Grief awareness week: Navigating grief through safe spaces


We can experience grief at many different times and from many different events, with death and divorce being the two of the most common causes of grief in the UK. According to a recent study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience the death of a close loved one in any given year. And, according to the charity Relate, there are over 100,000 divorces in the UK each year.

Both death and divorce can be incredibly overwhelming times in a person’s life, resulting feelings of loss, isolation and despair. But whilst you are navigating these intense feelings and changes to your life, there is an undercurrent of logistics, legalities and finances that need to be addressed, adding to overwhelm.

In aid of National Grief Awareness Week 2023, Michelle Bassam – Psychological Therapist at London’s Harley Therapy, has shared how we can all be aware of our grief, and tips we can use to help relieve at least some of the overwhelm where possible.

1. Understanding the Five stages of grief

At some point in our lives, we have to face grief and the emotional feelings of loss. When working with clients it is important to understand how everyone faces this time of life at their own pace, with different priorities and personal needs.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross a Psychiatrist and Author talks about the five stages of grief. In therapy I work with the five stages. It is important to recognise this is nonlinear and in no set order.

  • Denial
    • This is common and individuals describe this as feeling numb and non-descript. As nothing excites, hence going about their everyday tasks. This can happen almost immediately after death. In our minds we know that a person has passed away, but the denial plays out in ways such as, thinking we have heard the deceased voice or even seen them in the room.
  • Anger
    • Our anger helps us mask our true feelings. It is a mask to hide the frustration, disbelief and sadness. We can carry painful emotions we are not used to processing. The anger can be deferred on to the person who has died or the family, who think they are trying to be helpful. This emotion can be expressed early on in the grieving process, for some it can subside, and rational thinking takes its place.
  • Bargaining
    •  Feeling vulnerability can bring out certain types of behaviour. You can feel out of control because of the intense emotion. ‘What if’ is the phrase I hear from clients. This is all related to not wanting to face the situation or allow oneself to feel the true pain and sadness. Followed by blaming themselves for not calling or taking more time.
  • Depression
    •  This is sometimes a longer and a quieter stage of grief. We start to face our emotions and feel the day-to-day feelings of loss. We are no longer running away. Starting to face the reality and cope with the intense sadness, can bring on this stage. Many people isolate, can feel confused, overwhelmed, and worthless. For many this is the stage where they start to look for outside help.
  • Acceptance
    •  This can take many months depending on how you have proceeded through the stages. You can still be in the depression stage and start to accept that life will be very different. Slowly as the depression starts to subside and you feel some good days may lie ahead, with the acknowledgement of accepting your new reality.

2. You are not alone

It’s important to recognise you are not alone. Everyone goes through this process differently, so it’s important to embrace the many different options you have. Family and friends are always a good starting point as they know you well. You need to try and be around warm, kind and uplifting people, who will help you through your emotions in a positive way. Cruse is a very good organisation to talk to or possibly join a group. Also, Therapy is a place where with the right therapist you can feel Psychologically held and be completely open and no longer feel alone – Harley Therapy is a great organisation if you want to have a chat with a therapist.

3. Easing back into routine

The time frame once again is different for us all. Think about your sleep, diet, and exercise.  Sleep is important and can influence our mood and ability to work through the day. Is your bedroom set up for sleep? Think temperature, light, comfort, is it cluttered. Does it feel calm? Are you able to relax? Your bedroom is your sanctuary, but it can be a place to dump unwanted things or things that need to be stored and dealt with at another time. If we don’t eat healthy, we are not going to be able to function and get back into a healthy routine. Be prepared, eat fresh food and resist takeaways. Rain or shine get out in fresh air every day, walking gives you time to think and work through thoughts in your mind that can be holding you back. So, forming a routine for yourself is important. Start your day with Gratitude, three things in the morning that you are grateful for and three things at night that you are grateful for about your day. Believe me it works. It’s worth taking time to write down your routine and how you would like your day/week to feel. We are thinking about the new normal for you and you are important.

4. Make Space for Your Feelings

During many times of grief, we often find ourselves gaining items or furniture – perhaps things a loved one has left behind for us to take care of. The addition of these items can often make us feel trapped or overwhelmed. Decluttering the space around us is important to give our mind a rest and room to breathe, but at this time, you may not feel ready to sort through everything or make big decisions on what we might want to keep. This is where thinking seriously about self-storage may be an option, if you’re in London – consider an off-site storage solution like Attic Self Storage – storing the belongings until your mind is ready to cope with the decluttering process can help to create a clear space to think, relax, create a routine and start to look after your own wellbeing. Having the option to store belongings, have a clear canvas, so not to feel heavy and overwhelmed is something that needs to be considered. Our mind finds it easier to focus and adjust in a de-cluttered space.

5. Memorable space

In your decluttered home it can be important to create a memorable space. Maybe a special place in the garden or lighting candles to feel closeness. We all have our memories but to be able to enjoy and treasure those memories we need to create space for something personal, beautiful and relaxing. So why feel guilty about putting things in storage, when it can give us more freedom to feel and start to move forward. Storage isn’t for life, it’s a positive option until emotionally the time is right.

6. Respect

In a multicultural melting pot, we all need to respect one another at this time. For many religions, ethnic groups and cultures, we live alone as our neighbours. An understanding that grief is expressed and respected and worked through in a personal way that enables the individual to come to acceptance and move on with life, is needed within the community.

We grieve as humans, not only over someone passing, maybe we have gone through a difficult divorce or break up, lost our job or had to downsize our home, old age, or terminal illness. When we have to face changes in life our mind can be affected by our physical surroundings, and we can lose our own identity. Take back control and remember you are important and explore what may work for you.

 

Michelle Bassam
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