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The Complexities of Grief

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In our lifetime, no matter how long or short, I’m sure we can all admit that at some point grief has become an issue, whether it was due to death, or indeed a relationship coming to an end, or even a failure that we have struggled to come to terms with. We can all agree that grief and bereavement are heavy burdens to hold onto, and yet equally they are phenomena that fascinate many who try to comprehend just how they work and how easily they can push their victim into a hopeless and meaningless mindset.

The Kubler-Ross five stages of grief are something that the everyday person, both you and I, have become accustomed to know – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, what many may not understand is that these stages are by no means a framework for coming to terms with loss, nor are these a set path for resolving our feelings of grief to become the person we once were. In fact, having been someone who has dealt with a great loss in the past year, my experience has been that this grief instead shapes you into a whole new person and urges you to establish who you have become while in the middle of coming to terms with losing someone. It is a psychological spiderweb that can create many complications.

Different cultures acknowledge death in different ways – different rituals and ceremonies are performed with different attitudes that can either help or hinder the process of loss. A British point of view is that of great sadness – we mourn in private and easily become isolated from our social circles, who struggle to find ways to provide support to us. We, in essence, become a shell of ourselves, but equally are expected to return to our normal routine within a set period of time with this great event to forever become a question mark over our heads, something clearly present but never referred to.

If we had been married or had a child, it would have been celebrated, but many view death as a weakness or failure rather than a fact of life, and the traditional British stiff upper lip makes it a difficult conversation to approach. The Victorians wore their grief so visually after Queen Victoria lost her husband: mourning clothes were symbolic as was a new etiquette put into place to respect the fallen. After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria was said to mourn for up to a decade as her personality and attitudes altered to a more negative and detached state of mind than the strong and noble monarch she had been credited to be before. While some may judge this response to death as outrageously over the top, those who have truly loved and lost may instead recognise how debilitating grief can become.

By learning to understand our grief, we can find ways in which to adapt it to be a part of our routine than to simply allow it to define us. In fact, the process of grief is designed as such to allow us to come to terms with how to move forward – having lost a part of our lives, we can then seek to find new joy and happiness in others. But the notion of closure from grief is something that has been recognised to incite anger and upset from those actively grieving; it feels as if closure is bringing about the idea of forgetting the dead and moving on without them, when many instead simply find ways in which to ensure their grief does not debilitate their lives.

A theory developed in the 1990s brought forward the idea that grieving forms a new relationship with the deceased – and that this is a healthier way in which to come to terms with a person we have loved and lost. However, though those who are grieving may fully recognise how useful this model is, the classic view is that, instead, we should move on away from those who have died. Perhaps, this is akin to most traditional views of mental illness as a whole, which is thankfully slowly becoming destigmatised with more coverage and more support to instead open up about our feelings. For many years, we were encouraged to hide our emotions and leave them unresolved within, rather than to allow ourselves to open and face what hurt us so as to become happier and fulfilled.

Though a short word, ‘grief’ holds ties that are complicated depending on the circumstance of death and the relationship held. What is clear, though, is the need to accept it, to almost invite it, and to allow it to help us move forward with our lives without the need to eradicate the relationship to the one we lost. People are learning how to cope with death in their own way: some wear colour at funeral ceremonies, others find hope in attending memorials and remembrance ceremonies. Those who are facing death have their wakes before they pass to say their final goodbye, while those who are left behind seek counselling or support groups to find a common thread in new friends to bring into their lives. From someone dealing with grief and trying to learn it, all I can ask is for the patience of my peers as well as compassion and understanding of this new direction in my life. Perhaps you could do the same for someone you know coming to terms with their own loss and be the friend they truly need in this time of uncertainty.

Katie Bagshawe pursued her master’s degree from Sheffield Hallam University while caring for her late father who was living with a terminal lung disease. It was at this time that Katie turned her attention to helping raise awareness of interstitial lung diseases by investigating the psychological impact of pulmonary fibrosis. Since her father’s death, Katie is keen to continue in research by tying together her interest in medicine and lung disease through diagnostic radiography. Katie’s research interest is in health psychology. You can follow her on Twitter or via her personal blog


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