“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
(Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part 3)
Death. Loss. Bereavement. Something we all go through in life, sooner or later. We grieve after any sort of loss, more so if it’s the death of someone dear to us. Even though it happens to all of us, we don’t have a chance to learn about grieving—how do we come to terms with it; what’s “normal”, or how do we cope with it; how do we learn to live with it?
And yet, we’re expected to carry on day after day.
Often, we grieve the loss of someone who’s been a big part of our life. However, those who go through a miscarriage, a still birth, or the loss of a very young child also grieve in the same way and need the same care, support and consideration.
I’m not a mental health professional and so the account given here is based on my own experience and that of my loved ones who I’ve seen grieving.
Symptoms of Grief
When we lose someone we love, grief becomes more than just one feeling. It’s a sea of emotions—-waves come in one after another. All this can take a while to sort out and can never be rushed. Each person’s response and reaction is unique. Everyone goes through it in different ways. There are a whole lot of feelings, emotions in no particular order, often all together or one after another—from numbness and sadness to intense anxiety and bitterness.
In my experience, there’s no pre-fixed set of stages or phases that we go through. There were times when I felt I couldn’t breathe, as if my heart was breaking. And there were times when I couldn’t see any light on the other side, just utter desperation and hopelessness. At other times, I questioned just about everything—is it me? Could/should I have done something different? Why me? Would I ever laugh again, be normal again?
As I said, there’s certainly no easy way to erase the pain, but I found some things helpful:
- Talk about it with your partner or close friend
- Acknowledge and accept.
- Don’t deny what’s happened
- Be pragmatic. It’s happened, but life goes on
- Don’t set a time frame
- Reassure yourself with affirmations, such as this too shall pass OR I will get through it OR things will get better
- Be grateful for what you have. Try to see your life in perspective
- Spend time on your hobbies, even though you may not want to. This will be a positive distraction
- Take regular short breaks from your routine—it could be a short holiday with your partner, family or friends
- Don’t rely on alcohol; it just makes it worse
- This varies, but I’ve taken time off to grieve. Some may choose to go straight back to work.
How Yoga helped me cope:
During my darkest moments, I went on a short four-day yoga course. I had done yoga on and off up until that point. I found that yoga was pretty much the only thing that offered me any relief from grief. When I was down, breathing exercises or pranayama pulled me back up. When I was drowning in sorrow, postures or asana got me out of my head and gave me focus.
I made new friends in those four days. I hung on to the hope that if I could feel better in the time I was practising yoga, I could use it to make that feeling stay longer. I practiced gratitude. It was the biggest gift I gave myself. Years on, I still practice yoga, and with a sense of gratitude and surrender.
When to seek professional help:
Grief varies so much from person to person that it’s hard to be specific in what to expect and what not to. However, generally speaking, if you experience any of these, then it’s best to get professional help:
- Symptoms last very long
- You’re not getting better
- Your sleep and appetite are badly affected
- You’re losing a lot of weight
- You’re unable to return to your pre-loss way of life.
In case you experience any of these, please consult your doctor/physician. He or she might refer you to a counsellor/psychologist or might even prescribe some medication in the short-term. Above all, trust in the human spirit. We bounce back even when we think we never will.
Photo: Susheela Menon