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The beautiful thing about grief

Written By Imi Beale

Grief is hard. It’s awkward, it’s lonely, and it’s heart-breaking, but it is also unavoidable. At some point during our lifetime, we will all experience the gut-wrenching pit the person we love leaves behind. The kind that makes you feel like you have been pushed down a well with no way out. And whilst it is quite possibly one of the worst feelings in the entire world, there is something strangely beautiful about it…

In September 2021, I suddenly lost my nineteen-year-old cousin Jamie three weeks after he had been hospitalised with an undiagnosed illness, which later turned out to be sarcoma. His death left everyone shocked, confused and above all absolutely heartbroken- how could something like this happen to someone like Jamie? As a healthy, young, typical university student, it’s a question we are all still wrestling with today. But it was through this loss that I came to realise how important it is to be open about grief, rather than shy away from it, which, from experience, is far more difficult than it sounds.

I think it is fair to say that there is no better way to kill a conversation than bringing up the death of a loved one. The blank facial expressions, awkward silence, and subtle, not-so subtle ‘side-eye’, as everyone grapples with what to say next. I am sure that anybody who has experienced grief can agree that it is an extremely awkward topic. Pitiful eyes and sympathetic yet uncertain faces can be comforting but they also make it all the more real, and thus the bereaved can find themselves all the more upset. Tears then tend to make other people feel uncomfortable because they don’t know how to react. It can be equally as difficult for the person grieving. I for one hate getting emotional in front of other people; it makes me feel weak, which unfortunately, I don’t think is uncommon as many people find it difficult to be vulnerable around others. As you can see, this hypothetical, but incredibly realistic scenario, has completely unravelled into a highly uncomfortable situation for everybody involved. Grief is simply hard to talk about and hard for others to hear, and for that reason many of those who experience loss choose to deal with their grief alone.

However, grief is something which should be embraced. Whilst it is difficult and uncomfortable, there is something strangely beautiful about it. In the words of Andrew Garfield, it is ‘all of the unexpressed love’ that you never got to give that person who has passed, and as horrendous as the feeling can be, it is not something that I know I ever want to lose. For example, you will always see me wearing the heart-shaped pandora ring that my late Grandma gave to me, as it is a keepsake which will always remind me of her. And yes, I may feel a sense of sadness when I look at it, but I have come to realise how important it is to notice the absence of those we have lost, rather than shy away from my emotions in attempts to forget, because I do not want to forget. It is terrifying how quickly we are forgotten; could you name any of you great grandparents? I know I certainly couldn’t, which I don’t think is a bad thing. There are definitely stories which I would love nothing more than for them to be forgotten - dead and buried along with me! But, nonetheless, I do think it is important to try and keep their memory alive for as long as we are.

There is also something to be said about how grief can play a huge role in bringing the family together. After losing my Grandma, and Jamie the following year, my family have never been closer. We spent this New Years away as an entire family - something we haven’t done since I was around three-years old! There is something special about being around those who are suffering with you. No one has to explain how they feel, or worry about killing a conversation, because there is a mutual understanding. Talking about our grief together, whilst sharing memories, allows us to both laugh and cry simultaneously without fear of judgement. So, whilst grief is deeply personal, and is felt and dealt with in different ways, being open about grieving allows others to relate. It allows you to find comfort in the fact that you are not alone and are surrounded by others who are experiencing and feeling the same things as you. Bottling up and suppressing the emotions, only leads to them manifesting in different ways.

Lianna Champ’s article titled: ‘Unresolved grief: 6 signs you haven’t grieved properly’, highlighted the importance of acknowledging bereavement. Healthy grief, according to Champ, is giving yourself permission to feel the pain, for acceptance is the only way one can find peace. Fearing grief and running away from it only prolongs the healing process. The emotions and trauma remain buried deep and unresolved, until they are ready to be faced. Recognising one’s sadness won’t cure the pain, or prevent you from ever experiencing it again, as grief is anything but predictable. But, allowing yourself to sit with your emotions, stops them from being something you fear. A grief counsellor named Lianne Johnson, likened fearing grief to fearing a thunderstorm. As a child, she was petrified of them, but now, as she sits, calming her son amid thunderstorms, she has learnt that there is nothing to fear.

Lastly, not only does grief leave you with maturity, empathy and understanding, it also leaves you with a new outlook on life. For someone like me, who manages to find a way to stress about every single minor detail of not just my life, but everyone else’s too, seeing how quickly life can be taken away has made me realise the small things do not matter. Laughing with family and friends, doing the things you enjoy and focusing on yourself is what is important. Grief is horrible and it is hard, there is no denying that, but it isn’t something which goes away. I wish it was something I never had to experience, but there is nothing I can do about that, and whilst it is difficult, I do not want to let the feeling go, as I do not want to forget those I have lost. Choosing to be open about loss, makes the conversation easier, and keeps the memory of those we have lost alive. Eventually the tears become less frequent and we instead remember fondly with a smile.


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