Afraid of Grief
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.
- C. S. Lewis
Grief changes us, and in so many ways that we do not realise in the moment. It is in looking back that we see how we have morphed into someone else, a person that we did not know existed within us. Yet, change had to happen because grief and loss are life-shattering.
Within those shards of our former selves, we start to realise just how similar grief and fear are.
We look at the fragmented life that we have been left with; seeing the chasm, the abyss, the yawning hole that has been created through that loss, and we are afraid. Afraid of what life will become, but most of all afraid of forgetting our loved one – their touch, their smell, their smile, their laughter, their voice.
Fear and grief greet each other like brothers, and soon you can become crippled by both.
It can be so difficult to see through such complicated and difficult emotions. It is made especially hard when you are trying to learn how to cope with the chasm made by the loss, the pain and the tears that you think will never end.
You will find that many of the symptoms of fear are like those of grief:
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry mouth
- Tense and energised muscles
- Digestive and immune systems slow down
- Trembling and shaking
- Increase in thoughts and mind racing
- Anxiety attacks
- Fear of sleeping
You may begin to fear your own grief, fearing the depth of which it seems to have no end.
It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.
- J.K. Rowling
The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.
- Frank Baum
You so often hear people say “face your fears”, they say this to those who are already afraid, and who are struggling to do exactly that. To glibly direct you to face your fears when in the midst of grief would be insensitive. Because in grief, it is not that easy.
What you need more is having someone to acknowledge that right now, life is tough.
To say that it is completely understandable to be feeling what you are feeling, that your grief, and your fear are 100% valid feelings. To tell you that this experience of grief, loss, and fear is 100% normal. I ask then that you hear my heart – YOU are doing amazing. You have made it this far on the journey of grief, and for that I am so proud. Because grief is not easy.
Maybe you are afraid that your life has stopped, and you do not know how to get it going again. Do not worry, you are still doing amazing. Your experience is normal, and whilst it feels like fear has you in its grasp, remember that you have power over it and that in time, it will lessen.
Promise me you’ll remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.
- A. A. Milne
Maybe you are afraid of forgetting your loved one. I understand that sometimes it hurts to dwell on the memories you have, and the dreams and hopes that you had and are now lost. I recommend then to write down all the memories that you can, whenever you can. If it is too hard, or hurts too much, perhaps just write down one or two each day. If you have capacity to write more than that, do so. Write down what you remember about their smile, write down what you remember about their laugh, or their walk, or their expressions. Write down everything, even if you feel it would be trivial to most other people. These memories are never trivial. It is through these memories that you get to carry your loved one with you for the rest of your life, and if they are written down and cherished, you will never forget.
Grief and fear are so alike, and therefore sometimes we need to treat them in the same way. By being brave. By keeping going. By doing the difficult things. By stepping out in faith. By believing in miracles.
By hoping. By never giving up.
I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
- Louisa May Alcott
Grief is a storm, and at times feels like an insurmountable one. But there are ways we can learn to cope with grief and fear. I find that the first step to coping is acceptance. Accepting where you are at, that this is the current stage of life that you are in; and in that, accepting that it is not permanent.
After acceptance, there are a few action steps that you can take to ease the grief. Whilst it seems like pop-psychology, there is growing research on the benefits of mindfulness. These days you cannot enter a book store without seeing at least 10 different kinds of colouring books. Colouring is only one form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is actually quite simple.
Russell Harris is a leading psychologist specialising in Mindfulness, and he defines it as;
“Mindfulness means paying attention with flexibility, openness, and curiosity…Mindfulness is an awareness process, not a thinking process.”
In essence, it is being aware of the world around you. In times of high distress such as grief or fear, a simple mindfulness technique is to take a few minutes and look around you, focusing on things you can see, hear, touch, smell, or even taste. Focusing in on your senses this way and taking the time to list all the things in your present environment switches your brain away from focusing on your distress. If you do this whilst also focusing on taking long, deep breaths, you begin to engage a different part of your brain – teaching it to be calm.
There are many other mindfulness techniques that you can use in times of distress or grief. For some, writing in a journal helps, some it is prayer. You can make use of colouring books, or word searches, or knitting. There are great apps for your phone which help guide you through mindfulness meditations, which focus mainly on your breathing and restoring balance to your breath and emotions.
Grief can be hard to navigate, and it is important to acknowledge that. I know that it can seem quite scary as well, especially when grief ties in to so many other overwhelming emotions. It is worth trying some basic mindfulness activities to help in times when your grief is too distressing, retraining your brain and emotions to be calm once more.
Most importantly, give yourself grace when in times of grief because grief is one of the toughest seasons we can face.
And remember, you are doing amazingly.
By Danielle Myers