Managing the emotion called grief

A few years ago, a pregnant lady lost her mom; however, due to office work, course work, and baby preparation pressure, she neither had time to mourn nor grieve her loss. Little did she know this act of neglect was coming to bite her in the rare.

A few months after the baby arrived, she suffered her first debilitating migraines. It was a terrible experience that soon became weekly episodes over the next nine years.

Although masking grief or bottling up such emotion and loneliness after a loss may not automatically cause migraines or any other ailment, there seems to be a correlation between not grieving and migraine episodes in the short story above if we look deeper.

Losing a loved one can cause irreparable damage to the survivor; therefore, it is highly advisable to put necessary precautions in place to help with the process. Moreover, there has been lots of bad news lately and everyone seems to be just hanging in there. So, I thought to give a few tips which are by no means exhaustive but sure may help someone mourning or those assisting a friend or close relation who is grieving. Understanding grief and how to cope with it will inform the type of support to give at the right time.

Grief is an intense emotional and physical reaction experienced after losing a loved one. Although it is easier to have a time frame for mourning, no one can give a timeframe for grieving due to the peculiar nature of the emotion. Grief is primarily internal in comparison to mourning, which is external. Sometimes, this is why it takes some people longer than others to stop grieving. However, the four underlisted steps may help cope with grief with the hope of reducing its timeframe and negative impacts.

Acknowledge and accept the feeling

Grief, an undesired emotion, can be acknowledged and accepted by talking to someone or people about the loss because this helps to externalize the feeling. Moreover, talking about a loss helps share the burden that comes with mourning, prompting empathy and much-needed support. Listing out what the loss means can also help confront fears experienced hence bringing clarity with informed steps in the right direction. Saying goodbye, which is a way of paying last respect to the deceased, can be done in the form of funeral rites or burial, and this helps with a certain level of closure that is also key for reflections.

Replace negatives with positives

Filling up the void left by the dead with good and positive activities will go a long way in coping with grief. Moving on to new things by changing environment or job, and avoiding routines, especially those that involved you and the deceased for so long, may also help. A vacation may be beneficial too. Refocusing the anger positively by channeling it into creativity, such as dance, writing, music, art, gardening, or even sports, is another helpful way of turning adverse to positive. Celebrating the deceased’s life by deliberately remembering only the good life the deceased lived or the great moments shared can surely bring smiles to faces.

Become emotionally stable

It is a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from shock, guilt, anger, disbelief, frustration, despair, profound sadness, and depression to mood swings. Hence a reason emotional stability is not only essential but critical for survival. As much as the person desires to wake up from a bad dream regarding the loss, staying in denial only worsens things.

However, accepting reality is a step in the right direction toward healing. Crying is one of the ways human beings release built-up tension from within. It is also one of the physical reactions to pain, so it’s understandable to burst into tears now and again while grieving.

Wherever you choose to do this, be it private or in the open, it is fine; no one should judge you by it. However, avoid bottling this all up. Releasing the tension helps the brain hence the whole body.

So, let it out. A grieving person should seek clarity regarding the circumstances surrounding the loss and how to move forward. With closure comes lessons to learn, steps to take, and clarity on moving on. Seeking clarity in a place of prayer or from subject matter experts is highly recommended.

Often, grieving people tend to blame themselves for the loss of a loved one. It’s essential to make it clear here that if the grieving person is not directly involved in the death, trying to resolve the guilt is knowing that the loss is beyond one’s control. The burden of guilt, such as: “I didn’t return her last call,”; “We quarreled the last time we spoke,”; “I was never there,” or “I was too harsh on him,” can be resolved by learning to be a better person to others around and alive.

Stay connected

Staying connected is paramount as it indirectly has links to all the grief coping mechanisms. The desire to want to be alone while grieving is unparalleled; however, it is risky to be lonely. At least someone should always be around the grieving person while observing necessary personal space.

A doula can be engaged for this purpose if there is no close relation or friend nearby. Identifying at least two people in the circle or support system of the grieving person to help with even mundane things like grocery shopping, amongst others, is likewise essential.

Nurturing a relationship as a memorial for the deceased can go a long way in helping cope with grief. Some ways to nurture relationships as memorials include setting up a foundation or helping raise a child whose parent(s) just died by standing in as a guardian or role model all through life, just like the parent would.

Lastly, the ability to share the grieving journey, which signifies healing, is encouraged, even though the opportunity to do so comes much later in life.

Therefore, in preparation for this, journal or diary keeping will be a perfect way to document the journey to be shared as life lessons for others in the same situation.

Emotions are potent because they are indicators of the interactions between the conscious and subconscious; the seen and unseen; the known and unknown; the tangible and intangible.

That is why they have a direct link to mental health. Keeping it all together in grief might be very daunting, but it is something to be done to be safe and sound.

Opaleye, a wellbeing specialist, writes from Lagos