By Alice Spencer
There are many misconceptions around grief and bereavement. Over the years, I have heard lots of ideas about the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Before I turned 18, I lost both of my parents and the way I have experienced grief has been very different.
I grieved and still grieve for my Mum through extraverted outlets. I write and perform poetry about her, I will talk to my friends very openly and I used to cry regularly. This is the opposite to how it has manifested for my Dad. With my Dad I feel it and express it internally, I’ll spend time thinking about him or sometimes I’ll journal, but this is rare for me. I’m not as open to talking about it as it often feels uncomfortable and exposing.
When I reflected on the way I had grieved for my parents, I felt weighed down with guilt when I compared the process of my Mum to my Dad. I felt like I had done my Dad an injustice by not having periods where I sobbed and felt immersed with grief or because I hadn’t written poetry about him.
It wasn’t just noticeable to me but to others around me as well, my sister recently asked why I had never written a poem about Dad and I shrugged my shoulders in answer, the guilt stirring inside of me. I did not know why a poem hadn’t formed in memory of my Dad, it just hadn’t. I realised I was conscious of how my grieving looked to other people. I wanted to justify why I was acting in the way that I was, and I questioned my behaviour. Maybe I was in the wrong? Maybe I hadn’t accepted his death? Was I being avoidant?
Feeling confused and guilty, I spoke to my counsellor about this issue, she said to me:
"everyone grieves differently and that there was no right or wrong way to grieve".
She said the relationships I had with my parents, were unique to one another and so my grieving would also be unique to them. She said it was not realistic to expect the grieving process for them both to be identical. After leaving this conversation, I felt lighter and more reassured that my grieving was normal and my own personal journey.
I want to highlight some MYTHS around grief to help you in your process:
1. Grieving is when you cry loads and feel sad all the time
This is not true; the sadness will probably come in waves and sometimes when you least expect it. You will experience high’s and lows.
2. After a certain time period, you should be over it.
No, no and no again. There is no cut off time limit for grieving and you’ll probably never get over it. It might just start to feel, look and manifest differently
3. You should want to talk about your feelings and express yourself openly
There are no ‘should’s’ when it comes to your grieving process, only what you want to do and feel comfortable doing. Speaking about your feelings may feel helpful to some people but not to everyone. The most important thing is that you have a healthy outlet for your grief, its up to you on how you choose to do that.
4. There are 5 stages of grief and this is how everyone grieves.
It is hard to define grief and it is not linear.
Grief does not follow a straight path as it is forever changing.
Just because your process does not follow the stages you might find on the internet, it does not mean you are not processing. The five stages are helpful if you want to identify some of the emotions you are feeling but they do not need to define your process.
There are many misconceptions and myths around how you should experience grief, but the most important thing is looking after yourself and putting your needs first. One thing I have learnt through my grief is self-compassion, be kind to yourself and remember your grieving process is your own!