Grow through grief? That sounds absurd. We all experience sorrow in some way in our lives but we seldom talk about it, much less entertain the idea that we can grow through grief. I hope to give you a better understanding for the nature of sorrow and how we can relate to ourselves in sorrow or to others when they experience sorrow.
My background and the reason I believe it is so important to lift this matter up is because I lost my son in suicide 2004 and noticed that people I met did not quite know how to behave in front of me when they understood I had lost my son in suicide.
Later, when I had started to help others that had lost near and dear ones in suicide, mostly parents like myself, I understood that many didn’t have tools at all to deal with their own sorrow.
I am convinced that we need to talk more about sorrow, grieving and emotions from losses so you know when it happens how to handle yourself and others in sorrow.Monica Petersson
I will start by asking the taboo question: Who has the right to mourn and is there sorrow that is more valued than any other sorrow?
It’s 19 years since my son took his life and I have met a lot of people that are grieving in one way or another. I have also met people who compare grief and who assign different values to grief depending on what you are mourning and how the loss occurred.
I don’t think you can compare grief in that way or that somebody’s grief is more ”right” than any others.
Sorrow has many faces and is experienced in different ways. There is so much that matters in how grief is experienced. Each person has their own conditioning to handle losses and every loss must be put into context.
I want to give a few examples and I start with myself.
During all the years that my son was using drugs, I experienced a huge grief over what I called “my lost son”. The drugs changed my son’s personality and I missed what was once my son so terribly. Periodically he was drug-free and then his “old self” returned.
But then he relapsed again and became that person I didn’t recognize and who hurt me so much. I missed my son so much, my heart broke. Over and over, every day, I was reminded of the change in his personality in various actions that he did. Every day I woke up with this sadness and every day it was diluted further by things he did or said that hurt me even more. He lived but I mourned him every day, and I was also reminded every day. It was a sorrow without end.
The day he took his life, another sorrow began. It was a final sorrow and I knew it would not be diluted any further. It was also a different kind of pain and loss. At the same time, I thought that at least he had found peace. There was a comfort in that sorrow.
After all, I’m a mom and I don’t want my son to suffer. He suffered when he was alive and that was also a sorrow in itself. I have now lived with the grief after him for 19 years, and people who have met me during those years have no idea of my loss unless I tell them myself. My sorrow is not visible to others and I have a good life with many joys. Above all I really love life.
Grow Through Grief in Other Situations
Grief can also come from losing your job, for example. It can be a job that you have had for a long time and therefore identify with. You may have built your whole life around your job with socializing, starting a family, buying a house and other things.
A person who then loses his or her job may feel like they’ve lost his or her whole life. Maybe you even have to get rid of a house, car and other things that you can no longer afford. You may experience friends who turn their backs on you when you can no longer hang out in the same way anymore.
One may feel like it’s been a divorce, because in all life changes, everything is put on the spot and you have reason to reevaluate things in life.
It can be a complete disaster for the person who loses their job and the grief can be very deep. I myself have both lost and changed jobs many times in my life. It just means nothing to me now that I’ve learned to grow through grief.
But do I have the right to say that my grief is worse than someone else’s? No I do not think so. Someone may have lost a pet: a dog, cat or a guinea pig. That pet may have meant everything to that person.
It could be a person who is not feeling well mentally or who is just lonely and the pet may have been what made the person still have joy in life. Then the joy of life dies with the pet.
I have had good conditions to process my grief. I could find comfort in the midst of all the sadness.
I can’t say that my grief is worse than anyone else’s and I can’t tell anyone else that they can handle their loss better, just because I have been able to process the grief and loss in such a way that I was able to create a new, good and happy life after my grievous loss.
Nor can I say that my grief is less than anyone else’s. It is simply my sorrow, just like everyone else has their own sorrow.
As I wrote in the introduction, it can be difficult for many to handle the grief that comes after a loss. Instead of counteracting feelings that are troublesome and thus focusing on them, you can use strategies that make you feel good and that help you to come to an acceptance.
I had several different strategies and I also had an absolutely wonderful friend who insisted on taking me to birthday parties, different events and other fun. At the time I didn’t think it was very funny at all, and I remember sitting by myself at a party and feeling sad when they played a song that reminded me of my son.
But today I am so incredibly happy that my sadness with heavy feelings and memories of my son was mixed with new memories; new, created memories in completely new contexts.
All my friends knew what had happened to me and they just checked on me when I felt sad and let me be with my thoughts when needed and drew me into the togetherness when I needed that.
Shortly after, they respected me and my condition and let me go through my mourning and still be there as pure loving friends. Still today, when I think about this I get teary-eyed with gratitude that fills my heart.
Strategies I adopted were going to different places that had been meaningful to both of us when he was alive. I went to these places and was just there, in my emotions and with thoughts of the past, present and future.
I wasn’t there to hold on to the memories or reinforce them, but I was there to make a closure. These visits to our places had the same purpose as a funeral ceremony where you say a symbolic farewell.
I revisited the locations several times and each time it felt a little different. Each time it felt a little better and each time I felt more whole.
I saved some clothes that I put in a plastic bag. The clothes obviously smelled just like my son. In the beginning, when I was really sad, I could take out the bag and sit with an article of clothing close to me. It was like a dear old blanket for children, I admit, but at the same time it also became so clear that he himself was no longer there.
That way I could process directly with the emotions as the sense of smell does not bypass the logical brain. The longer time went by, the less often I took out the bag, and after it had just been in the wardrobe for several years, I threw it away without any particular regret.
Another thing I did was to create a memorial corner, in the same way that the Japanese have a shrine. In fact, the memory corner looks like a shrine with things that I bought in Japan. I am still amazed how this technique helped me grow through grief. In the beginning, I always had a flower broom with live flowers and lit candles. Now I have a broom with dried cotton and I only light the candles occasionally.
Finally, one important thing I made was to write a note with a nice frame and some words for myself in happy, nice colors as a reminder. I put that note up in the bathroom and read it aloud every time I was there. The words became my mantra and go as follows:
I will think ahead.
I will take care of myself
And give myself things
that makes me feel good
and be happy.
Sorrow can cope without extra nutrition.
That’s why I’m going to give myself
and good in life.
I’m going to tell you something that others may not have thought of. And it is that we can only have one thought at a time and likewise one feeling at a time.
This means that if we fill our thoughts with things that make us happy and make us feel pure love, there will be no room for any other thoughts or feelings.
Another trick is to trick ourselves into being happy or downright loving. You may have heard of the trick to pull on the smile when you are sad because then you will soon be happy again. The reason it works is because the brain is constantly checking our hormones that give us emotions to make them consistent with our use of muscles, body positions and movements.
So when we smile, signals go to the brain from the smiling muscles that they are active, but when the brain checks it out, it notices that there are no happy hormones that match the active muscles around the mouth. Immediately the brain gives orders for happy hormones to be pumped into our system.
After all, we cannot have active happy smiling muscles together with sad hormones. The brain does not agree to that. The brain prioritizes what is active with us.
When I was sad and felt almost stuck in that state, I could stand in front of the mirror and make silly faces at myself. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself then. And it’s not that I didn’t want to allow myself to be sad, it’s that emotions need to be in motion, otherwise they become completely acidified like stagnant water.
In those moments when I was so deeply sad that I had a hard time getting out of that state, I came up with these tricks in front of the mirror. If it was rainy weather, I could go out into the rain and let the tears mix with the raindrops while the body was moving and helping the emotions to move as well.
Sometimes I could jump in the puddles like a child and then I would be silly happy. When emotions stand still or are repressed, they risk turning into soured bitterness and I didn’t want that.
How can we respond to someone in grief?
When we are in grief, it is very easy to isolate ourselves and it can be difficult for others to know how to respond to someone in grief when they withdraw. Of course, it can be difficult to know even when we meet others who are in grief at the workplace or in other contexts.
One thing that can be very good to keep in mind is: communicate! Dare to ask! Tell them that you are thinking about the person, that you care, that you are worried or whatever you feel you want to say.
Dare to ask if there is something you can help with. Dare to ask if the person wants company. Another important thing to keep in mind is that you should do things for others that make you feel good too.
And it can feel really good to maybe just hold another person who is in acute grief or just be there and listen when a person in grief needs to talk.If you have the strength and patience to stay and listen, even if you’ve heard before what that person wants to talk about, do it. It can mean a great deal to the person who is grieving.
I really appreciated my friend taking me to activities and inviting me home so I came outside my own door and asked if I wanted to go for walks. And I was so comfortable with her that I felt I could talk about anything I wanted without thinking how she would take it. Because I also knew that she would say no if it would be too much for her.
Even more than then, I appreciate today the memories I got from doing things, experiencing nature and having a loving friend by my side.
Likewise, relationships have taken on a deeper meaning when some friends disappeared after my son’s suicide. Partly because I couldn’t keep the relationships alive and partly because it became emotionally difficult for some to have a mother so close who has lost her child to suicide.
I understand that and can only feel respect, because as I said before, it is important that everyone does things that they feel good about themselves.
Last but not least, dare to talk about the person who has passed away. Even if the person is no longer alive, the memories will live forever with those who remain.
The big difference between people who are alive and people who are no longer with us is that we can constantly create new memories with those who are alive but we can only cherish the memories that exist with those who are no longer with us.
I want to finish with a blog post I wrote 2008 in a Swedish blog of mine that I had at that time.
SUCH IS THE NATURE OF GRIEF
It is like a stormy autumn that grabs hold of you and moves you around so that everything that has stood straight falls down. A few isolated sticks remain, and everywhere the windfall lies and exposes large open wounds. That is the nature of grief.
But the storms eventually die down, don’t come as often, and eventually winter comes with its protective blanket. You wonder what will happen when the snow melts, because you know that everything has changed and you yourself have changed. Spring is coming, and with it the occasional gust of wind. But that’s okay.
In March there might be an extra blizzard, completely unprepared, and we’ll freeze a little and wonder if hell won’t end at some point. And we miss so much so we go crazy.
But nature takes its course, so does also the nature of grief. Spring is coming and the windswept nature is full of new life. It’s not at all like before, but at least it’s life. Lots of little things that work on full time. Already in the first year, new shoots shoot forth, and one or two seeds that would never otherwise have found their way to us have been able to take root.
After a few years, it’s hard for others to see what you’ve been through, because you’ve grown so much, and it’s beautiful for others to experience. Only we ourselves know how the storms felt. We can be a little fragile and sensitive for too harsh weather, but over the years we become stronger, because all the new things that grow up are made of very tough wood. We move on with our lives, live with the grief, what else can we do?
If you want to know more about important life strategies to use, not only for grieving, but for every situation in life, particularly if you want to change your life for something better, just click the link here.