Thoughts on Grief & Living With Loss

Nearly two months ago now, I had to part with my much beloved old dog. 

I had lived on my own with him for a decade or so since the children had left home & he had become my trusted companion; someone to cuddle, someone to talk to, a presence to ward off loneliness.  

Learning To Live With Loss & Grief By Myself

Saying Goodbye To My Beloved Dog

For the first time in my life perhaps, I was also alone with my grief over such a loss. On previous occasions, where humans or animals close to me have died, I have been physically with others who were also going through and sharing the loss. Our reactions are tempered by our consciousness of those other people’s grief. This time, there was plenty of time on my own, where it there seemed no escape to the overwhelming sadness.

I briefly contemplated grief counselling. I have no qualms about reaching out for help & have done so in the past with depression. However, I had reservations about it in this situation. 

It is absolutely good & right that we have become more able to talk about our emotions & our mental health issues. However, there is also an increasing expectation as we do so, that by going to some expert, a magic wand can be waived, & cures provided to stop us feeling any negative emotions.  

To Grieve is To Be Human

I do not believe we should be looking for something to take away our grief, any more than we should feel we have to try & bury it, keep a stiff upper lip, solder on. Grief is our natural reaction to the state of bereavement. We may have lost a dog, a person; we can have lost our jobs, our money, or a partner when a relationship breaks up. Whichever it is, a reaction from slight sadness to desperate grief is the natural reaction.  

Grief has become boxed & labelled. There are five stages, or seven stages, depending on where we are reading. 

Our feelings are now expected to behave to order. Denial day one, tick. Anger – week two – tick. I absolutely appreciate that we need to understand how grief can make us behave both physically & emotionally. Physical symptoms alone can be difficult to cope with, ranging from tiredness, sleeping problems, loss of appetite & anxiety fits.

I do not agree with the concept of grieving in textbook order. We are also sometimes too quick now to say we are depressed, when instead we are, quite normally, desperately sad.

When my father died, I felt as if I had a huge lump on my chest rendering me almost incapable of speech. I spent a week or so mostly silent, ignoring my ex-husband’s unsympathetic pleas that I should be being more of a good hostess towards his friend who was staying with us at the time.  I now recognize it to have been an emotional & physical numbness, nature taking protective measures to shelter me till I could cope with the full force of the grief.  

Grief is Private, Personal & Unique to the Person Living It

Grief is hugely personal, & it varies each & every time. 

I believe grief is also cumulative.  When we first lose people from our lives, we are dealing with that single loss. As times goes on, each time we are inevitably re-visiting all our losses.  Of course, if grief takes a hold & the person is becoming ill, or not able to move on slowly, then help should be found, but to block nature’s course can be hugely damaging. You cannot write a set formula for something that is going to be different every time.   

When I lost my eldest daughter at 11-days-old, we had gone through six days of agonizing uncertainty, shunted from hospital to hospital, fobbed off with different stories, unclear if there was or was not any hope & then incredibly, unclear at the end as to her being still alive or dead.  

That not knowing, a situation where we are denied the closure of knowing if someone is alive or dead by getting tangible evidence is appalling. The grief is there, but we feel forbidden to process it because processing would ensure it is true.  This is why formal funerals, memorials & tangible acknowledgements of the loss are such an important part of grief.

Moving On From Grief

We now hear that we have to “deal” with grief & “move on”.  It can be very dangerous.  

Feelings do not stop to order & burying them will only ensure they re-emerge days, weeks or even years later. People try & cheer us up, when actually perhaps the healthiest thing possible is to work through our grief at our own pace.  

For a while, habits will remind us of our loss. We might still set off to the same job, reach for the phone to share a story with a friend, or in my case, go unthinking to the cupboard where the dog biscuits were kept every night to try & give my dog his bedtime treat.  

Habits take time to change. We have to get used to grief, not over it. New memories may be added to our scrap book, but they do not erase the old, nor should they. Grief is designed to help you remember.

Some say grief keeps us anchored in the past. But it is part of us & the experiences with whatever or whoever we have lost are part of our lives & the people we are today. It may still bring up sadness in the future when we remember, but this is natural. I question if it is right for us to seek a solution that prevents that.

Surely it is better to recognize our loss & our grief and allow for it, irrespective of how much anyone else might understand our heartbreak. Surely it is better to work through it in our own time, to acknowledge why we feel such a loss, & familiarise ourselves with it, recognising that we cannot just heal it. 

It is better perhaps to even acknowledge that there will always be a sadness we feel because only by working through the grief & acknowledging it can we both fully credit how much we cared, celebrate what we learned & gained from that relationship & accept it as part of ourselves in order to move on.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR - JAN CAVELLE

Jan is an English entrepreneur, writer & business coach. Over a long career, she founded several businesses in diverse areas from music, catering & manufacturing. Her brand & furniture designs are still being sold worldwide through the new owner.

Jan has always been involved in promoting entrepreneurship. She was chosen as one of Britain’s first 50 Female Entrepreneurial Ambassadors in Europe & has a long speaking career to schools, colleges & business groups on Entrepreneurship. She also talks on sales or on the particular issues that hold back women in business. She writes for several publications & is also writing a book.

She loves helping other business people fulfil their potential & now has more time to devote to both speaking & coaching worldwide. She is able to offer her own experience in building & running businesses, but also now helps others find the peace & work life balance that she herself finally achieved - which she says makes her a far more useful, & more importantly, happy human being.

You can learn more about Jan on her website & you can connect with her on Twitter & LinkedIn.