By Alice Spencer
There are a lot of emotions you will experience when dealing with a bereavement. Some of those feelings maybe linked with a new loss and others may revisit you throughout your life. Certain emotions can feel uncomfortable or confusing to sit with, so I thought it would be helpful to touch on some of the feelings associated with grief and how normal they actually are.
This can often be associated with a newer loss. After somebody we love dies, everything can feel more exaggerated and heightened, especially when we reminisce about the interactions and memories we shared with those people. After losing someone we can often look back and wish we had spent more time with them, or made more of an effort to ring, or wish we could go back and change something we said to them. The list of regrets can feel endless and you may spend a lot of time ruminating about the past.
The feeling of regret is completely normal after someone dies, and the truth is even if you did everything you could for that person before they died, you would probably still feel regret in some way or another. Experiencing regret resonates with me in my process. I felt a lot of regret after my Dad died. My Dad would often say to me that I didn’t ring him enough and he’d like me to call him more. At the time I was 16 years old, I was focused on going out with friends and texting about the boy I liked, taking time out to call my Dad weekly, often just slipped my mind.
I loved my Dad and liked spending time with him, but I was just a typical 16-year- old and was not mindful about how that could make my dad feel. After he died, I felt overwhelmed with guilt and regret for not ringing him more often. I would constantly ruminate, trying to alter the reality in my mind. It got to the point where I’d punish myself and felt like I had been a bad daughter. But the reality is, my Dad knew I loved him and although it was a slight annoyance for him, he never held it against me. It wasn’t that bigger deal, but because he was no longer here, it felt massive. In time, I learnt to let it go and reminded myself that it did not define our relationship.
I mentioned earlier about feeling regret and guilt after my father’s death. Regret and guilt often appear together, they egg one another one and influence each other. I talk about them as if they are alive, but they can manifest and come to life when we ruminate. The weight of guilt can sometimes lead us to beating ourselves up and punishing ourselves by thinking unkind and untrue thoughts. ‘I’m a bad person,’ ‘They’ll never forgive me,’ ‘why did I do that? ‘I should have spent more time with them.’ We are often our harshest when we feel guilt, which can be overwhelming especially when we are grieving.
It is completely normal to experience guilt when someone dies, as we might wish we could change things or do things differently but it's also important to be kind to yourself and find ways to counteract that harsh voice.
A great way to do that is to use affirmations, when you experience an unkind thought, you can swap this for something which is positive and true about yourself such as ‘I am a kind and thoughtful person.’ Turning these thoughts around can make a big difference on how we feel.
This feeling has met me throughout my grieving process for both of my parents. It’s the feeling I have tried to reject the most as it feels uncomfortable and has a stigma of being a ‘negative’ or ‘bad’ emotion. There has been times when I have been at a friends house and seen them laughing or joking with their Mum and I have felt jealousy creep up to me. Its unpredictable as it does not happen every time and when it does, it might not be the time you expect.
In the past, I have felt jealous when I’ve seen my friends Mum put their arm lovingly around her shoulder, or someone I know receives a text off their Dad. The feeling is followed by a deep desperation of wishing I had it for myself, which is what grief is. It’s mourning what you don’t have or wish you had. As years have passed the jealousy has become more infrequent but it does still make an appearance, however now I deal with it differently. Instead of punishing myself or trying to reject it, I acknowledge its presence, I allow myself to be aware of it and then I’ll watch as it passes. The feeling always passes and none of them are permanent.
I know that these emotions aren’t a fraction of those experienced when grieving, we haven’t even covered the basis but I thought it was vital to acknowledge those emotions that have been deemed as negative or wrong.
The fact is, it’s completely okay to feel all of these emotions and it's important we normalise them.
Just remember to be kind to self yourself, make a list of affirmations and remind yourself that no matter how intensely you experience one of these emotions in the present, it will always pass.