This article first gives reassurances about how it's normal to experience even disablingly strong feelings in the first stages of grief and gives suggestions on how to cope with them. Then it suggests a technique that can help people get over grief when they feel up to trying it. Then it talks about loneliness and suggests ideas for ways of meeting more people and things to do with them.
There are little stories in the article about touching or amusing things people have done. One of the things the article suggests is making a booklet of memories where amusing or touching or interesting stories about things the person being grieved for did can be written down as a memorial to them and a reminder of them.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.
--From a headstone in Ireland
Grief teaches the steadiest minds to waver.
--Sophocles (496 BC - 406 BC, Antigone)
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.
- C. S. Lewis
Alas! I have not words to tell my grief;
To vent my sorrow would be some relief;
Light sufferings give us leisure to complain;
We groan, we cannot speak, in greater pain.
Grief is the agony of an instant, the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life.
While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.
Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water.
While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.
I don't really feel like doing anything much for a while.
I'm glad the support group leader said it's natural to feel like that, and that the other feelings I'm experiencing are normal for people who're grieving.
It's at least reassuring to know that when sometimes I feel emotionally numb, or when I feel scared that I won't recover or that my life's ruined and I'll never enjoy it again, or when I'm fearful of the isolation and emotional torment that I'm worried I'll suffer in the future, I'm not alone, because a lot of people feel like that.
It's a relief to know that it's common to feel tired and unable to concentrate, and that I'm not alone in feeling despairing and sometimes angry because my husband and I couldn't enjoy our retirement together. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one feeling this bad, and worrying that there might be something seriously wrong with me.
I'm glad she said it's allright to take life easy, be lazy and sleep more if we want, and not feel we ought to be doing more with our time for a while, unless that's just making us more depressed, in which case, it might be therapeutic to do some activities we enjoy doing for pleasure, or that are useful and that we'll be glad we've done them when we have.
I'll think about that one. I used to enjoy knitting. I think doing some of that again might help soothe me a bit. Maybe I'll knit myself a nice big woolly jumper for the Winter. I'll take it slowly, just doing what I feel like.
It's reassuring that she said we shouldn't worry about feeling as if our minds are clouded so we can't make decisions, because that's natural for grieving people, and we shouldn't feel bad about passing any decisions on to others that we're happy about them making, and postponing decisions we should make ourselves till when we feel better.
I was worried about how my mind doesn't seem to be working as well as it used to. Even at the shops last week, I couldn't think what to buy. My brain seemed so foggy I felt as if I just couldn't take information in to help me decide, but deciding what to buy used to be so easy. So I'm glad I at least know now that that's a well-known symptom of grief.
I'm glad being forgetful and making silly mistakes is common and it doesn't mean there's something wrong with me. Well, what I mean is that I know it's not nice that other people have these problems, so I'm not pleased they have, but if it's well recognised that people have these problems, at least it means what's happening to me is fairly normal and I'm not going mad. I was worried about that. My mind seems so foggy sometimes that I can't even think how to spell my surname right for a few seconds. And I keep forgetting where I've put things, and knocking things over. I've been concerned about that. I was trying to memorise some cooking instructions the other day, and I just couldn't take them in. I wondered what was wrong with me. But I'm relieved to know that at least it's common for grieving people to get like that sometimes, so at least I'm not the only one and it doesn't necessarily mean I'm going into permanent decline. The support group leader says that stress can make people forgetful.
And at least I don't have to worry too much about those horrible feelings I get when I feel as if I'm weak and all slowed down, not being able to do things as fast as I could before, and feeling as if my arms and legs are heavy and I'm doing things in a bit of a trance, since she said that the body will often slow down so it can use its energy to heal the emotions.
It was nice to get the reassurance that things will get better. If the symptoms don't clear up soon, I think I'll go to my doctor just to make sure there isn't anything physically wrong. But if the symptoms lessen as I start to feel better, then it should mean I'm allright.
It was nice that the support group leader said it's allright to feel as if we need looking after and comforting, and that we shouldn't feel awkward if friends and family want to support and sympathise with us for a while, and we should be willing to accept help from them, and ask for it if we feel we can.
I'll think about her suggestion that we get as many friends to support us as we can, so we can talk to someone on the phone whenever we feel we need to and be reassured that people care. It's a nice thought, but I'm not sure how many friends I could do that with.
She said we shouldn't be afraid to visit neighbours and relatives, and invite people over to visit us.
I'll have to think about what I can do, because I'm quite isolated where I am, and my other daughter, Charlotte, doesn't want to hear any more about how upset I am. She's fed up with me talking about my feelings. Perhaps I can be a bit wearing to be around sometimes because I feel so depressed, but it would be nice to have more support.
The support group leader said that sometimes, all we might want to ask for is a hug. Or even gently caressing ourselves can make us feel better.
Well, there's an interesting thought. Maybe I'll try that sometimes.
She said it can help if we can find support groups of other people who've been through what we're going through, so we can be reassured that people do get through it. There are probably some on the Internet.
I'll have a look. I'm glad I learned to use the computer. But I wonder if I could find any locally. Maybe someone I know will know someone who's been through a grieving process and they could introduce us. But I don't usually meet that many people.
The support group leader said we shouldn't allow ourselves to be pressured to act as if we're recovered, pretending we're more energetic, enthusiastic or happy than we really are, because our bodies need that energy for healing. And we shouldn't feel ashamed of crying, because that can refresh us.
Yes, with some people, I feel as if I need to put on a show, pretending I'm more cheerful than I really am. It can be a bit of a strain. I do feel tired afterwards. It's nice to know we shouldn't expect too much of ourselves for the time being.
Sarah said the support group leader said we shouldn't allow ourselves to start feeling pressured or guilty, or thinking there's something wrong with us if people say things to us like, "You should be getting over this by now", or, "You'd better do" this or that, or, "You need to stop thinking about your husband so much if you want to recover", or that kind of thing. She said no one should be pushing us to do things we don't want to do or don't feel ready to do. She said people heal in their own time, and if anything doesn't feel right for us, we shouldn't do it.
It's nice to know that.
She said that when people say insensitive things, they might be well-intentioned rather than being nasty, just telling us what they were taught to believe. So we shouldn't respond to them too harshly. But we shouldn't allow them to make us do anything we don't want to do, or feel like failures for not measuring up to their expectations.
She said it's common for people to pretend they're recovering faster than they are and try to convince friends they're fine, because that seems to be expected of them, when they're really still very upset. But people need to be free to recover in the time that feels comfortable for them.
Well, it's reassuring to know I shouldn't allow myself to feel pressured to be over it by now. If anyone says anything insensitive to me like, "You should be moving on by now", maybe I could say something like, "Be patient; I'm on the mend, but healing often takes time".
I think I'll try something like that with Charlotte. Perhaps she doesn't understand, because she's getting on with her life, so she thinks I should be over what happened. She says she doesn't want to hear any more about how upset I am. But I think it's better for her, because she's got a full life, with work, and the children to look after. And I think David's death was worse for me, partly because it brought home to me how little time I might have left, being around the same age as him. And I've been with him for so long. He was my life companion.
Still, at least Sarah's sympathetic. But I can't rely on her all the time. It wouldn't be fair. But she is a comfort. The other day, she started a conversation that had me laughing despite myself, reminding me of some of the funny things David did, like the time when the children were little and he used to play games with them imagining that God would answer any prayer they asked, so they could ask him to turn someone into a biscuit or a packet of crisps and he would, and David would get a biscuit or a packet of crisps out and talk to it as if it was a person.
Or they'd pretend they could ask God if they could have a day at the seaside, and pretend he would very carefully move places in the country around in the night, so no one would know until they woke up, and then they would walk out of their houses and find they were somewhere different, so our family could walk straight out of our house onto a beach, and the people who used to live near that beach would walk out of their houses and find themselves where we used to live; and then the next night, God would change everything back again. We used to go into our garden and pretend we were on the beach, and we put a paddling pool out in the Summer sometimes, and they pretended that was the sea, and they kept walking towards it and then pretended the waves were coming closer and about to splash them so they'd run away. It was funny.
And there was the way David persuaded the kids to put their toys away sometimes, by getting them to pretend they were explorers on an uninhabited island, and the toys were all kinds of valuable bits of a horde of buried treasure they'd found, and the toy box was the ship they wanted to put it in so they could take it home. Then sometimes, when they'd finished, he'd pretend he was the person who'd originally buried the treasure coming back to collect it and he'd seen the explorers taking it and wanted to chase them away from it to stop them getting any more, and then he'd chase them outside and they'd play chasing games all around the garden. They loved that.
David had some really entertaining ideas for games to play with the children. It'll be nice to have more conversations about them with Sarah. I'll think of some of the other amusing things he did.
I feel a bit guilty about laughing sometimes though, because it feels as if I'm not taking David's loss seriously enough. But thinking about it, I don't suppose I should feel like that really. After all, he seemed to loved to laugh, and he liked me to laugh. And everyone around me knows I have been very upset about losing him. So I'm sure no one could really think I'm not taking his loss seriously, and I'm sure David would want me to laugh at funny things. After all, I know he loved me. I'm sure he'd hate to think of me being upset all the time.
Sarah said the support group leader said people can lift their general mood if they surround themselves with living things, not just people, but a new plant or two, a new pet, or even a bowl of fruit to brighten up the place, which might be especially nice because we can eat it afterwards.
I'll think about that. It could be nice to have something like that. There are some nice flowers in the garden.
I remember the garden we used to have. It was nice to have those apple trees in it. The children loved to play there. I remember that time when I wanted Sarah and Charlotte to gather all the apples off the ground one Autumn when they were only little, and I thought it would be a good idea to pay them a little bit of money for it, so I said, "I'll give you 1P for every five apples you pick up". And Sarah said, "I don't like peas".
I do remember some funny things from their childhoods. I'll try and think of some more of them.
Actually, one thing it might be nice to do is to try to think of all the nice things and all the funny things David and the kids did, and write a family memorial booklet all about them when I feel like it, so the kids can read it to their children, and it might even be passed down the family from generation to generation, so David will always be remembered and thought about.
Sarah said the support group leader said we might feel particularly bad on special occasions, like holidays like Christmas, or anniversaries, like birthdays or the anniversary of our loss. She suggested we think of particularly comforting things to do beforehand that we can do to make ourselves feel a bit better on those days.
That was nice of her. That could be a good idea.
If I do write my family memorial booklet, I could read it on every anniversary, to remind myself of the amusing things that happened and the kind things David did.
I hope doing that wouldn't upset me and make me feel angry by just reminding me of what I've lost and the fun I can never have with David any more though. Perhaps it'll be best if I'm with people when I read it, so I won't feel isolated.
The support group leader said that if we ever do feel angry, we should make sure we express the anger safely, such as doing some vigorous exercise to get rid of the energy, - that's presumably when we're not feeling slowed down in the way she described, - or playing a piano as loudly as we can, or hitting a pillow, or crying to release it. Then we won't take it out on other people by getting irritable with them.
I suppose I do get irritable with people sometimes.
She said we shouldn't feel bad about being angry, even if we're angry with the person who died, or with God or fate. She said that anyone angry with God should be assured that there are many psalms in the Book of Psalms in the Bible where God's followers express anger towards him for things.
But she said we should try not to start hating ourselves for anything.
Most of the time, I don't feel angry, but sometimes I do, just with circumstances, because I'm annoyed that David and I missed out on our retirement together.
Maybe exercise would help a little bit with getting rid of some of the tension I feel sometimes. If I started off by making sure I had a brisk walk around the block every day when the weather's not too bad, it might help relieve my stress a bit, and perhaps even clear my mind of the fogginess I get sometimes a bit.
The support group leader said that if we feel angry with ourselves or guilty about anything we did when the person was still alive, it's OK, but it'll be good if we try to forgive ourselves, because we probably didn't mean to do any harm to them, and we should try to think about whether we really deserve to feel bad about ourselves, and even if we do, whether we have to be that hard on ourselves, or whether we ought to forgive ourselves. After all, no one's perfect, so to expect ourselves not to make mistakes is unrealistic.
I do have some regrets about things I said that weren't that nice, and things I wish I'd told David that I didn't very often, like how much I was fond of him. But I know he loved me. So I'm sure he'd forgive me for those things if he was here now, and I know he wouldn't want me to be making myself miserable by thinking about bad things. I don't like to feel as if I failed him by not expressing enough appreciation for him or by doing things I shouldn't have done, like nagging him. I do feel bad about things like that sometimes. But I think I can at least comfort myself by thinking that he didn't seem to hold bad things against me for long; and if he knew how regretful I am about them, I'm sure he'd forgive me immediately, even if he didn't before.
The support group leader recommends we forgive ourselves not only for making mistakes that led to regrets, but also for judging ourselves more harshly than we should have done, expecting ourselves to have behaved perfectly when we're only human.
She said we can also forgive ourselves for only being human if we like.
She said that if we ever feel suicidal, we should know that it's just a natural part of the pain, and the thoughts will likely go as we get better, but if we feel that bad, we could phone a helpline.
At least I don't feel suicidal most of the time.
The support group leader said we should be as gentle, kind and sensitive with ourselves as we would be with a best friend who was grieving who we wanted to help.
She said we should be patient with ourselves, and not put pressure on ourselves to feel good again too quickly, since we've suffered an emotional wound.
Well, yes, I know I get tired when I try to behave as if I feel better than I do.
And she recommends we don't put pressure on ourselves by taking on new responsibilities, like at work, or letting ourselves get into situations where we might be stressed or upset, or challenged to do things we don't feel up to at the moment.
It's reassuring that the professionals say we shouldn't expect too much of ourselves at the moment. Well, at least one professional.
The support group leader said it's best if we avoid situations that might make us angry, or where we're under pressure to use our brains more than we feel like doing. She said we should pamper ourselves a bit.
Now that sounds good. I think it would be nice to go in the garden and smell the flowers, and see if I can admire the scenery.
I remember that park we use to go to when the kids were little where they had loads of gorgeous flowers growing. I'll have a nice reminisce to myself about how nice they smelled and looked.
I remember that park near the one with all the flowers that we used to drive around sometimes where we saw all those deer. They were nice, especially the baby ones. And there was that big hollow full of fallen leaves under some trees, and the kids used to love us to stop and play there. It was fun rolling around in all the leaves and throwing leaves at each other. They loved it. And it was funny when we thought we'd got all the leaves off ourselves and left the park, but some were still inside our clothes and they'd come out and get stuck to our hair and clothes, so we'd walk around the town and into shops with them stuck to us, and only realise they were still there later. It was funny when David was asking that policeman for directions once, and he felt a little bit uncomfortable, and then realised there was a leaf in the arm of his shirt, so he undid the cuff of his sleeve and got it out. The policeman must have wondered why he had a leaf in his shirt.
I remember that other park we used to like to walk around. I remember one Sunday evening when there was an ice-cream van just near the entrance, and Charlotte, who must have been only about 4 at the time, told the ice-cream man off, saying, "You shouldn't be working on a Sunday; you should be in church!" He didn't say anything, and we walked around the park, and on our way out, he was still there, and Charlotte said, "Mum, can I have an ice-cream?" That was funny!
That reminds me of how nice it was that when David would often ask the kids to go to the little shop on the corner to buy a few things for him, he would give them a few pence to buy sweets for themselves as well. They did sell several nice little sweets there. And another funny thing happened one day. I remember one day when dinner was cooking, David was looking through the newspaper, and he said he was hungry, and little Charlotte suggested he eat some of the newspaper, saying she knew paper tasted nice, because she ate sweets made of rice paper from the shop. And we had to explain to her the difference between rice paper and ordinary paper.
Sarah said the support group leader recommended that we eat healthily, especially at this time, since stress weakens the immune system for a while, so it's best if we eat more fruit and vegetables, raw if we like them, and whole grains, like brown rice.
But it's best if we don't eat sugary snacks excessively, and we should try not to drink or smoke too much, or to have many drinks with caffeine in them.
I'll try to eat a bit more healthily. I don't want to start going down with coughs and colds and things because my immune system's weakened. But doesn't she realise we need all the comfort we can get at the moment? Still, she said alcohol can just make us more depressed, and if the sugary things we eat make us fatter, we'll probably just start feeling worse. I suppose we would. I like sugary things, but maybe I ought to think about that one. Anyway, I do like some healthy foods, so it'll be nice to eat more of those.
But I'm glad she suggested other things we can do to pamper ourselves, like:
I don't think I'd want to do some of those on my own, because I might feel lonely or not very confident, but some of them sound nice.
One problem I'm still having is sleeping badly and having bad dreams.
I'm glad she said that if we have nightmares when we sleep, something that might help is if we try to reassure ourselves afterwards that it's only our brains trying to process unpleasant information to help us heal better.
I'll try to think of it like that.
She said we might get bits of insight from some of the dreams we have, so it might help to keep notebooks by our beds to write down anything helpful that our brains think up when we're asleep.
Insight into what? I'm not sure what she means by that, but it might be worth trying.
The support group leader said it's common to get insomnia while grieving, either not being able to get to sleep, waking up a lot during the night, or waking up too early in the morning.
I do find it difficult to sleep sometimes.
She said that if we have that problem, the most important thing is that we don't worry about it, because worrying can keep us awake so it'll make it worse. She said that not sleeping for eight hours every night won't hurt us.
I hope not.
But she said it might help if we drink warm milk before we get in bed, listen to soothing music, or listen to a talk that will make us feel relaxed or more positive.
She said that calming ourselves down like that might help keep the nightmares at bay as well.
It sounds like a good idea.
She said if we're awake for more than an hour, it can help if we get up and do something else. And if we wake up in the night and can't sleep, it might help if we read or listen to something comforting or uplifting.
Yes, that could be good.
She said we might feel we're sleeping too much instead, but we shouldn't worry about that too much unless it goes on for quite some time, because the body heals itself during sleep after a stressful experience.
Well, I have been wanting to sleep during the day sometimes, so that's reassuring.
The support group leader said we're bound to be a bit more vulnerable than usual, so we should be especially careful that we don't put ourselves in positions where we might give into pressure and make decisions we might regret too easily, like we could if we allow ourselves to be pestered by salesmen.
That sounds sensible.
And she said we should drive more carefully, and maybe take public transport more often if our concentration might be so poor we might be at risk of our minds wandering when we're driving.
That's a good point. The other day, I was driving, but I suddenly realised I hadn't been concentrating for a little while. It was a bit scary. I'm glad I didn't have an accident during that time. I think I will go on public transport more for the time being. I think that'll mean going out more often, because when I go to the shops, I'll have to carry smaller amounts back. But perhaps it'll do me good to get out more. I don't feel like it a lot of the time. But I know that when I am out, I do often start to feel a bit better.
Well, I think that's about as much of her advice as I can take in for now. I'm not that good at concentrating on things at the moment, and it'll begin to sound like a lecture if I read too much more. So I think I'll go and do something I enjoy for a while, maybe one of the things she suggested we do to pamper ourselves. I'll come back to this later. ...
Oh, it's nice that she said we shouldn't worry that if we heal quickly, it means we didn't love the person very much, because if we didn't love them, we wouldn't have got upset in the first place, and healing just means we're doing a good job of focusing our attention on what we need to do to get better. It doesn't mean we don't care any more. After all, would the person we're grieving for want us to still feel pain for them?
Now, that's a worthwhile thought. I'm sure David wouldn't want me to stay upset.
She said that if it helps, we could write about our emotions and thoughts in a journal for a while to get them out of our systems, but not so much that it gets us down. And we shouldn't make any rules for ourselves about writing every day; we should just write things when we feel like it.
That could be good to try. I know that sometimes people can feel better if they get things out of their system.
She said that when we begin to feel better, it might help if we start day-dreaming about all the nice things we could do with our lives when we're fully healed, trying to imagine them as vividly as possible, as if we're experiencing them with all our senses. If we imagine enjoying them, we're more likely to be motivated to do them. She said that if we find it hard to think of things at the beginning, we can start off just imagining them for a minute at first, and build up to longer and longer day-dreams, as we get more practise at imagining the nice things.
That could be nice, but I haven't thought that far ahead yet. I was so used to doing things with David that I just haven't thought about what I could do on my own. I haven't felt like doing anything much anyway. But maybe there are some things I could think about doing. I know Sarah's invited me over for her birthday. I do enjoy watching her kids play. I'll imagine myself doing that for a while and look forward to it. Or it might be easier to day-dream about what it really was like last time. Even if for some reason I don't get to go to her birthday celebration, I expect I'll go to her house at some point and see them.
She said the support group leader said it can help our healing if we wear and surround ourselves with colours that can lift mood like yellow, red and orange, and she said green can be soothing, so having plants around and wearing green clothes, and if possible eating green food and having green furniture around us can be good.
I think it would be nice to buy a few plants, or bring some flowers in from the garden.
And she said that when we start to get better, doing things that make us laugh can help, so it might be good to buy some comedy tapes, rent and watch a funny video, try to find and read a humorous book, and talk to anyone who makes us laugh. And it can be good to ask the people we know if they'll phone and tell us any amusing jokes or funny stories they have or hear about.
I could try that with a few people when I feel more in the mood. I did laugh when Sarah was reminding me of the funny things David used to do, so I know I can be lifted out of my miserable mood for a while.
It's nice that she's reassuring us that as we get better, all our horrible symptoms should fade, and our thinking will become clearer, our judgment will get more reliable, our concentration and memory will improve, and we'll feel more like being with other people and doing more for them. She said we'll start to feel more optimistic, stronger, more content and independent. We'll want to get out more and try new things.
I hope so.
I hold it true, whatever befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
It seems the other counsellor's given Sarah a step-by-step guide on what to do about getting over bereavement. She said we can start it as soon as we want to after our loss.
I'll think through what she said. This seems quite structured.
She said that first, we should just think about a few of the people we've lost in life, maybe when we were children, and try to remember all the ways we were told to cope, and other ways we've tried to cope, and have a good think about whether they were helpful or not. She said that if they weren't helpful, then we'll know not to use them to try to get over our grief this time. If we do try to use them, it'll hinder our recovery, so it's good if we can work out what not to use.
OK. I remember being upset when I was a child when friends moved away, and when our pet dog died. And when my younger brother died, that was really upsetting. Some people said things to me then that thinking about it, weren't helpful, and I'm sure now weren't the right things to have said.
After friends moved away, they said, "Never mind; you can find other friends." That wasn't any consolation, because I was still upset about the ones I'd lost. But I think it must have given me the impression that conventional wisdom teaches that the way to deal with loss is to go out and find replacements. And actually, I can remember saying things like that to other people myself. Perhaps I was being insensitive, looking back on it. But I was just passing onto them what I was taught about the way to deal with loss of friendships. So I can't blame myself. But I was probably mistaken to say that.
I didn't know what to do when the losses got more serious. When our dog died, I was upset because I was quite attached to him, but people said things like, "Don't get upset", or, "Come on, pull yourself together". So I began to think that grieving was something to be ashamed of. I think that's made things worse for me, because I've been hesitant to express my feelings over more serious losses, and sometimes, I've really wanted someone who I could unburden myself to.
When my younger brother died, I got even more ashamed of my feelings, because people said things like, "You need to keep strong so you don't upset your parents", or if I did get upset, "There's no point in crying; it won't bring him back". Thinking about it, I had a perfect right to have strong feelings, and I shouldn't have been encouraged to suppress them. After all, that support group leader's been saying a lot about how we should accept them. It would have been nicer if people had just been willing to listen to me talking about how upset I was and let me know they cared. That was all I wanted from most of them. I don't have to feel critical or ashamed of myself for having had strong feelings. I'm sure they were perfectly natural, and they were certainly understandable. I'm sure a lot of people feel grief that's as bad as mine was when people die.
But I don't suppose I should blame anyone for making me feel that way. I don't think they meant to make me feel bad, and they were probably just passing on the things they were always taught about the way people should behave. And at least now, I know how bad it can feel to be grieving, so I'm less likely to be insensitive to other people going through similar things than I might have been otherwise, and I'll have a better idea of what will or won't help them, because I think I've said things like a couple of the ones that were said to me when other people were upset, and maybe they weren't as helpful as I assumed. If I come to terms with my feelings, I'll have an even better idea of what will help others, since what helped me will hopefully help other people.
Perhaps the lessons the counsellor would say I'm supposed to learn from thinking this out are that I shouldn't be ashamed of expressing strong feelings during my recovery from the loss of David, and that I shouldn't think that the best way of dealing with it is to find a replacement for him. Some chance!
I think my reliance on chocolate and other sugary and fatty things as comfort food started after I felt bereaved and thought it would help me get over it. I know I eat far more than I should. I'm not happy that I eat so much.
And up until I had children, I often used to work longer hours than I needed to, and I think I did that to help me drown out my feelings about my younger brother dying and the serious break-up I had with the boyfriend I had before I married David. After all, those things were things I learned to do from people who recommended that I keep busy to push grief out of my mind, and who consoled themselves by eating nice food. But maybe when I've started to recover properly, I won't feel the need to do things like that excessively any more. I was grateful for being able to do things like that. But I don't think they really helped me get over things. Thinking about it, they just masked the pain for a while. After all, I'm still upset about what happened to my brother, even though it happened so many years ago.
OK, I expect another lesson the counsellor would like me to learn from this is that trying to drown out feelings with food and activity doesn't make them go away in the long term. I hope her recovery suggestions work better.
I've been thinking of going to the doctor and asking to be put on anti-depressants or tranquillisers; but maybe I'm just trying to achieve the same kind of artificial comfort, and when I've come to terms with my feelings, maybe I won't feel the need for things like that anymore. I'll see how this grief recovery plan goes.
Another thing is that I've been told all my life that time would heal me, but I still feel upset about some of the things that happened years ago. I suppose the lesson the counsellor would like me to learn from that is that I shouldn't think that just waiting for my grief to go away will be that good an option. Well, I hope what she suggests we do instead will work then.
I think it might help if I think a bit about the reasons I've found the losses in my life so upsetting.
I think with my younger brother, I thought it was such a waste of a life, because I know he could have gone on to do really well at school and even university and got a good job. And I'm sorry for being horrible to him, often telling him when we were little that I didn't want to play with him and I didn't like him much. I really wish I hadn't said those things now. I wish I'd encouraged him by telling him the things I admired about him.
There are things with David that I wish I'd said that I didn't, and other things I wish I'd done differently.
I know the counsellor's given us suggestions on how to deal with thoughts like that so we end up not feeling so bad about them, so I'm glad about that, and I hope they work.
Sarah said the counsellor said we should take at least part of the responsibility for our feelings of grief, so we acknowledge that it's our own mind that's causing them, so we can reassure ourselves that change isn't beyond our control, and we can change once we know how to, and we don't blame other people for our feelings.
Well, that sounds OK. I'd far rather be able to do something to change my feelings than think they were beyond my control.
She said the counsellor said that we bereaved people can help ourselves by thinking through our lives and making a note of every loss we've suffered, and doing some recovery work on all the significant ones, because we might have losses that we haven't recovered from besides the one we've just been through, not necessarily just through death, but because of any separation.
OK. I'll think through my life from the first thing I can remember, and try to remember all the losses I've had. The counsellor recommended we write them down. OK:
If our grief about any of those losses is still unresolved, according to the counsellor, it'll be because something about the communication in the relationship was incomplete when the separation happened, like us wishing we'd said and done things we didn't, or being upset because we said and did things we wish we hadn't, and not getting the chance to tell them that. She said that if things like that didn't happen, we'll probably just feel sadness about losing the people, but if it did, then it'll be good to work on dealing with the feelings.
I'll think of each of the losses I wrote down, to try to work out which of them still bothers me enough to work on. She said there are several things that might help me work it out. I wrote them down. Oh yes, here's the list:
OK. Now I'm going to work out which losses I'm badly affected by most. I'll put asterisks by them, more for the worst ones.
Of course, the very worst loss is my husband David, although not all the things on the list apply to me. I still really miss him. He was such a support to me, and we were planning to do so many things when we retired that we'll never be able to do now.
Sarah said that her bereavement counsellor advised that when we've worked out what losses we're still grieving over, we should decide which loss we'd like to do some recovery work on first, and then take a piece of paper, and think through our relationship with the person from when we first met them to the end of it. She said we can draw a line across the page horizontally, thinking of where the line starts on the left edge of the paper as representing the beginning of the relationship, and where it ends on the right as representing the end of the relationship. Then, we think of certain things that happened in the relationship, estimate how far into the relationship they happened, and write down what they are briefly on the paper, above or below the line, about as far along it as they happened in the relationship. For instance, if some of them happened at the end of it, we can write them down at the right-hand end of the paper. If they happened about in the middle, we can write them around where the middle of the line is. And so on.
I hope it doesn't get any more complicated than this!
She said that above the line, we should make little notes of all the positive things we can think of that happened in the relationship, or if it's with a broken relationship where the other person's still alive, even things that happened after it finished; and below the line, we should make notes of negative things that happened.
She said we should put little lines that lead from the line across the page upwards or downwards to where we decide to put our little notes, with the lines being bigger or smaller depending on the emotional intensity of the events. Bigger ones equal greater emotional intensity.
I can't think of many negative things that happened with David. And I'm not sure I want to.
But the counsellor said it's best to end up remembering people as they really were, not an idealised version of them.
Perhaps. I'm not sure why though. Maybe it's in case negative memories come back later. Perhaps the thinking is that it'll be just as well to remember them now and deal with them so they don't upset us later when we're maybe not expecting it.
So she said the way it works is that we think of both positive and negative things, preferably at least two of each, because there will have been bound to have been both positive and negative, even if there's a lot more of one than the other, so it'll be unrealistic to miss out either the negatives or the positives, and if we do, there might be a side of the communication between us that will stay forever unfinished.
She said that if something was partly positive and partly negative, we can make a note of it both above and below the line.
Actually, I think raising children with David was a bit like that, because he didn't help me much with them when they were very little, but as they got older, he took them out to places where they had fun, and helped them with their schoolwork, and taught them interesting new things. Maybe I'll just make a note that says "Raising children" above and below the line for now. Then I'll break it down into some negatives and positives afterwards. Or maybe I could put "Not helping with babies" below the line, and "Helping and playing with children" above it a bit further on. Yes, that'll probably be better.
I'll see what else comes into my mind.
I know he got annoyed with me sometimes for nagging him. I'll make a note of that below the line where the negative things go. I could just put "Nagging". I'll remember what it means. I'm not sure whereabouts on the line to put it though, since it happened quite a lot over the years we were together. Well, I don't suppose it really matters, as long as it's somewhere there to remind me of it.
The counsellor said it's important that we don't criticize or judge ourselves for any things we did or didn't do that we regret now. We should avoid making ourselves miserable about them, because the aim of this is not to look back and judge ourselves, but to make amends in the best way we can by finishing the communication in our minds that we didn't finish at the time.
She said it'll help if we be careful that our minds don't wander onto other relationships while we're working on one particular one.
She said we should think through a whole relationship, trying to remember any unfinished communications, like misunderstandings or disagreements that never got resolved, or things that we wish we'd said but didn't. She said we should put down everything we can think of, not just important things, but it doesn't matter if we don't get the order in which they took place correct.
That's just as well, since it's a bit difficult to remember exact years over such a long relationship.
She said we should be as honest and thorough as we can, putting down little things as well as big events.
Yes, I remember the times I used to walk along the seafront with David, and the time he helped the kids dig the sand on the beach into the shape of a car and pretended to drive it with them. That was fun. He did do nice things like that.
The counsellor said we should think about each item on our piece of paper when we've finished, and try to think of things about it we wish we'd done differently, or that the person whose loss we're grieving had done differently, such as whether we'd like to have thanked them more for positive things, or whether there's something we wish they hadn't done.
Then, thinking through what we've just written on the piece of paper, she said we could take another bit of paper, and draw a line down the middle of the page, and another one going crossways so it's divided into four sections, and then:
On one side at the top, we could make a note of all the nice things we'd like to have said to them or done for them but didn't;
and on the other side at the top, we could make a note of all the things we wish we hadn't said and done.
Then at the bottom, on one side, we should make a note of all the things they did for us that we're glad about and things we liked them for, which is a bit similar to the first category really;
and on the other side, we note down anything we have to forgive them for.
She said it doesn't matter if some things appear in more than one category, like if we liked someone for the way they played with the children on the beach, but have to forgive them for shouting at them more than necessary when they didn't want to go home.
Sarah said the counsellor said that forgiving the person for things doesn't mean we think what they did was allright after all, but just that we make a decision to let go of any resentment we hold towards them for anything, in such a way that we could be confident that if it was possible to meet them again and we did, and they sincerely apologised for what they'd done and didn't do it again, we wouldn't keep bringing up the past or being annoyed about it, but would be willing to move on with them. She said that even if we don't feel forgiving towards them, that doesn't mean we can't forgive them, because forgiveness is an act of the will. We're resolving to let go of the anger so we can have better peace of mind, like saying, "I don't want to ruin the way I think about you by holding this anger against you", or if it's someone who really upset us, "I've got better things to do with my life than to ruin any more of it getting upset over what you did." We're the ones who'll benefit.
Well, I don't have that much to forgive David for.
She said that when we've noted down everything, the idea is that we turn it into a letter to them.
OK. I'll start with David. Actually, since I'm fortunate enough to be computer-literate, I could use a word processor to do this instead of using paper for where I break it down into the categories. Then I can make slightly bigger notes. So I'll do my notes before writing the letter:
Nice things I wish I'd said to David but didn't, or would like him to know now:
Things I did that I wish I hadn't:
Things I liked about you:
Things I forgive you for:
OK. I'm going to start a new document and have a go at turning that into a letter.
Sarah said the letters ought to be only a few pages long, since getting too detailed might make them rambly and we'll lose the emotional intensity. She said it's best if we try not to repeat ourselves, but be as concise as we can. She said that it might be painful to write the letter, but afterwards, we might well think it's been worthwhile, because we'll be satisfied that we've completed any unfinished communication in the relationship to the best of our capabilities.
I'm not sure how much good that'll do us if we can't communicate it with the person we're grieving for. Still, it might give us a sense of completion in our own minds that might be calming.
She said it doesn't matter if we think of other things afterwards, because we can just write other little letters with them in.
She said the idea is that we put the things in three basic categories:
Things we're apologising for;
things we forgive the person for,
and significant emotional statements about things we'd like them to know.
OK, here's the letter I'll write to David:
I've been thinking about our relationship, and I've realised that there are some things I'd like to tell you.
David, I'm sorry I often became irritable with you when the children were babies and I'd been with them all day, and you came home from a hard day's work.
David, I'm sorry I would often nag you about little things.
I'm sorry I often used to tell the children after we argued that I was fed up with you and I'd like to divorce you one day.
I'm sorry I refused to travel with you as much or as far as you wanted. It was partly my fault that we put so many things off till we retired, and I'd love to have done them with you.
David, I forgive you for not helping much with the children when they were babies.
David, I forgive you for punishing the children more severely than I thought necessary sometimes.
I forgive you for refusing to try to get on better with my dad.
I forgive you for disapproving and being critical when I wanted to go back to college.
David, I wish I'd told you how much I appreciated the support you gave me. I'd like to let you know now that it meant a lot to me.
I want you to know how much I loved you.
I want you to know I realise how much I value your mending things around the house now there's no one left to do it.
I want you to know I loved your company when we went on holidays. You were a lot of fun to be around.
I want you to know I'm proud of your achievements in getting to where you did at work.
I want you to know how much fun you could make my life because you so often had good ideas for things we could do to enjoy ourselves at the weekends.
I want you to know how much I admired you for helping the children do well at school.
I want you to know how much I appreciate that you always tried to be sympathetic when I felt a bit depressed.
I love you. I miss you. Goodbye David.
I think I might spend the next hour or so reworking that a bit and making it more detailed.
Sarah said it's important to say goodbye at the end, because the word is a symbolic way of closing the communication. But we're not saying we don't want to think about the person any more, just that we're saying goodbye to the pain and regrets caused by the incomplete communication in the relationship.
I'm glad we're not expected to forget the person. I wouldn't want to do that. I'll say goodbye to the physical companionship, but I still want to remember David. I still want to write that memorial booklet about him that I was thinking about. That would be nice.
One thing I'd like to put in it is how I remember he used to make us lovely Sunday dinners every week. I'll always remember those.
And I remember how kind of him it was to drive several miles every Christmas morning to go and collect his parents and bring them to spend the day with us, and then he'd drive them back in the evenings. That was nice.
And when they were getting old so they couldn't look after themselves so well, he'd often go over there and mow their lawn, do other things to their garden, and do shopping for them and things.
and after his dad died, when his mum was getting frail and couldn't get out to church, he'd always go extra early on Christmas morning so he could take her there. And he sometimes brought her back here on Easter Sunday as well, early enough so we could all go to church together.
I remember something funny happened one Easter Sunday morning when we were in church, and David sneezed. He tried to muffle it, but it still sounded loud, and it was unusual because he didn't usually take so much care to muffle his sneezes. And the kids started giggling. and He told them off in a whisper, but instead of being quiet like he wanted, it just made them laugh louder and louder. It was a bit embarrassing at the time, but it was funny!
I think I'll have a section in my booklet for kind things David did, and one for funny things that happened. And I might think of other sections to go in it as well. I don't know if I'll put the sneezing story in it. But I might.
I might write memorial booklets for some of the other people in my family who died as well.
Sarah said the counsellor said we'll still be sad at times after we've said goodbye to someone in a letter, but the emotion will likely pass quickly if we just accept it. She said that if we get a negative feeling, it's best to just accept it rather than worrying about it or getting dismayed because we're having it, but we can remind ourselves that it will pass of its own accord if we let it. Or if we start feeling melancholy and regretful, we can stop ourselves and ask ourselves what we're thinking about that we'd like the person we're grieving for to know, and turn it around into thinking of the feeling as telling us there's a positive thing we still have to do, a communication we still need to complete, and then write them another little letter.
The counsellor said we ought to read someone else the letters, to make the communication feel complete. The little letters wouldn't have to include both negative and positive things like the first one did. They'd just have to deal with the particular issue that was bothering us.
She said that if we still keep getting a nasty image in our minds after we've said goodbye in a letter, like an image of a person we've lost on their deathbed, it's best if we accept it and acknowledge how painful it is, but then we can help ourselves by trying to think of other images of them as well, like how they were when we met them or most admired them.
I think I'll try that. My last memory of David alive was at the hospital with tubes sticking out of him. I'll try to think of other images of him as well, like how he looked on our wedding day, how well he played with the children, how pleased he looked on the day Sarah graduated from university, and other nice things.
Sarah said the counsellor said it's best if we read each of our letters to someone if we can, so we feel as if what we're saying's significant enough to be heard. It ought to be someone who will treat them confidentially.
I could read my letter for David to Sarah over the phone.
She said the counsellor gave instructions for when we read the letters.
I'm glad I wrote them down, because I don't think I'd have remembered them if I hadn't.
She said we should:
It doesn't matter whether we cry or not, but if we do, she said it's best if we try to talk while we cry, because the words go along with the feelings, so we shouldn't stop talking and try to bury our feelings.
I'm not quite sure what that means. Maybe it means that the experience is supposed to be an emotional release for us if we need it as well as a set of words we say, so we shouldn't inhibit our emotions, and we shouldn't get side-tracked by our emotions and stop reading it.
After I've read my letter for David to Sarah, I'll do the recovery steps with my other losses.
I don't need to work on the friendships I lost when I was at school, because I was sad about them at the time, but I don't feel that bad about what happened now. And I was sad about my grandparents dying, but I don't think that's affecting my life now.
One thing I will deal with is the relationship break-up I had before I met David. I know it might be hard to think of positive things to say about the man I had that relationship with, since I was so upset that he cheated on me. But I know there were positive things. I did think he was fun to be with, and I went to some nice places with him. I still feel angry that he started seeing someone else while he was seeing me without telling me, and then let me know by deliberately kissing her where he knew I'd see them and then making nasty remarks about me in front of his new girlfriend, but if I can let go of the anger, I know I'll have more peace of mind, so I'll be able to move on with my life better. So it'll be worth forgiving him.
The counsellor said that when we forgive people, it's as if we're saying, "I acknowledge the things that you did or did not do that hurt me, and I'm not going to let my memory of those things hurt me anymore." After all, we're probably going to be the ones most hurt by our bad feelings. Feelings like that can ruin our enjoyment of life.
Sarah said the counsellor said that if the person we're writing to's still living, we shouldn't send them the letter or tell them we've forgiven them, because they might think we're attacking them, and it could just stir up old bad feelings.
She said the counsellor said we should think of things we did that weren't right, even if the other person wronged us far more than we wronged them, because the only way we can complete the communication is by being entirely truthful, so we don't live with a distorted picture of what things were really like.
It's difficult for me to want to think of anything I did that was wrong in that relationship, because I was so upset about what he did. Well, I did once spray perfume on him just before he went out with some of his male friends just for fun, and laughed when he got annoyed. And I did tend to be late sometimes for dates, and not really care when he complained. So the fault wasn't all his. But I don't think those things can have been why he broke up with me. Nothing I did was bad enough to deserve what he did.
But then, the counsellor said we're not supposed to be analysing things as if we're trying to work out reasons why things happened, but just thinking of things we need to apologise for, forgive them for, and other things we'd like them to know, so it's like having closure on the relationship.
Well, that's allright then. I must resist the temptation to start getting depressed, ruminating on what I may or may not have done to deserve the break-up. That wouldn't do any good. We're only supposed to be thinking of statements we'd like to make to finish the communication with them, so we can get on with the future with a less cluttered mind.
I suppose I have wondered sometimes over the years whether the things I did had an influence on his behaviour. But I don't regret breaking up with him that much, because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have married David. But maybe now's the time to think of anything I did do wrong and put myself in the right by apologising in my letter to him, even though he'll never know because the counsellor said we shouldn't send the letters. If nothing else, writing these letters will be a good opportunity to get our feelings out of our systems.
The counsellor said we shouldn't ask the people we're writing to to forgive us in the letters, because they won't be around to do that, so it'll be like starting a new incomplete communication with them. So we should just apologise. That way, it's one-sided, and achieves our goal really.
Perhaps I'll read the letter for my ex-boyfriend to Sarah as well when I've done it. But I'm not sure I really want her to know all about it. Nothing to do with her; I suppose I just feel a bit ashamed of talking to her about being seriously involved with someone else before I got involved with her dad. I don't suppose I need to really. She probably wouldn't mind. But I think I'd still feel a bit more comfortable reading it to someone else.
She said the counsellor said that ideally, we should work through our grieving process with a companion who's also bereaved for support, but if we can't find one, we can read the letter to someone else we trust, like a friend or family member, or a respected authority figure we know, or if we can't find anyone, out loud at the grave side if the person's died, or in front of a picture of the person or something; but it's better if we can find someone.
I'll have a think. Perhaps I could ask the pastor who held David's funeral if he'd mind listening, even though the letter's not about David. He did seem sympathetic to my feelings. I hope he's trustworthy so it wouldn't go any further than that, but then, I don't know many of the people he knows anyway. I'd have to explain the thinking behind all this to him.
The counsellor said that if we can't find anyone to read a letter to, so we decide to read it in front of a picture or something, it will still help, but it will be best to keep the letter, in case we do find someone to read it to as well at some time in the future.
She said it's important to give the person listening to our letter instructions on what to do and what not to do, because otherwise, things can go very wrong. And we have to make sure they agree with all the instructions before we read our letter to them.
I'm glad I wrote these ones down as well. I'll think through them all.
I think I'll pass those instructions on in writing to anyone I read my letters to, apart from Sarah of course, who'll already know them.
Sarah said the counsellor said that if we can't tell some of the people we're writing to that we miss them, we can say something else at the end of our letters like, "Goodbye. I've got to go. I'm letting go of the pain now."
I think I'll say something like that in my letter to that boyfriend who broke up with me.
I think I'll write to my still-born child after that. The thing is, I was really upset about losing her, but I can't think of any positives and negatives about the relationship really, because we didn't have much of one at all before she died. But I could still write her a letter along fairly similar lines. I think I will. I think it could say something like:
Dear Baby Sandra
I'm very sorry you died before I even got to know you. I want you to know how much I'd have appreciated you if you'd lived. I bought you clothes and toys, and I looked forward to playing with you. I expect that if you'd lived, you'd have grown up just as talented and pretty as my other daughters.
I want you to know that although your loss was painful, something positive has come out of it. You taught me to appreciate my other children more. You taught me how precious every moment with them was, since I realised I might not have them forever. I want to thank you for teaching me that.
I love you. I miss you. Goodbye Baby Sandra.
I'll read that letter to Sarah.
Next, I'm going to work on my feelings for my younger brother. I regret being nasty to him, excluding him from our games when we were little. I'd like to tell him how clever I thought he was. It's true that he could be a pest sometimes, like the time he threw some of my schoolbooks out of my bedroom window into the mud, so I'll forgive him for things like that. But I'll say I'd like him to know that he did often show a nice, sensitive personality, and I admired him for his skills in science subjects at school, and I feel sure he could have done well in life if he'd lived.
Then I'll write to each of my parents in turn. I know I knew Mum would probably die for nearly a year before she did, but there are still things I wish I'd said and would like to say. I think I didn't say them at the time because I was so concerned about her illness and her immediate comfort that I didn't really think about much else, and I didn't want to say anything to her about bad things, like the things I'm going to forgive her for, because I didn't want to upset her.
The counsellor said we can use this recovery process with any new losses or disappointments we have in life.
That sounds like a good idea.
I suppose I ought to decide what to do with David's things now. Now I've said goodbye to what was incomplete about our relationship, I don't feel as if I need to cling onto them anymore.
Sarah said the counsellor suggested we deal with different types of belongings in turn. So we could sort out the clothes first, for example.
She recommends we bring them all downstairs into the living room, and then sort them into three piles, the first pile of things we definitely want to keep, the second for things we're happy to sell or give away, maybe to charity shops or church sales or to other family members, and the third pile is for clothes we're not sure what to do with.
Sarah said the counsellor said it's best if we either have someone with us when we do this, or have someone who we know will be willing to listen on the other end of a phone line, so we can call them if we want to talk about any memory we get from thinking about any of the items of clothing, sad or happy, so we don't just start brooding on things and get more and more upset.
I'm glad Sarah offered to do that for me. We'll have to arrange a time when it's convenient for both of us, when I know she'll be there if I phone her.
She said the counsellor said it's best if we put the pile of clothes we're not sure about somewhere where we can store it, like in the garage or loft, and bring it back into the living room again in about a month's time, and then sort that one out into three piles like we did with the clothes last time, again with someone either with us or only a phone call away, so we can tell them about any memories we get when we think about the clothes, so we don't feel isolated and get upset.
She said we can put the 'don't know' pile we've sorted out from that one back in the place we're storing it until a month later, and then repeat the process of getting it out and sorting it into three piles, and then putting the next 'don't know' pile back where we're storing it, and keep doing the process until we've sorted everything out.
I think I'll do that.
No one can keep his griefs in their prime; they use themselves up.
The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.
The only cure for grief is action.
--George Henry Lewes
Well, I might feel better about my grief now, but what really scares me now is the loneliness. My living family have moved away. It's nice that Sarah talks to me on the phone sometimes. But not many people visit me. Maybe David and I shouldn't have moved here a few years ago. I knew more people where I used to live. I don't know many people here. I feel quite isolated. I haven't really got anyone to talk to around here. There are a couple of people I know who I enjoy speaking to sometimes, but I don't see them that often. I used to go out to places with David and really enjoy myself, but I wouldn't have the confidence to go on my own. And this house just seems so empty now. I'm scared my life will just be lonely till it ends.
I wonder though. I keep thinking I'll never meet anyone I can have a fulfilling relationship with again and I haven't got a chance of making new friends around here. But I wonder if that's really true. I wonder if the counsellor's right about loneliness and I could change my attitude by changing my thoughts. It was nice that she said some things to Sarah about loneliness as well as grief. Maybe now I'm feeling better than I was, I could set myself a challenge, like she suggested. I keep thinking that in all probability, no one will want to know me now. But why shouldn't they? And I think I've got no one to talk to. But there might be ways of finding people. So I could maybe start thinking more about what I could do.
Instead of thinking, "No one's interested in getting to know me", which I've noticed seems to be a habit of mine nowadays, I could try to remember to think, "What have I got to offer people, and how do I find them?" Instead of feeling unhappy because this is such an empty house now, I could think about how I could fill it, by inviting people round once I've got to know them. The thing is, that takes confidence! I don't feel confident at the moment. And I've no idea what I've got to offer people or whether they'd want it if I did. But maybe if I thought about it a bit, I could think of some things.
I don't really think I'm anything special. I don't think I've got many talents. I don't know what I could do. But then, thinking about it, there are things. If I did find a group of people to be friends with, I have got things to say that might interest some of the younger ones especially. Things have changed a lot since I was young, and there must be quite an interest in recent history, since there are often television programmes on about it. So I think I might have a lot of stories that people would be interested in. Maybe some people would love to hear all my stories about what it was like growing up after the war; and the naughtiest things I did at school; and Dad's job on the steam trains; and what holidays used to be like in the 1950s; and the stories my mum told us about growing up in the 1930s with all the unemployment, and without things people take for granted now like cars, electric kettles, central heating and things; or what it was like to be around at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis; or watching men land on the moon. I could tell people about how I used to play when I was a child, and what kind of entertainment there was for teenagers. I could tell people all about my uncle Simon who went to Hong Kong, and what he did there, or how my aunt Jenny rescued those two boys. I'm sure I could think of lots of interesting things to tell people really.
And I know I'm good at cooking. If I did find some way of making friends around here, once I'm feeling more confident, I could perhaps invite people around from time to time and cook them nice things.
I'll have to try to get some ideas about where I could find new friends.
In the meantime, I'll try to do what the counsellor said and start thinking that I don't need to feel lonely because I'm all alone in this house. I could plan for the future, and make this house more presentable for when I start feeling better and meet more people and invite some of them back here.
I know there are a few things that really need mending, like the food cupboard, and I can't do that because I left all that kind of thing to David so I never learned how. But at least I could brighten the place up by cleaning it and doing a bit of sewing and maybe painting. I could buy a few pictures to go on the walls to make the place look a bit more cheerful.
I wonder if there will be any craft fairs around here where I could buy pretty things for the house. I remember enjoying things like that years ago, and I know there are often nice things sold cheaply there.
I know they often hold things like that in church halls. I think that when I go past the churches in the neighbourhood, I'll make a special point of looking to see if they've got notices up about anything like that.
I know they do other things sometimes like amateur plays. Some of those could be fun. The thing is, I wouldn't want people coming up to me all the time asking if I go to their church. But maybe they wouldn't. After all, they're bound to invite more people to occasions like that than just the people who go there regularly, and other people who just see their notices while they're walking by might want to go as well. And anyway, while a play's on, or everyone's buying things from a craft fair, people will probably be too preoccupied a lot of the time to ask too many questions. I might make friends there.
If the atmosphere is nice and friendly, I could find out if they have craft fairs regularly, or bring and buy sales, and what other events they have. If I decide to go to other craft fairs or sales there, I might even make something for them, just to practise being creative again. I know I made a couple of nice soft toys for my children when they were young, so I know I'm quite good at things like that, and I do remember enjoying it.
Maybe if I met other people who enjoy doing artwork and we made friends, we could arrange to meet in each others houses a few times a week and do artwork together. It'll be nice to do that for the companionship. Maybe I'll meet other lonely people there, so we'd be helping each other.
Maybe we could find people to sell our work to and make money ourselves even. Or maybe we could give things away to places where people might like them.
I know some churches have lunch clubs for pensioners to get a good meal and meet up together. It might be nice to go to one of those if I find one; but maybe I'm still a little too young. I'm not sure how I feel about it. But maybe I could offer to help in one. I know I'm good at cooking, and I'd still get to meet quite a lot of people.
I feel a bit hesitant to go out and try meeting people though. I wonder if part of that's to do with fear of rejection. I do wonder if people will like me now I'm getting older, I'm too fat, I've got wrinkles, my clothes are probably old-fashioned, and I haven't been out of the house much for so long that I'm worried people will think I'm boring. But if I'm around other older people, some of those things shouldn't matter. And thinking about all the stories I could tell people, I can probably be more interesting than I think, to both old and young people.
I've heard that people can desensitise themselves to rejection by trying to think, "Well, if that person doesn't like me, another person probably will". When I do start getting out more, I could set myself an exercise. If I find an environment I feel comfortable going to, I could make it my goal to introduce myself to ten people over a fortnight, and see how many reject me. Even if half don't want to know me, it could at least mean I've made five new friends. Not bad! If I manage to introduce myself to that many people, I might have some really interesting conversations. And even if people don't seem to want to know, it might not mean they don't like me, but just that they've got other things to do. Anyway, a lot of the people I meet might be old like me, so they might have quite a bit of time on their hands, and they might be even more in decline than me, so I don't really have to feel that self-conscious.
But like I was thinking, some young people might be really interested in some of my stories about the past. Maybe some young people would be interested in some of my talents as well, like making cakes, since I've heard they don't learn that kind of thing in schools nowadays. I did enjoy learning that kind of thing when I was growing up, so if I started inviting people with kids home at some point, some of them might enjoy making things with me.
I'll think about what other talents I've got. It might be interesting to ask myself what I'd like to do if I thought about all the things I know of value that would be worth passing on to other people. What would I like to pass on while I've still got time, because it would be a shame when I could no longer pass my knowledge on to people when I died? Even if it's just stories that would entertain them, or even cleaning tips. I expect I've accumulated quite a lot of useful knowledge over the years. I'll think about it.
I wonder if I could find the phone numbers of old friends again. I don't know if they'll still live where they lived when I was in touch with them, but it might be worth trying any numbers I can find. I shouldn't have lost contact with them really. It would be nice to chat to them again. The thing is, I'd hate to find out that some of them had died. But on the other hand, if they haven't, it would be nice to speak to them again while there's still time.
If the internal griefs of every man could be read, written on his forehead, how many who now excite envy would appear to be the objects of pity?
It is foolish to tear one's hair in grief, as though sorrow would be made less by baldness.
Grief at the absence of a loved one is happiness compared to life with a person one hates.
--Jean de la Bruyère, (1645-1696, French satiric moralist)
At least now I'm getting better, I've got some things I can be thankful for.
It's interesting that Sarah said that the support group leader she spoke to said that when we're recovering, we might look back and reflect that a lot of the things we were frightened would happen didn't, like never feeling like going out again.
Yes, I do feel more like doing that now, and I was more worried than I needed to be. I think having that long think I just had about how I could go about starting to go out again and how I didn't need to be so lonely helped a lot though.
She said the support group leader said that now we're getting better, we should try to focus more on the future, and the things we still have the opportunity to do while there's time for us to do them.
Well, I am beginning to do that now.
She said the support group leader said it might help us if we look back at what our life was like with the people we've lost and try to work out if we're a better person for having loved them, or whether we've learned any positive lessons from being with them.
I think being with David and having children, and being a decent parent most of the time, showed me that I can be a caring person.
And I think I'm wiser for having loved and lost him and the others I grieved over. I know now that grieving people can't be expected to heal in a set length of time. Also, maybe sometimes I can help people with difficulties raising children, by making suggestions based on what I did that worked.
Another thing is that I've learned how important it is to tell people how you feel about them, so I could make people happier by letting them know I appreciate them in the future.
I'm more considerate with people, because I know how valuable people are now I know how upsetting it can be to lose them.
So I know this experience has made me a better person. I'll think of other positive things that have come out of it.
The support group leader said that once we feel we're well on the way to mending, it'll be good if we start doing new things that we think we might enjoy.
Well, yes, I've been thinking about that.
She suggested we might go to new places and meet new people.
I don't really feel confident about doing that at the moment, but I'll think about it.
Thinking about it, maybe I could start off building my confidence up in little ways, maybe by just making small talk with shop assistants and people at bus stops at first.
She suggested we might feel good if we refresh the look of our house by redecorating it or at least giving it a good Spring clean.
Yes, I think I'd feel better if I did that, because I'd be doing something productive.
She suggested we could buy, or even make some new clothes.
Actually, I have made some clothes in the past. I haven't done it for years. But it might be good to get into practise again and make something.
She suggested we take up old interests that we gave up but would still like to do, and learn some new things.
Actually, I never went back to college in the end. But now my mind's clearer, maybe learning something would still be fun. Nothing too intensive. But perhaps I could take an evening class at the local college or somewhere, or go to a pottery class, or learn a craft like that. Actually, it would be nice to learn embroidery. I wonder if there's a class near here. And I'd like to know more about gardening. I used to enjoy that. I'd like to meet other people who do, who could maybe give me some new ideas about what to do. I don't know if there would be anywhere around here where people interested in that could all get together to do things, but it would be nice if there is. When I'm feeling up to it, I'll go to the local college and ask about what kinds of things they do in the evenings, and where else I'd be able to find interesting classes on things. I'd meet new people if I did that. Then I wouldn't be lonely anymore, and I think I'd start enjoying myself.
The support group leader said that now we're recovering and in a better position to make decisions, it'll be good if we make the most of the freedom we now have to choose what we want to do and when we want to do it, by making new fulfilling plans that help us look forward to the future, and help us organise our homes and our lives again. She said we'd benefit by doing things that would help us meet new people and make new friends, like attending any public meetings or social events, or plays or concerts or things, where we think we might meet people who share our interests.
She said it might be rewarding if we try to pluck up the courage to go alone.
I'll have to think about that one!
Actually, in the local paper, it'll probably have a list of some of the things going on around here, so I think I'll start looking at it.
She recommends that we talk to the neighbours more, and don't be afraid to introduce ourselves to strangers.
It's easy for her to say! But it might be easier if I knew they shared my interests, like if we were both at the same evening class.
Actually, she has recommended that if we're not happy about going alone to things, we look for groups of people who share our interests, saying we might find some in the Yellow Pages under 'associations' or 'clubs'. Then when we go on our own, we'll at least know that the people we meet will be a bit like us.
That could be good. Maybe there are groups of people who do things related to gardening and other things I'd like to do.
It's nice that she said we shouldn't feel guilty about enjoying ourselves.
I sometimes feel as if it'll be like implying that David didn't mean much to me if I do, but I don't think I need to feel like that. After all, I'm sure he'd want me to be happy. And I know how upset I have been up until recently.
She recommended that as we're getting better, we do things we enjoy and that make us pleased and happy as much as we can.
She said that as we recover, our sense of appreciation for things like the wonders of nature will probably return, like the enjoyment we get from watching sunsets, or any awe or nice feelings we feel when we look at beautiful scenes in the countryside or children having fun together.
Maybe I could take more walks in the countryside to enjoy nature. I'll see if there's a walkers' group in my neighbourhood and make enquiries about joining it. I don't think I'll feel up to walking miles with them yet, but I could see what they do anyway. A walk that isn't too fast might be allright. And it would be nice for the companionship.
I'm glad the support group leader suggested a few tips on ways of getting people talking. I'm a bit out of practice with that. I never used to have any problem with conversation. But I think my lack of confidence is making me worry I won't know what to say.
She said we can get people talking to us when we meet them, by thinking up questions for them that require more than just a yes or no answer, like asking questions beginning "Tell me", or "How", or "What", or "Why".
She said it's important to smile at people, since then they're more likely to think we're friendly and want to talk to us.
Yes, that makes sense.
But it's interesting what she says about how even if we don't feel like smiling, even putting on the expression can put us in a better mood.
I wonder if that really does work sometimes. I'll try it.
And she said a smile will attract people to us so we'll hopefully soon cheer up a bit anyway.
Yes, I imagine that's probably true.
She's recommending we offer to drive new friends home after evening classes or social events or invite them out for a cup of coffee, and share phone numbers with them.
If I find people I feel confident with, I'll think about that.
She suggested we might follow up interests in things by getting books and videos on the subjects we're keen to know more about.
Actually, I've always had an interest in history. Perhaps I could find some videos about historical events, like the invention of railways and early trains. And then when I do meet people, I'll be able to tell them about them if they're interested, so it'll give us more to talk about.
She said we can learn to enjoy being alone by doing things we enjoy on our own. But she said it's best if we don't indulge in too much of an interest we're following up alone in one go, but intersperse the times when we're doing that with the times when we're meeting other people, so we don't get lonely.
Maybe when I've made new friends, I could invite them round to watch interesting videos with me.
And I could cook nice things for them. I'm sure I'm still good at cooking.
Maybe if I meet people who share my interests, we could sometimes go on outings together, like to visit museums of old trains or things.
The support group leader said another way we could make ourselves feel better about ourselves is if we try to work towards a goal we set to help us improve something about ourselves, like losing weight or giving up smoking.
Well, that could be a good idea, but even if I decide to lose a bit of weight, it'll still be nice to cook calorie-rich things on special occasions. But I don't suppose that would be a problem. And I know really that I do need to lose some weight, and if I do, I'll probably start feeling better about myself. I've been eating a lot for comfort. But I know it's a bad habit, and now I'm feeling a bit better, it might be nice to have something to aim for, like slimming a bit.
She said we shouldn't be too demanding with ourselves about our goals. But she said it might be good if we set a realistic goal, and then we can be pleased with ourselves when we've achieved it.
Yes, I'll think about how to go about it.
She said that at the same time, it'll be good if we note down the positive qualities we have, and try to do more things that show them, like if we're helpful in certain ways and it would make us feel good to do more things that bring out that side of ourselves. And she said that when we do that, we'll raise our self-esteem because we'll have more pride in ourselves, so if compliments or other forms of approval have been difficult for us to accept before, it might well be easier.
That sounds good. I'll think of things I know are good about myself and write them down. Then, I'll try to think of ways I could use those qualities more, to make my life more fulfilling.
But she said we shouldn't strive for perfection in ourselves, or expect too much from others, like saying things to ourselves that'll make things more difficult or upsetting , by thinking things like, "I should" or "I must" be doing this or have this, or, "Things ought to be as good as they once were before I'll be happy"; because people often forget the bad times anyway so they think they were better than they were; or "I'll never" do that, or "I wish" things were different, or whatever; since if it means we're striving for perfection in our lives, or hoping for perfection in our surroundings before we'll be happy, it means we're being unrealistic, and we'll be happier if we're satisfied with what we have, or what we know we can realistically achieve or start doing more of.
The support group leader said that if we start to feel self-pitying, a good antidote to that is doing things for other people; and that will get us out and give us companionship as well, and make us feel better because we'll be doing something of value for the community, so we'll benefit from it, and the people we're helping will as well.
Yes, that sounds reasonable.
She said it'll be nice for us to give back to the community after people in it have helped us when we needed it.
That's an interesting way of thinking of it. She seems to be saying it'll be nice to give back to the community even if we're not helping the same people who helped us.
Well, when I start feeling more energetic, I don't think I'll wait till I feel self-pitying before I follow that suggestion. I need the confidence to start doing some of the things she recommends though. Maybe if I start doing things gradually, if I enjoy them, it'll give me the confidence and motivation to do more and more over time.
I'll think about these suggestions she made about what people can do for others:
When I'm doing things that give me more of an interest in life, and I'm feeling good about myself because I know I'm doing something valuable for people, perhaps I just won't feel lonely anymore, even when I'm spending time on my own, because I'll be so full of happy plans and hopeful, fulfilling feelings, and good memories of the companionship and enjoyable things I've just done and hope to do again, that I'll enjoy my own company far too much to be lonely. I think the more I like myself, the more I'll enjoy being alone with myself.
It's nice that the support group leader said it's allright to ask other people for help with things we need ourselves, like a plan we want to put into action. But she said we shouldn't allow ourselves to become dependent on their approval or help before we do it.
Well, I hope anyone I volunteer to help doesn't become dependent on me in any way! But if I work for them in an official capacity as a member of an organisation, and I'm only programmed in to visit them once or twice a week and not outside those times, things should be allright, because they won't think they have the right to be too demanding. Maybe I could get a bit of work in a charity shop, and meet lots of different people. That way, I won't be risking people becoming dependent on me and asking me to do more than I'm happy with. But perhaps that wouldn't happen with most people anyway. And if it did happen with anyone, I could always just politely tell them that seeing them more isn't part of my remit as a volunteer, and if they think they need extra help, they can contact the organisation.
Anyway, it's thought-provoking that she said that if the people we ask to help us don't want to, we'll benefit if we don't think of it as a rejection, but simply conclude that they have other things in life they'd prefer to be giving attention to right now. That way, we'll be happier about asking for help, because we won't see a refusal as a rejection of us. So we'll be happier to ask more people. And that way, we're more likely to find someone who'll agree to do what we'd like them to.
I think that sounds sensible.
It's interesting that she said that if we feel scared to go out and do new things, we can train our brains to think of fear differently, as if the feelings it's giving us are really feelings of excitement and eagerness to do things, and not dread of them. After all, we get the same feelings with all of those emotions, butterflies in the stomach, the heart beating a bit faster, and extra energy. So maybe what we think the feelings are is just to do with the way we interpret them.
So if when I get those feelings, I can try to interpret them as excitement about going out, then I'll maybe give it a try, and probably end up enjoying myself. I'll see if I can.
She's suggested things we can do to relieve our tension if we like, like exercise.
But she said that if we're bothered about something specific that really is worthy of concern, we can use any worry we have about it as the energy we need to get things done, and to think of ways to resolve what we're concerned about.
Well, I'll think about that. It's an interesting idea. I know I do worry too much. Most of the time, I don't come to any conclusions about what to do. So it might be nice to try to think of the emotion worry makes me feel as energy meant to motivate me to think of what to do.
I think it's helpful that she said we might sometimes feel worse again and not be sure why, but that we shouldn't worry that we're sinking back into emotional torment again, because when we think about it, it might be because a song has just played on the radio that both we and someone we've been grieving for thought a lot of, or an anniversary's coming up, or something like that. So we'll know we'll feel better again soon, and we can plan to do something enjoyable and comforting for ourselves on special occasions.
I'm glad she reassured us that special occasions will probably be less and less upsetting as time goes on, especially since we'll know how to deal with them from dealing with the loss the first time, and we'll get over them faster.
She said it'll be good if we try to be open to new close relationships with people, rather than thinking we could never have another one because a loss of it would be too painful, like we probably did at first.
At my age? Well, I suppose there's always the possibility of that happening at some time in the future.
She said that when we're feeling well again, it might be nice if we throw a party to celebrate feeling good again, and invite all our friends and the people who've helped us through our grief, as a thank you as well as a celebration of being well again.
Well, I'm not sure I'm feeling up to organising a party in my house! I'll have to get on with that Spring cleaning at first anyway. But it might be nice to have some kind of get-together when I have, although I haven't got that many friends nowadays. Maybe I'll have made a few more by the time I feel like doing this. I'll think about who's around anyway.
And she suggested we ask each of the people who helped us to bring one of their friends to the get-together.
That could be nice. It would mean I'd meet new people, and might make more friends myself.
And if I asked them to bring items of food, it would be easier for me.
If I don't feel up to organising a get-together for a while, I think I'll at least send thank you cards or little presents to the people who helped me by listening and supporting me when I was upset. I do appreciate what they did.
The support group leader said we can congratulate ourselves on having come through what we have intact, and that we deserve to celebrate having made it.
This article is written slightly differently from most articles. Most of the information in each article in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, usually either to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and presents all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.
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Naomi is grief-stricken after her husband David dies of a brain haemorrhage in his mid 60's. She's a few years younger.
One of the reasons she's so distressed is because it was so sudden. He went to work one morning and nothing seemed to be wrong, but by the evening, he'd died.
Being alone again after so many years with him is a shock, and is taking some getting used to.
Another reason she's so upset is that he was due to retire in only a few months, and they had so many plans to enjoy themselves.
Since he died, Naomi has been staying indoors on her own a lot. She's becoming lonely, but doesn't feel cheerful or energetic enough to go out much. She sometimes feels despairing, and she's often tired, and sometimes she doesn't seem to be able to concentrate very well on anything. She begins to suffer from anxiety. She's worried that her mental health's declining, and afraid that she'll be alone forever.
One day, one of her grown-up daughters, Sarah, tells her she's spoken to a bereavement counsellor and a grief support group leader, too far away for Naomi to visit, but they've both given Sarah some information on dealing with grief. She says that unlike many bereavement counsellors who would mainly just listen, this one's given her some interesting advice, and the support group leader's given her some helpful suggestions as well. Sarah passes them all on to Naomi over the space of a few weeks, and she thinks about them. She finds them helpful.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
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