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You Are Not Alone in Your Grief, No Matter How 'Messy' It Is

Five years ago, I came head to head with grief, and ever since, I’ve been muddling my way through this strange journey.

Grief is, in its own right, a spectrum of emotion. No two people will experience the same grief, and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. When I first experienced grief in late 2015, I often found myself wondering how exactly I was dealing with it. I couldn’t see myself facing it day by day, understanding it, and accepting it. I never realized that grief is one of those overwhelming things we as humans, flawed and insecure, adapt to.

It’ll leave you tired from the smallest task, unsure and confused. Grief plays mischief with your mind with a tempting flavor of the past. When I first felt grief, there was an overwhelming temptation to spend most of my waking day wallowed in brief moments of escape, forgetting the reality of my loss and feigning some sort of stability in a world that felt like it had been turned upside down.

Grief, especially in the last two years, has been faced by more and more of us. As humans, we’ve realized grief is inevitable, an uncomfortable realization we all have to face. Perhaps it’s a little pathetic, but when I first felt grief, I was almost thankful. At least there was something filling the void left by the person I’d lost. Obviously that thanks was retracted when I realized grief made that void feel deeper, a never-ending ravine of memories and emotion I just can’t stop myself from glancing into.

Grief, when we first meet it, often feels raw and messy. There seems to be little comfort for those of us facing this overwhelming inevitability. There is no plaster that can be applied to hide loss from your life and grief can, in its nature, be destructive.

Grief, as we all know, isn’t a 12-month phenomenon. It’s not something that can be cured from a simple dose of antibiotics and there is no preventative vaccine we can use to protect ourselves from its shadowy presence. UK mental health charity, Mind, says grief is difficult for people to process and acknowledge because “There is no time limit on grief, and this varies hugely person to person.” Explaining that the time spent grieving will be “different for everybody and depends on factors such as the type of relationship, the strength of attachment or intimacy to the person who died, the situation surrounding their death, and the amount of time spent anticipating the death.”

In my first experience of grief, one of the most difficult possibilities to process was how confused I felt. For a while, everything I thought, said, or did felt rusty, foggy, and confusing. I felt the need to scrutinize everything I did or said; and whenever, God forbid, I felt a brief glimmer of happiness, it was tinged with a hefty amount of guilt.

I suppose that, at first, the way I dealt with grief could be seen as a little macabre, not the advice recommended in your average self-help book. I think however it’s important. It’s allowed me to accept grief for what it is and live with the memories I have. You can’t hide from the memories you have, but you can use them. I think when we first feel grief, it’s commonplace to skirt around the subject of our loss, to shut down any conversation that may reference what we go through in grief and to mask our grief beneath a well-poised smile and relay a facade of happiness, so any onlookers are oblivious to the pain and insecurity faced in grief.

That’s why you have to talk about it. Moan if you have to. Lament your losses and scream if need be. Grief that’s sent inward, crushed, and hidden is heavy and unbearable. When we acknowledge it with others and share it, the burden is lighter. It still hurts, but when we share grief, we often find it easier to get our heads around this uncomfortable, unavoidable truth.

Sharing our experiences of grief also helps tackle the taboo surrounding death. Nowadays, death is the elephant in the room, the unpalatable subject that’s glaringly obvious, but never bought up. While we might not find it easy to talk about, now more than ever, we need to. A 2014 ComRes public survey in the UK found 83% of people were uncomfortable talking about death, dying and grief. Age UK says that while death and dying often feel like a taboo subject, talking openly about them and even involving young people in conversations about death, can make them seem like easier concepts to understand and less overwhelming when we do experience grief and loss.

One of the things I took firmest comfort in when I first felt grief was memory. If I could at least remember beautiful glimpses of those I’d loved that I had been left with, all the grief seemed a little less sharp and stagnant. Sometimes I forgot that they were gone at all.

Even now the taste of chocolate lime sweets still takes me back to trips in my nan’s car, sticking my chubby little hand into the glove pocket in search of a tasty treat. The smell of Chanel No. 5 perfume reminds me of the warmest hugs, and the smell of acrylic paint takes me back to watching my grandad paint, in awe of the love and dedication he gave each of his pieces. Sometimes remembering is bittersweet, but I know I’d rather that than lose the memories I burrowed away all those years ago.

While grief is unique for each and every one of us, the one regularity is that it is just as painful and overwhelming. It’s something that, despite centuries of human evolution, we still find scary and overwhelming. We often feel unable to face up to our grief, acknowledge it, and own it. Falling victim to a “brave face” and burying our grief behind a cheery smile and relaxed facade — this is what makes grief deeper and often unbearable.

Seek solace in the knowledge you are never alone in your grief. Losing a loved one is a confusing and scary process that nothing can prepare you for. Grief, although it feels isolating, is a shared experience and until acknowledged and accepted, will continue to play havoc with any sense of calm or reality. Please never feel guilt for your grief, feeling broken by your loss is not unusual and you have every right to feel the way you do, whether that be angry, sad, confused, or all of the above. In my experience, grief is, at first, all-encompassing, but it does get easier. Joy does come back and while it doesn’t stop you from missing those you have lost, you will, one day, remember them with a smile, thankful you shared the time you did.

A version of this story was originally published on The Mad Hatter’s Tales.

Getty image by Katrin Vasileva