Coping with loss

February 3, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Losing a loved one can have a huge impact on our mental health. One of BIMHN’s members shares their experience, and how having conversations helped them cope with their loss…

I’m 22. I have lost four grandparents, three great aunts and uncles, three hamsters, two dogs, a guinea pig – and my little sister. She was only 20 months old when she passed away – hugging her lifeless body and burying her a week later is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. That was just over 13 years ago.

It’s weird because I remember how excited and happy I was when I found out I was having a little sister, it was something I had waited years for. The 20 months I had with her were the happiest of my life but they were also the calm before the storm – the storm being the deterioration of my mental health.

It’s common to not cope very well after the loss of a close family member and there are many theories outlining the stages a person will go through during grief. My personal favourite being the Kübler-Ross model, which consists of five stages and has been applied to several other types of grief such as divorce, break-up and just before an individual accepts that they have a substance misuse problem. The five stages are:

  • Denial: The first reaction is denial. In this stage individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.
  • Anger: When the individual recognises that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals.
  • Bargaining: The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.
  • Depression: During the fourth stage, the individual becomes saddened by the mathematical probability of death. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
  • Acceptance: In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.

There are obviously going to be criticisms of theories like this because grief is not a one-size-fits-all experience and different people go through the grieving process in different orders with some never going past a certain stage (these problems are factored in to the model).

I feel terrible admitting this, but I’ve coped fine – after the initial shock and sadness – with losing all of my family members (and pets), except for my sister. There are many reasons why this may be from self-blame to the fact she was so young and it was too early to say goodbye, especially as it seemed like she was getting better and stronger. After a few years of bottling things up and having a minor breakdown, I gave in and started seeing my first counsellor. I hated her. She was the first of many (OK, so like, nine?) and she was definitely the worst. She was far too forceful and strict with schedules, and progress was seen as targets with dates and time frames … grief is not something anyone should have to put a deadline of learning to cope!

I’ve now finally realised that I need to listen to people when they say I need to not keep things internalised. It probably should have been one of the first things I learned but, well, I guess I didn’t want to. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Others of you may disagree with me here, but out of everything I have learned the five most important things have been:

  1. Remember you are not alone. Even when you feel like no one wants to hear that you are struggling or that you don’t know what to do right now, people are there for you. From my experience, they are often scared to talk to you about how you’re feeling in case you don’t want to talk and get frustrated or resent them for it. It’s a bit of a vicious circle really.
  2. Crying is ok. Maybe not as much as I cry, but crying is ok, whatever your age or gender. Society tries to tell us that men aren’t allowed to cry or show emotion. I don’t think it is possible to put in to words how much this stereotype angers me!
  3. Not crying is also ok. For the first few years after my sister’s death, I didn’t really accept it had happened, I just got on with life and helped everyone else in my family through this tough time. I cried at first but then that was it for about three years (in which time I only cried over fairly insignificant things like when I broke my wrist and was told I wasn’t allowed to be in goal in hockey), something I know everyone who I’ve become friends with over the last few years would struggle to believe!
  4. Don’t rush. Like I mentioned before, grief doesn’t have a time frame. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to “get over it” or to “hurry up”. Some people will learn to cope with grief a lot faster than others, some people need a few months, others decades and everything else in between so don’t worry, you aren’t weird or damaged!
  5. There is help out there. If you don’t feel ready to talk to friends or family or would like some outsider’s support there are so many options out there! Face to face counselling has worked pretty well for me but I know this isn’t for everyone. There’s a huge variety of specialist websites now too, online counselling and peer support groups (online and in real life).
  6. Don’t feel like you need to break the bond. So, to some, possibly many of you this will sound weird but I wrote letters to my sister several times a month for about two years and still have a toy of hers nearby (this is me admitting this because no one knows I actually have it … oops). This was probably the only good advice my first counsellor gave me, but also it doesn’t have to be anything as time consuming as letter writing. I still do it occasionally but now, I keep her close by having a photo us and my brothers as my lock screen on my phone and iPad.

I’d like to just reiterate that this is not professional advice, just a few tips I’ve picked up along my journey. It would be great to hear from others on their experiences and helpful tips in getting through these tough times.

Here are some sites which I’ve found useful:

February 3, 2016 at 10:19 pm | Blog | No comment

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