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Death could almost be regarded as a taboo subject in our society. Returning for Lent term, I know I won’t be answering how my holidays were by telling people that I lost a member of my family. Why? I don’t want to make someone feel uncomfortable. Death is so associated with fear and sadness that it can be difficult for people to know what to say. Ultimately, there will never be one right way to handle loss, but there are actions that can be taken to help you cope.
What can I do for myself?
Allow yourself to feel:
You must understand that feeling sad does not mean that you are weak. In fact, when coping with loss, one of the strongest actions to take is to feel and face all of your emotions. Rather than burying your feelings and pretending that the loss never happened, allow yourself time to grieve. Concealed feelings will only reappear in the future and negatively affect you then. What’s more, you must remember to allow yourself to feel good about life again, without judgment or guilt. Accepting all of your emotions will hopefully help you to feel your ‘normal’ self again sooner.
Telling close ones about my loss for the first time was one of the hardest things I had to do. It felt like the ultimate recognition that the person had passed away. But, it also meant that I could release the thoughts and emotions in my mind and communicate them openly to somebody. During the weeks that followed, this form of expression allowed me to straighten my thoughts and grasp more understanding of what was happening. However, if you aren’t ready to talk with others, you could try speaking your thoughts aloud in private, writing them down, painting them, playing them on an instrument… Over time, expressing yourself will help to clear your mind.
Rest and relax:
Rather than drinking yourself into oblivion or gorging on copious amounts of Domino’s, you should make time to rest and relax in healthy, productive ways. For me, this is through Film and Television, Yoga, and making sure to get outside and breathe in the fresh air. Think about what works for you or try something new. For a quick fix, sitting down and taking some deep breaths will give you a wonderful sense of inner calm.
Ask for help:
If you find that you are struggling to complete your daily routines, those closest to you will be happy to help with the cooking, cleaning or weekly food shop. But, if your stress, anxiety or depression feels overwhelming, don’t be afraid to consult a doctor. As well as anti-depressants, the NHS offers a certain number of free therapy sessions (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) or counseling (one-to-one talks with a counsellor that help you to find the root cause of your feelings and how to manage them). Your doctor may be quick to offer anti-depressants, but know that these other routes are available and decide what is best for you.
What can I do for my friend?
Accept that recovery has no timeline:
After a loss, your friend could feel OK within a couple of weeks or it could take more than a couple of years. Feeling ‘normal’ again is going to be different for everybody. You must accept this and allow your friend to grieve in his or her own way. However, if you feel that they may be suffering from a mental illness (like depression), perhaps suggest that they should seek help. This is a sensitive subject, so be sure to cautiously and calmly explain that you are making the suggestion because you care about their wellbeing. If they’re tentative, kindly offer to accompany them to the doctors to help them feel more at ease.
Dealing with a loss often leaves a person feeling vulnerable and prone to becoming upset. One way to show sensitivity towards this is by avoiding generic responses and saying what you think your friend would specifically appreciate hearing. As an example, saying something like ‘they are in a better place’ could be regarded as cliché and, therefore, impersonal. So, it is really only appropriate if it is in accordance with your friend’s religious beliefs or, perhaps, if their loved one had been in pain. As well, consider the smaller things, such as whether your friend likes hugs. If they do, hug them. If not, ask them if they would like a hug or just put your arm around them or hold their hand. These small acts of care will help your friend feel supported.
Whilst being alone is ok, you don’t want your friend to become lonely. Sometimes, this can be hard if a friend tries to push people away after suffering a loss. If this happens, it is important to strike a balance between stepping back and giving them necessary space and being there for them by being present. As well as this, make sure that you don’t peer pressure them into doing things that they aren’t ready for. Instead, it is more productive to offer to do these things for them, like food shopping or cooking them a meal. If not now, your friend will be thankful for the extra support in the future.
It can be easy to forget that listening is as important as saying the right thing. When your friend is ready to talk, ensure that you listen intently without interrupting. Allowing them to express full thoughts will help them to clear their mind. On the other hand, if they don’t want to talk, listening to their silence will let them know that you are there for them when they are ready.
Unfortunately, we all have to cope with loss during our lives. Therefore, with the advice given in mind, let’s prepare to face it with a more open, comfortable approach that helps to support you and those around you during difficult times.