The Reality of Grief and Learning the Art of Living again

 

Meeting the Shadows by artist Colette Shaw

 

Anyone who understands profound grief, the loss of a spouse or a child, understands that we become walking zombies, we spend all our time consumed with pain, the first few days, weeks and months are the worst, they are blurry memories, breathing even feels like hard work, and the crying is so hard, you think you will suffocate from your own tears and you don’t care because you don’t want to be here, you want to be with the one you lost.

Grief and Bereavement is something that every person will go through in life, it is a normal experience, yet those around us react as if it is not normal, it is alien to them, and only those that have been through it understand what you are going through. It feels like your life is destroyed, when the person you love dies, a part of you dies with them. The life you had together is also suddenly gone, you are in shock and left with a great deal of pain and loss, it´s the worst feeling in the world and very overwhelming. Bereavement is the experience of losing someone close to you.

Elizabeth Kübler Ross identified the five stages of grief
• Denial
• Anger
• Bargaining
• Depression
• Acceptance

Grief is the emotional experience associated with processing that loss, the first stage being the mourning. Acute grief can be challenging to distinguish from depression. Many refer to Elizabeth Kübler Ross’s five stages of grief.  Still, I feel her studies are flawed and don’t apply to a person who has lost a loved one. Firstly, they are based on people who were themselves coming to terms with death after being diagnosed with terminal illnesses, so although it maybe useful for someone who is dying of a terminal illness, it cannot be comparable to most people who have just lost their soulmate or their child, or someone close to them in their family or friends. It is completely different.

Secondly, one deals with shock and the worst emotional pain that physically hurts the body so much so its hard to breathe. In my case I felt as though I was suffocating myself with grief since when I cried so hard, my sinuses swelled up so much I couldn’t breathe, this was a daily occurrence that went on for over a year. The mourner has a sense of carrying a huge concrete block of pain, accompanied by being disassociated with the world and the pain of missing the person we are grieving for is so overwhelming and it continues for years to come. Although the mourner can recover some strength to focus on life again two to three years after the initial death of the person they lost, but they never feel that life is ever the same as it was before they lost the person they love. The griever’s life has completely changed and is a different person with this pain, they have to navigate through the pain daily and find a way to live with the pain.

The griever never knows when they will get triggered to cry, and when they cry the tears are uncontrollable, it can happen any moment. This process is not an ordered stage of grief that one can tick off on a check list. It’s more like going through a tornado of Kübler Rosses mixed and scrambled five stages, very complex waves of these messy emotions and fragmented feelings that are completely uncontrollable and unexpected. I call it the Grief Monster or the Grief Earthquake, followed by constant aftershocks.

 

Suicide Grief

This is like no other grief, and there is a great deal of guilt that those left behind are burdened with. It is extremely tragic for all concerned. There’s an overwhelming sense of disbelief regarding their death, which can still occur for several years after the person´s death. Suicide grief is like an internal earthquake that fragments the heart and soul into a thousand pieces. The deep shock that they initially feel replays in the body’s cells again and again, and mixed with the rest of the emotions it will feel like aftershocks of a giant Earthquake which can go on for a few years or more afterwards. This requires long-term therapy and counselling on one to one and possibly in a group with others who have experienced the same. Self-blame and guilt is a perilous stage of this grief, since the phenomena of feeling suicidal, goes with the self-blame. Therefore, seek counselling, talk therapy and as much emotional support as is possible to be able to get through each day and stay with the rest of us and to stay with the living world.

Acceptance is near impossible with suicide grief; its the toughest one to resolve, no one wants to accept death but especially suicide. When the death of a spouse or a child or a family member is suicide, we are left to blame ourselves for not doing the right thing to keep that person from taking their own life. Acceptance of what passed is very challenging, as the person who ended their life may have kept how they were feeling a secret. They may have felt they were a burden to everyone else, and by doing this they are relieving everyone they love of their burden, in fact, if only they knew their action instead creates a legacy of much more pain. The person who ended their life, did so because they were utterly desperate to stop feeling the pain they were in and they felt there was no other solution.

We know there are certainly far better solutions. For many mourners left behind after losing someone to suicide, there is a period of dangerous despair that also drives the mourner to feel suicidal themselves; this is a phenomenon that many go through, at this phase try and find a local group where you can connect with others who have experienced losing someone to suicide, there are forums online everywhere including on Facebook, but it helps to speak to people in a local group that you can physically go to, to share your experiences with others face to face and to work through your feelings.

I have been through this, very acutely after my husband ended his own life. When I was going through this stage, I ended up in tears at the doorstep of a grief counsellors office, I was the first person in all his years of grief counselling who had turned up in a very bad state asking for help without an appointment. I had spent about 6 weeks before in a comatose state of raw grief wanting to commit suicide and I was at the time in a new country and city which didn’t help. My counsellor was  and still is Alvero at Sentido based in Lima, Barranco, Peru, a suicide grief counselling centre, Alvero helped me a lot and invited me to the free local group that he hosted for people like me who met every two weeks. They had lost their sons, daughters, husbands or wives, and siblings to suicide. I met these people and heard their stories in Spanish, we cried together, embraced and connected on that profound level of understanding the lowest of grief pain.

Everyone had a safe space to share what they were feeling at different stages of their grief and to talk about the insensitivity of others and the social stigma that they were experiencing as a result. It helped me come to terms with some of my pain and it helped me work through my own suicidal feelings.

The most vital thing about the group counselling is it allowed me to connect with other people that knew exactly what I was going through and how I felt. For me it was a lifeline and I hope others will find the same supportive groups locally. Such groups are useful to those of us who are grieving due to a suicide death. Friends and family around you do not really understand, its hard for them to imagine what it is like if it hasn’t happened to them. And there is a social stigma surrounding this topic in all societies and cultures no matter how open they may seem on the surface, people are very judgemental about suicide.

Due to the social stigma, it is rarely discussed in public and that makes suicide grief the hardest to understand, and for people who carry suicide grief, it is the hardest burden to process and the most complex form of grief. We can lose people we regarded as close friends and even some family members who don´t understand why we also feel suicidal or cannot move on with our grief. I lost a number of people I previously thought were close friends and even family members slipped out of my life, this is common for people going through suicide grief, unlike normal grief where people are more sympathetic.

There should be no expected recovery time period or rush with grief, especially suicide grief, which takes a lot longer than most other kinds of grief to work through and is notoriously hard to process. As I explained earlier, acceptance and self-blame are some of the obstacles in suicide grief. Once I was told just a year and a half after my husband died ´´to move on´´, by someone else who lost their wife, and similar advice from a friend who lost their father at a young age, however their loved one’s deaths were not by suicide, but people who go through normal grief assume suicide grief is the same, so they need to be aware of the obstacles and differences.

In normal grief, one can blame the illness or accident or what ever killed their loved one, in suicide grief, one always blames themselves and feels very guilty. I’ve had so many insensitive comments that people have said to me, its best not to get angry at them, they really couldn’t possibly understand, unless they lost someone the same way. So it is important to discuss the complexity of it and for people who are friends of the person who is grieving, friends need to be patient with the person who is grieving, and be as supportive as possible, don’t pressure the griever, allow them all the time in the world to process their pain.

The path back to the living

Living with depression in the contemporary world is challenging enough, living with grief, even more so, as we are continually under pressure to tread the hamster wheel and when we are grieving, we can barely put one foot in front of the other.  There is an art to learning to live again when one is this depressed. After the first year and a half, or more, one may start to come out of their grief cave and begin to see the light of life of what is going on around them shine in.  It takes a lot of time and patience to get back into learning to live in the land of the living again. If you are someone who has lost someone to suicide, it helps to change your environment to a completely different one, change your living space, or redecorate, if you really cannot move location, but moving location helps a lot to move forward in life. Firstly, I didn´t want to do this since, I wanted to be close to all the memories of our last days together, but in the long run, it is healthiest for your progress and healing to relocated to another town, city, or country. Relocating is always hard for anyone and when we are suddenly a widow or grieving the loss of someone close to us, its harder as we don´t feel we can connect to anyone as it is.  With all forms of grief, there is constant yearning to be reunited with the deceased, and missing them is an overwhelming feeling for years.

If you lost your partner or loved one in a traumatic way, in suicide or in some tragic circumstances that you may have witnessed, the mourner will also be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, where you will relive flashbacks to their death and the circumstances around it. Especially at morning when you wake up and at night before you go to sleep, these are the worst times. I tried to make sure I distracted myself during the day if these invasive thoughts entered my head, meditation didn´t help, I found mantras and Yogic Kapalbhalti breathing techniques helpful. Avoidance of situations, people and places are best during the rawest periods of grief and even years after that remind one of their painful loss, hearing or seeing the person or pet that died, suicidal thoughts as a way of wanting to reunite with the deceased., especially if you are also suffering guilt and blame yourself due to the loss.

Bereavement is a normal process, and there are times when a person will become stuck in one stage of the grieving process for a long period of time, which can become detrimental to their own emotional well-being and ability to function in everyday life. So no matter how well you think you may be coping try to seek support to work through some areas that you may benefit from talking through with a professional to find a way to come to terms with the emotions.

A person is more likely to grief abnormally when the person was unable to view the body of the deceased or attend the funeral and be able to express grief at the appropriate time when death was sudden or due to suicide. Or if there was a problematic relationship or unresolved issues with the deceased, or if there was a very dependent relationship with the deceased. Or if the loss was the child of the person, or their parent, or the person has lost an unusual number of people in a short time period.

When we are in raw grief, unable to clean the kitchen and keep it tidy, it may take six months,  eight months or a year before one can really start caring for their surroundings because losing your loved one feels like your heart has been wrenched out of your chest and a larger part of you has gone forever with that person you love. You have no interest in self-care.  When my mum visited me a year and a half after I lost my husband and had just returned to Europe, it was a big occasion, so I had to tidy my apartment before she arrived, and it was the first time I had seen her in three years.  She took an interest in my balcony plants, she and her partner helped buy a few more pots and plants, and we spent a few hours organising the terrace plants together.  You can invite friends or family to help you tidy your rooms, or garden or redecorate your house. I recommend this as part of your healing process.   A way to reintegrate pain into joy and new chapters in life is a way to learn to become whole again.

When we have experienced being broken into thousands of fragments, we don’t see that the way to reintegration is by allowing the spaces between those fragments to fill with new things, accepting the new experiences we have of life with pain and with grief. Over some time, we focus less on the thousands of separate fragments and start to see that healing is the process of wholeness being the glue that fills the spaces between the fragments with new experiences. We then focus more on the space between them and start to see that just because we feel broken, its an illusion and that fragmentation and wholeness are one the same.

Once you have lived a massive trauma, you are not the same person you were, that has to be accepted, it takes time coming to terms with the new you. But you can explore what you are now and what you will become may surprise you. I know all too well what it feels like to be broken and lost and not recognise who I am, and having Aspergers makes that challenge even more confounded. Another reason why practising gratitude and the art of living can bring back the sacredness into my life.

It´s your job to restore this quality back into your life; a therapist cannot do this for you, although they can help you make the steps and facilitate a space for you to gain momentum, no-one else can write your new chapter, only you can do that. Don’t see it as a chore; see it as an experiment, a process, a learning curve that can lead to a new standard of living for yourself.

Start with better self-nurturing and self-care, where we learn to self-care, self soothe and nurture ourselves in a healthy, gentle and constructive way. You will feel that your quality of life will improve as a result. Start a weekly self-care list, but tailored to suit your needs, here is an example below-

Week 1
Get a hair cut
Go for a walk in nature
Make a healthy green smoothie
Watch a Funny movie
Hang all the clothes up on my bedroom chair
Research something. For me it was Equine therapy

Week 2
Meditate for ten minutes a day
Do a few Yoga stretches, its okay to stop when you feel you have had enough.
Listen to music for at least 1 hour a day
Speak to a close friend
Bake some gluten free cookies

Week 3
Tidy up the lounge
visit a new place and take pictures
Make a photo collage
Learn a new language
Get a memorial Tattoo
Do some volunteer work

Week 4
Put on your favourite boogie music and dance
Invite a friend over for dinner
Get a Massage
Do some gardening or buy some plants for your house and water them weekly
Eat more fruit and drink more water

We all had the inquisitive nature to explore learning how to live as children, everything is magical and children are in awe of nature and natural beauty. When you have even an inkling or a tiny desire to change, since you are tired of suffering from depression and would like to manage it better, the most practical way to take steps are to change your current habits and to reframe it from this perspective. Instead of being a victim of an illness, become self-empowered and learn to play with life again.

Ways to start helping to improve your daily feeling and your state of mind begins with your diet, doing new things you have never done before, and taking care of what you put in your body.

Depression is partly an auto-inflammatory illness; therefore, we must pay attention to what we eat and notice how we feel afterwards. Eating more kale and spinach, introducing at least 40 percent more greens into your diet can help heal inflammation. This, we will discuss in more detail in the following chapters which includes recipes and meal plans to help you take better care of your mental health, as well as your emotional health. In human ecology terms, your body is the soil to nourish your mind which is the flower that you want to see bloom. Treat the soil with care, keep it watered and give it plenty of healthy nutrients and nourishment, avoid an acidic environment, keep it alkaline, then your mind and emotions can become more balanced.
Lifestyle choices are an important factor, avoiding certain foods and drinks that contribute to inflammation and acid environment and overstimulate mood.

Try to moderate wheat, sugar, alcohol and caffeine, it requires discipline but switch to alternatives, instead of coffee drink Yerba Matte, it’s an Argentinian tea that gives you a nice healthy energy buzz, I mix it with other teas to create different flavours, such as Chia tea or Jasmine. Instead of sugar use Stevia, its a natural sweetener. Instead of wheat, eat gluten free products. The reward is more valuable since you will feel calmer and suffer from less anxiety and depression. Eating more greens and adding superfoods and probiotics helps to promote a healthier gut and eradicate candida. I suggest foods like Kifer, Kombucha, Chia seeds soaked in pure water, 100 percent pure Cacao, Maca, Spirulina and Ginseng, to your diet. These foods help boost energy levels and antioxidants and improve your gut flora.

Eat well, nourish your body, nourish your mind, learn to take care of yourself again, learn to be kind to yourself and you will find a way back to the land of the living.

 

“Pain is like the cold deep in the winter, if it is endured for too long, we will die,
Joy is a soaring moment that inspires you forever, or makes you cry,
Love is both of these things because without them we cannot grow, neither can love”.

– C S

 

 

Author of

The Silent Ecocide 

Surviving Depression in a Depressing World, an Ecological Perspective

Carlita is an independent environmental journalist and project developer who provides information overlooked by mainstream journalism funded by political agendas, since Carlita has worked closely with indigenous groups in Latin America for the last fifteen years.

 

Evolve to Ecology News

Surviving the Loss of Your Pet

rainbo pets

Some people may be surprised to read that losing a pet such as a dog or a cat or even a bird or a hamster, can put someone into a state of severe grief, just as devastating if not more so than losing a person. This is because the bond with an animal and the unconditional love and joy that they show you and their dependence upon you, when in your company is a greater loss in many ways, compared to that of our partners, friends or family, who we don’t always agree with. There may be possible unresolved issues, people are more complicated, animals are not, they are pure hearted and show us the most unflawed form of unconditional love and joy that light up our hearts and souls.

Fortunately, animal sentience is becoming a part of new developments in animal rights laws, as scientists and  human consciousness is recognizing that sentience and consciousness is not limited to the human being. Science is showing us that all living creatures and even plants,  share sentience and consciousness. We are beginning to acknowledge that animals have just as much right as we do, to be identified as persons in the court of law, a recent record breaking, animal neglect case was won in the US state of Oregon, for a dog who was abused, dogs are sentient beings and should be classes as persons.

The same with Dolphins, nine years ago I interviewed Dr. Thomas White about his groundbreaking research and book ”In Defense of Dolphins, the new moral frontier’‘.

twfin001-300x213

Dr Thomas White’s book and interview with me, discussed  the implications that  his research has uncovered, of how we currently treat dolphins; while his work focuses on ethics and how we need to re-evaluate our perception of dolphin intelligence. Humans continue to apply speciesism when observing other animals, negating the intelligence and emotions of other creatures, when we do not necessarily demonstrate balanced consciousness ourselves,  since we are exploiting  the planet and other species to ecocidal levels and we have yet to learn to live in harmony with other species and with Planet Earth, within the means of the Earth’s sustainable carrying capacity.

We are slowly changing our perception of dolphins due to the work of people such as Dr Thomas White and Ed Elsworth, we are beginning to acknowledge dolphins share similar traits of self awareness, complex social structures, complex language and thinking abilities in terms of past and future, the ability to choose to act in response to a situation and their reasoning abilities. This re-evaluation means we need to set new frontiers for the status of dolphins in terms of dolphins being ‘non-human persons’. A step forward to expanding our own consciousness and how we can learn from dolphins and how they live with one another.

Dr. White and other scientists and animal activists are making the case to recognize dolphins and other animal species as sentient creatures who deserve the same rights as people and after over 2500 scientific studies on this subject, more is being done to improve how we treat, class and recognize all animals as sentient beings and persons in their own right.

Yet, some people are still embarrassed by the overwhelming grief they feel for the loss of their pet, especially if others don’t react or treat their feelings as important which leads to disenfranchised grief. One of the best articles I read about losing a dog, was by Joe Yonan in The Washington Post- ´´ The fact that our pets are so dependent on us makes it all too easy to second-guess our decisions and descend into a pit of guilt. Shouldn’t I have known? Did I do everything I could? If I had just . . . what? Taken him to the vet sooner? Insisted he be hospitalized? What if I had been home? I might not have been able to save him, but at least in his last moments he would have known I was with him, and maybe that would have made it a little easier for him if not for me. Simply stated, many people (including pet owners) feel that grief over the death of a pet is not worthy of as much acknowledgement as the death of a person,”

A 2002 article in the journal Society & Animals that reviewed multiple studies on pet owners grief  stated that “ it is just as devastating as the loss of a human significant other”.

I went  through this after loosing my ten year old dog Poppy who died due to heart failure in 2015. When I expressed my grief though, I was very surprised by the very open expressive sympathy that friends showed me. Unlike my other dogs, Poppy and I had a deeply profound bond. Many of my friends have said how devastated they were after loosing their furry family members and how long it took them to get over the loss. I have friends that went into the pits of despair with grief and to the edge of a breakdown just as one would with loosing a dearly loved spouse, close friend or family member and  they were struggling to move forward. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, feeling this way about the loss of a dog or a cat or your closest best friend,  who spent more time sharing moments of unconditional love and joy with you than any human friend or family member has.

A dog or a cat or any animal you deeply bond with, whatever it may be, is there for you and loves you unconditionally, you have a daily routine with that animal, you do everything together and they end up being more of a part of your life than some people could ever be and you get a sense they know exactly how you feel most of the time too. It is especially hard for a person living alone to lose such a valuable companion.

When you love something or someone deeply, you have an equal amount of fear in losing the object of your love. My biggest fear in the world was losing my dog Poppy, she brought me so much happiness and joy over the last ten years, more than any amount of fortune or relationship could have given me. We had so many treasured adventures and moments together travelling and our connection was so profound we could read one another’s thoughts, I would just think ‘walkies’ and she would appear ready for me to put her harness on, she read my mind very clearly, all of the time. My only real deep fear was her dying, this I was afraid of for a few years before she actually passed over the rainbow bridge, on the positive side it made me cherish our moments together and live completely in the moment with her. Poppy to me, was the closest I have ever been to having a true soul mate in the body of an animal. She was a person and stood greater in her energy, spirit and wisdom than any human person I have met in my life. She gave me the best reason to be alive every day. Losing her has been the worst and most tragic experience of my entire life until I lost my husband a few years later, I’d still give anything to just feel her body in my arms and her big beating heart and be able to gaze into her soulful eyes.

Though, since having lived the reality of my greatest fear and going through this deep emotional loss, something surprisingly strange has happened after loosing Poppy, she has somehow helped return a fragment of myself, I lost after my early youth, an old emotional  and spiritual part of myself that was always able to laugh in the face of adversity, but after sometime I lost that part of me, and got worn down. Maybe, her angelic presence in the other realms allows her to bring gifts of healing for me, she is a very powerful being for me, somehow a lost part of my prior self, when I was very young, returned only after her passing and she has also been a reason for me to rescue other abandoned cats and dogs or to  discover some information that could help other homeless or abandoned pets in need.

After the lengthy and fragile initial stages of processing grief and loss, it helps a little to change ones perspective, I know this as someone that has lived with severe depression, you learn how to manage it via practising different perspectives, if possible. Despite being isolated physically, I am drawing towards a feeling of something intangible on a soulful level, the soul somehow grows stronger when baring so much pain and loss, it is not easy to put into words.

There are moments where I feel that everything for my spirit will be okay because Poppy’s soul is quite powerful and she has shown me that our deepest fears when lived out, end up providing us with gifts afterwards as they dissolve after surviving them somehow, on different levels. I just cannot put into words how in awe I am of the incredible number of insights my Poppy still teaches me each day from across the realms beyond life and death. I grieve for the loss of her abundant love, joyful spirit and physical presence while her soul is just so strong and bright. it permeates by illuminating my life in so many subtle ways with the ultimate gift of true unconditional love, she is still with me in spirit.

The best thing we can do while we are grieving the loss of our furry or feathered friends, is to realize they found us and taught us unconditional love and to be grateful for the time we had with them. There is a proverb about a boy who lost his dog and apparently after his dog died, he said that the reason dogs have shorter lives than people, is because they already know how to love unconditionally and be joyful all the time, so they don’t need to spend much time here in this realm, whereas people are still learning how to love so that is why we live a while longer.

by Carlita Shaw -this article has been updated since 2015
Ecologist, Author

Dr Thomas White’s Website In Defense of Dolphins:

www.indefenseofdolphins.com

More recently The Times acknowledges the work of Dr Thomas White and other scientists research that dolphins are ‘non-human persons’. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/article6973994.ece