Unlikely, right. That is finding opportunities in something as all-consuming as grief. But here is the thing: once grief sets in, it’s likely to be around for a while, if not always, though hopefully it loses its intensity in time. Of course, we all experience grief differently, but most of us can agree that dealing with loss can be akin to a destabilising journey.
No wonder it is important to find effective ways to cope. That’s where opportunities come in.
It’s hard to say when my own journey with grief got under way but I know exactly when it became up close and personal. It was with the loss of my mother some seven years ago and then it intensified again about four years later when I lost my father and another close relative.
Since then, in 2020, the world has seen loss on a huge scale. In the UK alone, there were 6.8 million bereavements during the pandemic – with around 750,000 excess bereavements during this period compared to the previous five-year average, as found in the report—Bereavement is everyone’s business—from the UK Commission on Bereavement
Perhaps, caused by the pandemic, my perspective on loss and tragedy has been stretched for miles, if you will as my roots are in the US and I live in the UK. Loss, for many reasons, seems to be everywhere, all the time—in conversations with friends, relatives, in the news, on social media and so on, causing my sympathetic nervous system, our ‘fight-or-flight’ activator, to trigger personal grief while trying to accommodate the collective grief.
It is seriously hard work, and unhealthy, too, but the good news is that I am able and willing to do the work. And while grief counselling, producing a podcast (Dealing with Grief), reading regularly on the subject and so on has been stabilising for me, it has been imperative to seek out up close and personal opportunities for healing on a regular basis.
It is all about sending a consistent message to my parasympathetic nervous system, creating opportunities to ‘rest and digest’.
For example, after my mother passed, my father changed the wallpaper on his Mac to a slideshow of family photos. I now realise that this gave him an opportunity to remember her fondly throughout the day.
After his death, I adopted the idea and enjoy a continuous slideshow on my Mac, and most of the photos, if not all of them, tend to lift me up, remembering those who have gone and reminiscing with and about those who are still here.
My niece and her softball teammates have taken the opportunity to remember their special loved ones by having personal messages inscribed in their softball gloves. So, every time, they play softball they connect with loving memories.
One acquaintance organised a lovely memorial gathering for his mother, which fell on her birthday. This comforted him, not only during the planning, but throughout the event.
Other ideas that have worked for me and others include celebrating birthdays of those who have passed in a special yet subtle way such as reading a letter from your loved one, wearing an item of clothing, jewellery, or even cooking and eating a dish that gave them great joy.
The key is to find opportunities on a regular basis that will comfort and nurture you along the journey.
For more information on coping with grief, check out UIO’s podcast, Dealing with Grief with Kristi Hugstad. Since its release in October 2020, it has been consistently our most listened to podcast.
The bottom line is: it’s important to deal with grief, whether the bereavement is recent or distant, for the sake of good health, no matter how complex or difficult it feels.