By Kirsty Pearson, Mother, Well-Being Expert
When our son passed away, I remember one of the ladies at the hospice telling us not to be alarmed if people crossed the road when they initially saw us or if they tried to avoid us in some way.
She explained that this wasn’t because people didn’t care, but rather because they just don’t know what to say and they are frightened of getting it wrong. At this point, I hadn’t had much experience of grief (not in my adult years anyway) and I remember thinking ‘surely not’ – but she was right. In fact, the wide range of reactions to grief that I saw during those early days really got me thinking – why is it, when grief is such a natural part of our human experience, are we so unprepared for it? Why do we feel so uncomfortable around grief? And why do we seem to struggle so much to hold space for our own experiences of grief, as well as those of others?
The problem is that grief is raw and messy. Its edges are jagged and sharp. There is pain, darkness, and vulnerability in grief. We can’t control it or put it in a box. It brings with it physical discomfort and fear. So we try to hide away from it, in an attempt to dull the pain. We hide it behind a smile, as we tell people we are doing just fine – we are managing, that we are ok. This is often at great cost to our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing – as behind our mask our grief bubbles, threatening to overwhelm.
Society tells us that time is a great healer, and that we will get over our grief in time. It gives us timeframes in which we are expected to return to work, to get back to normal – it sets expectations of when we should have moved on by. When we can’t meet these timeframes and expectations, we can feel judged for this – we may well even judge ourselves. We feel as though we are getting it wrong. We can feel ashamed and inadequate because we are not moving on, because we are not getting over it in the way that others appear to be doing. In the depths of our grief, we are unable to see that others are wearing the same mask as us.
But in amongst the raw, messy, pain of grief – there is also beauty, deep love, and connection. We experience grief when we have lost something or someone significant to us. When our son died, I lost all that he was and all that he was to become – our present and future forever changed in a moment. The space he once physically held in my life, now a gaping, empty hole. The problem with this expectation to get over it and move on, is that it implies that in time we can go back to who we were before our loss. It doesn’t take into consideration that big gaping hole. It doesn’t acknowledge that grief is an expression of love – a deep love and connection that doesn’t end because that person is no longer physically present in our world. It doesn’t honour or recognise that, for all the reasons above, we are forever changed by our loss.
No, there is no moving on or getting over our grief – but rather a moving with it. It isn’t easy, in fact it is crazy hard, but we can move forward with our grief. To do this we need to learn how to sit with our grief in all its raw, painful, messiness. To hold space for those jagged and sharp edges – for all the vulnerability grief exposes. We need to rid ourselves of expectations, of judgement, and allow ourselves the space WE need to heal as individuals. We need to acknowledge and honour our personal experience. In doing so, those jagged edges begin to smooth and soften somehow. We can begin to learn to live with our grief – to move forward with it instead of hiding from it. We begin to grow and evolve around the hole they left behind and find joy as we remember all that they were with love and a smile. Of course, there is pain and sadness when we think of all they were yet to be and all that we have lost – but grief is an expression of love, and love is never lost. Where once they walked beside you, they now walk within and there is a great beauty in knowing that they are still a part of you – one that helps to soothe the overwhelm that once threatened to take hold.
It is often said that unresolved grief is at the root of many problems, so perhaps the most beautiful thing is – that when you hold space for your grief, you create space for others to do so too. When you share your truth, speaking openly and honestly about your experience in all its raw, messy, vulnerability – you create space for others to do so too. When others do this, they too create space for more people and so on – creating a beautiful ripple effect. The more that people share their experiences of grief – their real, honest, mask off experiences, then we can begin to change the narrative in society. We can begin to break down those timeframes and remove the expectations and fear of judgement. We can begin to remove the fear and discomfort and help to prepare future generations for this natural and inevitable part of our human experience.
It seems fitting to end with a quote from a poem I have written: –
‘I no longer fear my grief,
For now I see grief as an expression of love – that sometimes makes my eyes leak.
With my hand on my heart, I feel you.
For rooted deep within love and connection – I know you are always near’
Learn more about Kirsty here: