As a culture, we are not very good at handling grief. We want to ‘get on with things’ or ‘be grateful for what we have’, or ‘not be stuck in the ‘past’ and so we quickly try to brush the grief under the carpet and move forward into the future. But as it goes with any emotion, if it is not acknowledged or processed, it stays inside you and eventually blocks your ability to engage with life fully and wholeheartedly.
While there are the obvious causes of grief, such as a death of a loved one, a breakup or divorce, there are as many non-obvious unacknowledged losses that we all have been carrying around throughout the COVID-19 era. These losses, such as the loss of normalcy, loss of routine, of spontaneity, of being able to see people’s faces, of our favorite small businesses, of colleagues who moved, the loss of the idea of certainty—the list goes on and one. These were all losses we all endured, but we dismissed them as ‘first-world problems’ and felt guilty to even name them because they did not seem big enough as other people’s losses.
And it isn’t just losses that bring about feelings of grief. Becoming a new mother, getting married, moving to a new country, getting a promotion, having your child graduate from high school are not life events that we would associate with grief, but the fact is that anytime there is a change, there is a loss. And yes, you can experience joy, but it is important to also name the loss of a life stage, life phase, a way of being, a home, a sense of familiarity. If that grief or loss is not acknowledged, it eventually piles up inside you, weighing you down.
There are a few things to keep in mind:
Approach grief with reverence and compassion. To go through grief you do not need to do anything other than approach it with reverence and compassion. Grief is not something you get over, it is a part of life, something each and every one of us will go through, and it is meant to be lived through and integrated.
Let it come and go. Grief should not and cannot be ignored. If it is present in your life, then it asks that you notice it, feel it, talk about it and let it change you. If you try to distract yourself with work, compulsive socializing, travelling, shopping or any other addictive activities, the grief does not go away, it stays inside you and metastasizes. Grief will show up in waves, some days the waves will knock you over, the other days it will come and barely touch your feet.
Self-care. Grief comes from the Latin word gravis, meaning heavy and it is a heavy emotion to live with so it will be important to care for yourself consistently and frequently especially during periods where it is more present. Be nurturing and protective to your physical, emotional and mental body as if you have just had surgery and you are protective of yourself during the healing process.
Share your grief with others, and allow them to share it with you. Grief is not meant to be carried alone. We need to carry it for each other, together. Name all the things you lost, the people that left, the places we never got to see, the time gone by, the memories you never made, write down everything big and small that you lost this year. Don’t be dismissive of any part of it. When you honor your grief, it changes you, makes you deeper and wiser.
Dr Saliha Afridi
Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia