Grief, and why it’s useful to grieve

I’ve been thinking about grief a lot recently. When I begin to type ‘Marija Smits’ into my Google search bar one of the suggestions Google comes up with is ‘Marija Smits grief’. Strange. Only it isn’t, I guess, because I’ve written about grief in the past and sometimes I try to search online for my poem on grief, ‘To Death, May He Be Pleased With His Handiwork’ (because Google is faster than me trawling through my folders of poems).

During Baby Loss Awareness Week here in the UK I read some of the moving posts on poet Wendy Pratt’s blog. What really struck me was the way that some of Wendy’s work colleagues simply couldn’t handle speaking to her after she’d lost her baby, and it made me think about how not only is this a communication issue (you could argue too that it’s an issue of empathy) but also an issue of how our society deals with death. Because, basically, it doesn’t.

Nobody wants to have to consider their own mortality, or their parents’ mortality, or – worst of all – their children’s mortality, but it’s something that we all have to do at some point in our lives. What we need are the words to express our fears and our sadness that death happens. We need words to express that we care about someone’s loss. We need to know that it’s okay to grieve.

I remember when I lost my dad at the age of fifteen; sometimes I hated it when people told me they were sorry for my loss. I hated it because it was another concrete reminder that he really was gone and this (although well-meant) phrase had the power to overwhelm me with a grief that threatened to eat me up from the inside out. I also couldn’t cope with the idea of being seen with tears streaming down my face, because crying in public was just one of those things that one DID NOT DO. I had already subconsciously taken on board society’s discomfort with grief. But now, in retrospect, I was glad that people had wanted to reach out and show that they cared.

I didn’t really get a chance to grieve properly because I had to be strong for my mum. I had to keep things together. And so I bundled away my grief and put a brave face on things and simply carried on. But when a person hasn’t had a chance to grieve properly, the grief has a way of manifesting itself in all manner of unhelpful behaviours and, depending on the individual, may lead to all sorts of problems which have to be dealt with in later life: low self-esteem, heavy drinking, drug taking, gambling, depression, OCD, anorexia, physical self-harm, anxiety, fear… in so many ways these things are all, in effect, self-harming and yet, of course, they can cause harm or hurt to others too.

And yet how many of those dealing with loss get a chance to grieve properly? Very few, I should think, because our society simply can’t handle it.

And I’m not talking only about death. How many of us are dealing with other kinds of grief? Grief for a childhood snatched away from us too early; grief for a parent or loved one who absented themselves, or hurt us, for whatever reason, knowingly or unknowingly. Grief for the loss of function in our bodies, be it infertility, the loss of a limb or damage or disability as a result of illness, accident or genetics. Grief for a birth that didn’t go to plan. Grief for the end of a breastfeeding relationship, perhaps curtailed too soon. Grief for the end of child-bearing years. Grief for romantic relationships which became distant or sour or ugly.

And then there is the grief for another kind of loss, a bittersweet kind of loss: loss of our youthful selves, loss of our children’s baby days, toddler years and even school years, loss of friends who have passed out of our lives, loss of the past phases of a current romantic relationship… I could go on.

The key thing is to acknowledge the loss. To grieve. To share your story and feelings about your story with someone absolutely trustworthy. To cry. And it is then that the path to now, and to the future, becomes a real option. It is then that the future holds possibilities – and joy – that can be seized wholeheartedly.

 

The Sad Russian Doll by Marija Smits

The Sad Russian Doll by Marija Smits

 

And as an aside, I did want to add that in my own personal experience of grief, loss and how to better communicate my feelings with loved ones I have found the following books useful:

Women Who Run With The Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Parenting Through Crisis: Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief, and Change by Barbara Coloroso

People Skills by Robert Bolton

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron

Writing Bubble
And thank you to Maddy for suggesting that I link up this reflective post with #WhatImWriting.
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28 comments on “Grief, and why it’s useful to grieve

  1. […] And yet, and yet, hope wishes to prevail. Optimism would like to resurface. But it is still too early. I am experiencing a form of grief. Because any kind of separation brings about grief. […]

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  2. I’ve got a post scheduled for tomorrow on helping your child through bereavement and reading this brought back a whole lot of rollercoaster emotions of our loss a few months ago. All of our energy went into supporting, loving, talking to, giving space to our 6 year old. Now we have to remember to acknowledge our own grief. I always find a good cry does the trick.

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  3. Beautiful post, and thank you so much for mentioning my own blogs x

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Thank you Wendy, and you’re welcome. And thank you so much for sharing your own experience of grief. I’ve taken away a lot from what you’ve shared. Wishing you all the very best. x

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  4. Nicola Young says:

    This is such a poignant post and one I could very much identify with. You’re right in that there are some types of grief that are obvious, like loss of a loved one, but others that aren’t so and you’re just expected to get on with it. Society is too busy and hasn’t got time to deal with anyone feeling sorry for themselves. I look upon that sort of grief in a nostalgic way and I had a moment the other day when I realised my kids were growing up fast and I was powerless to stop it. On a lighter note, I’m grieving at the moment because I’m very soon to be leaving behind my 30’s!!

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  5. Emily Organ says:

    I like the way your post acknowledges the many varied types of grief and it makes me realise there are some things we feel sad about without realising we’re grieving for them. Giving those thoughts a name and acknowledging there’s a process to work through them is really helpful. One of our cats died in the summer and we had him before any of the children were born so their attachment to him was huge. Four months after he died we still don’t have a day where he isn’t mentioned, the children draw pictures of him, talk about him and yesterday my five year old made up a song about him. I’ve learnt a lot from them about grieving and it helps me understand the difference between how children and adults express it. Most encouragingly the children express their grief in any way they want to and whenever they want to and I love that healthy approach. Lovely illustration.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Emily, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to it earlier. I’m sorry to hear about your cat. Cats are such charming, curious souls and losing them is tough (we went through something similar a couple of years ago). I’m glad that your children express their grief in such a healthy way – I think they could teach us adults a lesson or two about this.

      And thanks for your kind words about my illustration. Wishing you all the best.

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  6. I think this recognition of all the different kinds of grief – and the different degrees to which they might affect people – is really important. It’s all part of the inner struggle that everyone we meet is grappling with, and it is about time our society (and ourselves) gave each other the space, time and support to really come to terms with the loss of the people (and the things) we have to say goodbye to.

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  7. Oh Marija, you have a beautiful way with words. Thank you for sharing your own grief process and those links to others. Not easy. I had a miscarriage a year ago and found that writing about it raw as it happened helped me to process my emotions at the time. I decided to publish this unedited outpouring of feelings on my blog at the end of June – what was my due date. It helped me to get through the day to know there was some small tribute to my lost baby. I also had many kind words from strangers, which was oddly comforting. I also have nostaligic thoughts about my own coming of age and first love. I can see what you mean that there’s a certain type of bittersweet grief there too. Got me thinking – thank you x

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Thank you, and you’re welcome.
      I’m really sorry to hear about your miscarriage. It sounds like you gave time for your grief though; and I’m sure the writing would have been a big part of the (albeit slow) healing process.
      Sending hugs and best wishes to you. x

      Liked by 1 person

  8. maddy@writingbubble says:

    You are so right about our society’s inability to deal with grief and also about the many things we need to grieve along the way. I think we’re often far to quick to brush over things – there is a need to appear to be better, or to cope for other people (as you did) rather than to face grief head on. I guess there is a sense that grief is too hard to deal with, and yet we all need to grieve at some point (at many points in many ways really) so all we are doing is making things harder for ourselves. Sorry to hear you lost your Dad so young. This is a very wise post, thanks for linking to #whatImWriting. xx

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Yes, I agree, our society is too quick to hide things away – sweep them under the carpet, if you will – but you’re right, it makes things harder later on. And many thanks for your kind words. xx

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  9. Thank you for your honesty and openness, this is a great post. While I was reading I thought a lot about the Pixar film Inside Out – if you haven’t already seen it, it’s amazing, highly recommended – the message of that film for me is that there’s no joy in life without honouring our need to mourn our losses (whatever they are).

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  10. beckycherriman says:

    Thanks for bringing grief out of the shadows. Without it we are only half-alive because we forget the important things we have lost.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      You’re welcome Becky, and you’re absolutely right: ‘Without it we are only half-alive because we forget the important things we have lost.’
      Thanks for stopping by and adding your insightful reflections.

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  11. Ana Salote says:

    All very true. We are all so busy being fast and smart and ironic, little space or respect is given to transitions and crises. Rites of passage have a function. Convalescence of mind and body are equally useful.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Yes, Ana; the pace of life nowadays really is too fast and I’m sure that this is part of the problem why grief, sadness – anything that isn’t shiny and happy and new and exciting – isn’t treated with the space and attention it deserves.

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  12. Your poem is beautiful, Marija. Your words here are so true and wise, grief is such a strange thing, a necessary thing and yet we find it so hard to deal with. It needs to be given it’s proper place as a part of life, just like death. None of us want to be forgotten and talking about the dead to me is a way to keep them alive, in my heart at least. I am so sorry to hear you lost your father so young, that must have been so hard. Wishing you a happy weekend. Much love xxxx

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Thank you Jane for your kind words. And yes, grief really does need to be given its proper place as a part of life. I think talking about lost loved ones is a beautiful thing to do.

      Losing my father at such a young age was hard; particularly because I had far less emotional tools to deal with the grief, and not enough life experience to understand that grieving would be beneficial. But really, losing a loved one at any age is simply hard. Sending love to you too, and wishing you a happy weekend. xxxx

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  13. Cathy Bryant says:

    Thank you. Ironically, I don’t feel able to say more. xxxxx

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  14. Noel says:

    Powerful… inspiring. Grief is a normal process we should allow ourselves to experience. In a healthy and proper way.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Thanks Noel for stopping by and for your kind and insightful comment. I totally agree – grief is a normal process and we should allow ourselves to experience it in a healthy and proper way. Just wish that more folk were given the tools, support and love to be able to do this.

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  15. Karuna says:

    Well written Marija. What you say is so true. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your wisdom with all of us.

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