• Peter MENHEAR

Grief and why it's important to talk about.

Former US President, Benjamin Franklin is attributed to have said there is nothing certain in life but death and taxes. The man who once visited Preston, the home of Menhear, and stayed in what is now a Cafe Nero, might have added grief to his shortlist of certainties. Grief is an experience unique to the individual and something that we, as a society, don't often discuss.

If we don't discuss grief much, then the topic of death is next to never mentioned. Would life be easier to live if we collectively accepted and discussed, or even embraced, the part of life's journey that is death? As Ben Franklin half pointed out while sipping an Espresso Con Panna, death and grief touch us all at some point, but what about the grief part? How are we supposed to grieve? What effect does grieving have on our mental health? And what if your mental health is already fragile?

Grief stages:

According to one popular theory, there are seven stages of grief. Although it maintains no 'one size fits all' mentality when it comes to grief, it states most people will experience one if not all of the seven stages in some form.

The seven stages are as follow

  1. Disbelief and shock

  2. Denial

  3. Guilt and pain

  4. Bargaining

  5. Anger

  6. Depression

  7. Acceptance

What is in a theory?

You might relate to all of those stages or be in the middle of processing one or all of them. In my experience, I can relate to quite a few of them, if not all of them.

How I interpret the stages, however, might be different from how someone else does. Take stage four and bargaining, for instance, and how I, an atheist, might have a different bargaining experience than a religious person. Did I ask a higher power for direction? Or to answer any burning un-asked questions? I didn't, although I might have envied the solace that such an act might bring a believer. Whether you pray to a God or deny one is not the point here.

Having a theory that lays out a timeline of stages you can expect to go through is good and well, but what if it provides little help or reprieve at the time? Grieving the loss of a loved one for most people will be a concoction of emotions packaged into the most gut-wrenchingly painful experience of their lives. Following universal guidance for stages of grief is not going to provide much comfort. The reality is that when a loved one passes, you want the world to stop spinning, but it doesn't. It moves on, as does everyone around us. The death of a loved one makes you feel like you are living through a uniquely personal experience. The reality, though, is that the act of dying and of grieving is not uncommon; we all experience it at some point. However, how you interpret it might be.

The impact of grief on mental health

My experience with grieving saw my mental health deteriorate to serve depression and anxiety. Both of which impacted negatively on my physical as well as my mental well being. Any health issues that predated the grieving period intensified because of it. It was a couple of years into the 'grieving process' before I addressed the issues that had developed both pre and post grieving. I didn't notice any particular stage of grief, more that I felt like I was becoming a different person. I was never in denial, but I was always angry. Other than the famous seven stages, there was nothing to relate to or fall back on. There wasn't a school year or university module. My parents hadn't prepared me for their demise; likewise, their parents had failed to do the same. It's like saying when discussing mental health, "It's good to talk." It is good to talk; it's just not easy. It might not be good or easy to talk about grief, but it is certainly important, though.

The importance of talking about grief

Now more than ever, you could argue that it's vital that we discuss grief and the effects. For many, the Covid-19 pandemic has made grieving an inescapable reality. It has also changed what grieving looks like, for the short term at least. If you were unfortunate enough to lose a loved one at the start of the pandemic, you would have been unable to seek comfort in extended family and friends outside of your 'bubble'.

The restrictions placed on funerals demonstrated that the pandemic paid no respect to our cultural norms and means of processing the grieving process. At a time, you could seldom feel more isolated; the world as you know it changes and forces you to deal with two life-altering events at the same time. Would we be better prepared for grief if we were more open to discussing it?

There will not be a single or a simple answer to the questions raised around grieving. Grief and the process of grieving are complicated and, in many cases, traumatic. We all do it differently, and there isn't a right or wrong way to do it.

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