Early Grief: A Lived Experience

It’s so important to talk about grief, and the real, confronting experience that it is. Why? Because it’s something that we will all face at some point in our lives, and if we don’t talk about it the result is a feeling of being isolated, alone, and misunderstood. It’s so easy to share the joyful, happy times we are blessed with, but pain and heartache also goes hand in hand with life. Sharing these burdens can often be the only way we survive them and is why I think it’s important for me to be here, being vulnerable. Humanity is built for connection, and if we feel alone while we navigate heart-shattering experiences, the impact on the individual can be detrimental.

I was 40 years old when Nathan died, and I had lived through some hard things in my lifetime. I had thought I understood what ‘hard’ meant, and what ‘pain’ was. I had watched a few friends lose loved ones, and I had said goodbye to family pets. I believed I understood what grief was -until I lost my spouse, the one who brought the Sunshine into our lives. I realised I had been so naïve about the depths of despair that life can send you to.

The grief experience is unique to each individual, and is influenced by the proximity they hold to the person who dies, their relationship with them, the internal resources and beliefs they hold about death, the level of support received, and so many other factors. I do not want to pretend I’m an expert on grief. But I am deeply familiar with the experience of the sudden loss of a spouse, the other half of me, and needing to support two young children whilst barely being able to hold myself together.

Grief has been given its own, unique name for a reason. It is not just sadness. It is not just depression. It includes both of these things, and is also much, much more. It is physical, intense, debilitating, all consuming pain. I wrote this Facebook post less than two weeks after Nathan died in an attempt to answer the question “How are you” that was being thrown at me multiple times a day….

“Grief is like the ocean. So expansive that your eyes can't see the breadth or the width of it. So deep that its depths are dark and sunlight cannot penetrate. Unrelenting, like the ebb and flow of the tides. I can walk away from its shores, but it is always there, and eventually draws me back to its all too familiar places. Some moments are so calm you can see the reflection of light on the surface like a mirror. Other moments are turbulent like the perfect storm: violent, fearful, dark, with waves crashing over me and leaving me wonder if I'll ever be able to surface. Two weeks have passed, and the missing and longing only grows more intense. The reality and fear of dreams ripped away and an unknown future transformed without choice. Two broken girls to cry with in the middle of the night who can't fathom the departing of the first love of their lives. Too many questions left unanswered. A Nathan shaped hole in our lives left gaping. A landscape forever changed”.

And later, a couple of months down the track – as the shock was making space for raw confronting reality…

“What does grief feel like? It feels physical, like carrying a 100kg weight on your shoulders every single day (like, literally - my back tells me this is true). Like you've been punched in the chest. You carry that feeling, every minute of every day. Like a heavy black cloak shrouds your heart. Like your feet are stuck in concrete and lifting them to take even one step feels impossible. A mind unable to concentrate or focus, and that finds engaging in any kind of 'normal', everyday task or idle chitchat enormously effortful (because these things seem so unimportant when faced with mortality). It causes life to seem grey, and exhausting. Sleep? What is this elusive thing called sleep? Something that you remember in some other world, long ago. A place that used to be a refuge that has now become ... something very different (a place of fear and nightmares). It feels like trying to hold a trapdoor closed to contain a hurricane, when any minute the trapdoor may fly open uncontrollably and you can no longer contain the tears, and can no longer keep holding the pieces of your broken heart together.

It feels like fear, of not knowing what moment of any given day might bring you to breaking point. It feels like dismay, watching the world move forward without you, because your world stopped, and was stolen from you, when you least expected it to. Forever frozen in time. Dreams and a future that will never be realised. It feels damn hard. Gruelling. Like the hardest thing you could ever imagine walking through, and then some. The words "I can't imagine what you're going through" are true. It really is unimaginable. Every second.

It feels like the person you used to be, is a person you may never know again. And the person you now are, is a stranger. Grief is scary. I desperately want it to end, and if I could make it end, I would. Grief is not sadness. It includes sadness. But it is much, much heavier than that”.

A few postscripts….

~ To the person who is in close proximity to an individual who is suffering through the acute throws of grief: I plead with you - please, don't run away. LOVE them. Sit with them. Be with them, even though it’s a damn hard and scary place to be. The only thing that helped me survive early grief, and to keep surviving grief, was the outpouring of LOVE we received. Love and understanding is the only antidote to pain and fear.

~ To the person who is, at this moment, experiencing the agony of acute grief: please know: you are not alone. You are understood. You are seen. You are loved. You can survive this, and you will. One second at a time. There is more ahead, even if you want to fight that truth with every fibre of your being. There is light, and love, and life. There is hope. Please hang on. And if you need someone to connect to – I would love to be that person.

Much love,

Skye xxx

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