Grief throws you off. The people we have in our lives form a structure around us – we all have that friend we ring on that street on the way home, or the once a month coffee and catch up. Those conversations give us the strength to keep going. The joy of ‘I’ll get this one’ when you’re eyeing up a slice of cake, or a text reminding you that you haven’t spoken in a while. So when someone passes away – losing the structure they bring with them can be one of the hardest parts of the whole thing. You reach for your phone, begin scrolling and then freeze when you remember that you can’t speak to them.
It creates chaos and great sadness. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, in those moments, it’s best to go with the feeling and use it as an opportunity to heal. Have a good cry on the bus, walking home, with a friend.
Returning to a structured life is hard. I remember after my Mum passed away I’d walk around Manchester aimlessly – every coffee shop I saw a reminder of her and what I’d lost. It was like coming across obstacles in carrying out even the most mundane of tasks. I’d cry in supermarkets when I came across a deal she would have bought. I’d cry at croissants. Trying to function when you miss someone so much is painful and it’s difficult.
The structure applies to more than that too – because you have to do things in order to carry on with your life. You have to go to Tesco and get a shop in. You have to go to work and chat with clients. You have to attend a friend’s birthday party. Even if you have the most supportive people around you, it can be the most lonely thing. No-one has any idea how long it took you to get out of bed and put on a decent outfit and head out the door. You’re not going to stand there and tell them that actually, you spent a good half an hour in your bedroom beforehand staring at the ceiling and thinking about how you can’t cope with this sadness in your heart.
You have to make a new structure. I’ll never be more thankful than when my wonderful friend, the late Peter Holden, rang me about six weeks after my Mum died and told me it was time to pick myself up and get back into a routine. Like someone had switched a light on, I was suddenly capable of doing the things I’d been struggling with. I could concentrate again. I could read books again. I was able to live again.
There’s so much joy in structure too. In grief, you find these delightful moments of joy with people that are about living. You have an opportunity to share good conversation, good food, laughter – and you almost feel sky high with the fact that you’re able to achieve such a sense of life. It’s your life too – your new life that is coming together that can carry the grief alongside it. As another pal once said to me, ‘when you’ve been through a lot of sadness, it makes the happiness all the more beautiful’.
Achieving structure takes time. Achieving normality does too. You can have two weeks of feeling as though you are ok and then a month of being super sad again. That’s ok. You have to embrace the grief and accept that you’re on a journey with it. It’s not something to hate. There are some things you can do to help though:
If you feel as though you can’t get out of bed in the morning (which is perfectly acceptable) – make a list. It can be the simplest thing in the world: get out of bed, walk to the kitchen, open the cupboard, get the coffee out etc. A list is a rhythm that you can move to.
I feel as though I add this advice to everything I write – but be gentle with yourself. Walking past Lush? Buy that bath bomb. Think an event is going to overwhelm you? Don’t go. Curl up in a blanket, watch your favourite films. Be as lovely and caring to yourself as you would be to your best friend.
Do nice things with nice people
You know that half-friend who puts you down whenever you see them? This is not their time. Surround yourself with your favourite people and do your favourite things. Let them look after you. Ask them to help you if you need it. They’re good eggs.
Pay attention to yourself
When there’s an anniversary coming up or something that you know is going to make you a little bit lower than usual, be aware of it. Make a plan around it and keep a close eye on your emotions. You can pre-empt a dip and prepare for it accordingly. Every year on Mum’s birthday I buy myself a gift that I think she would have enjoyed.
I’ve recently been in Amsterdam going through a different kind of grief, and the first couple of days were really challenging. I wanted to be at home and safe and instead I was spending time alone while my friend was working.
On the second day, I went cycling to find a Keith Haring mural (Peter was a big Keith Haring fan and it felt like fate that there should be a mural). The adventure of spending time alone and enjoying something that was entirely for me left me feeling so joyful. I spent the rest of the afternoon in an art gallery with a sense of peace that I’ve not achieved all year. Grief is such a hard thing to go through, and knowing how to go through it with yourself is one of the biggest challenges of all. You have to learn to give yourself so much love (which is a very good habit to be in any way, I highly recommend it).
As usual, feel free to message me if you ever want to chat – but if you do feel like you need extra support then I recommend grief counselling. You can read more about it here.