling sad and you can’t stop thinking about them, get out some old photos, watch a film that makes you think of them, listen to a song that reminds you of them. Wallow in it for a time and then afterwards pick yourself up. Blow your nose, shake it off, take a deep breath and try to focus on a positive task. Move on. Change gear. Be proud of yourself for letting it all out.
- Laugh it out – Laughter and sadness go hand in hand. I’ll never forget going over to Becky G’s in the week before Paul’s funeral and she’d be talking arrangements and calling it ‘the wedding’ by mistake. We’d end up pissing ourselves and being like – (grimace) ‘Different kind of party eh babes.’ Yes! Shock horror, you can still laugh at things in the throes of grief. Telling funny stories is a great way to honour the memory of the ones you love. It always makes me giggle that my dad snuffed it right at the moment we were talking about my cousin’s long and gruesome labour. We’d been sat round the bed for hours listening to his fading breath and so the chat had become weirdly normal. We’d kind of forgotten where we were and why we were there. Then, just as we were discussing lady bits and other such childbirth horrors – the breathing stopped. So that was the last thing he heard as he drifted off into the afterlife. Probably pushed him along a bit to be honest. He must have been thinking – ‘Bugger this chat. I’m off!’ LOL. It’s important to always ask yourself what would your loved one would have wanted? Would they want you do be face down on your bedroom floor in a crumpled mess? NO. They’d want you telling funny stories and remembering them with fond memories. The loss of a life is enough for anyone to bear, but that doesn’t mean your life should end because of it. Don’t deny yourself small bits of happiness and laughter because something so tragic has happened.
- Seek out information and shared experiences – Podcasts we found that helped were – Grief Cast by Cariad Lloyd, Happy Place by Fearne Cotton, Grief Works by Julia Samuel. There are some good Desert Island Discs too which are so cathartic – the Dawn French one for starters. Inspiring Instagram accounts include – beautaplin which has some lovely poems, poornabell & goodgrief_uk. The App buddhify is a good meditation one, you have to pay but there are so many different guided meditations to use. Books wise – Grief Works by Julia Samuel, Option B by Sheryl Sandberg, A Grief Observed by C S Lewis and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
- Self care – Sleep is king. If you’re having trouble maybe seek advice from your doctor. If you need sleeping tablets for a short while to see you through, do that. Limit the booze, it may provide a temporary fix but inevitably makes you feel worse afterwards. (note to self must heed own advice) Hugs – as many as possible. Hang out with kids, grief doesn’t touch them in quite the same way and their matter of factness and humour is always a tonic. Eat well, eating crap can be comforting so if you want to eat chocolate or ice cream then do it without guilt, but make sure you also stay nourished and healthy. Get outdoors, fresh air and sunlight is always a winner. Go for a walk, the feeling of grass or the earth under your feet makes you feel calmer and much more grounded in your feelings. Write stuff down in a journal, whether it be a plain old diary or one of these fancy gratitude ones. Go and get a massage or get someone you love to give you one, physical contact is soothing and healing. Have a self care evening – light some candles, have a bath, use that body lotion you were saving for ‘best’, paint your nails, listen to your favourite playlist, watch some nostalgic, funny or mind numbing stuff on TV, have an early night. Plan something for the next day – maybe meeting a friend for coffee or a shopping trip to buy something new. Relax, chill out, meditate, you’ve been through a lot. You may have witnessed the death, which can be so traumatic. Put your brain in neutral and try and be sympathetic to your needs. Exercise – Running, yoga, gym, cycling. Whatever floats your boat. I read somewhere recently that cold water swimming is good for the endorphins so watch this space I may be diving into an ocean near you sometime soon! Let your loved ones know how you feel and tell them to treat you well, it’s easy for others to forget what you are dealing with so remind them.
- Self compassion – Be kind to yourself. Try not to be self critical. Don’t beat yourself up for being grumpy or angry. Don’t be unkind to yourself by asking – ‘When will I feel better?’ or ‘Why am I not getting over this?’ or ‘Why am I so snappy?’ Talk to yourself as you would to a dear friend – ‘You’re doing amazing’, ‘You’re so strong’, ‘You’ve got this’. Maybe write down some daily affirmations and stick them on your mirror – ‘Sometimes what’s meant to break you makes you brave’, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ Remind yourself how strong and resilient you are. Visit this website for some more self compassion exercises and meditations.
- Take positive action – Can you start a foundation or start raising money for a charity that was connected to your loved one? Not only is it an amazing way to keep their memory alive, but is also a way to feel part of community with a shared goal. Any sort of voluntary or charitable work will do. Can you help others by donating time, money or objects? Turning your negative situation into a positive by taking actions and helping others can be a truly powerful healing tool. If you are feeling generous this Xmas please feel free to donate to Paul Thompson’s Just Giving page. Becky G has lead an amazing year and a half of charity events and so far we have raised over £20,000 for Velindre Cancer Centre, the local cancer hospice where Paul was treated.
And there we have it.
Becky G and I don’t claim to be experts in grief. Just a pair of normal women with lived experience who’ve found a few tools and techniques to help us through it. If you haven’t yet experienced grief (you will one day) please tag a friend or share with with someone you know who has.
Have a Merry (ish) Xmas and a Happy (sad) New Year,
Rhiannon and Becky G
For Dad, Paul, Grandad and Huw. You are all missed xxx