So, it’s been a while since I posted, but I wanted to write about the way I’m still experiencing grief because I’ve found it hard to let out so far. Maybe it’ll help others, and it’s definitely helping me record how I feel at certain moments so I can look back and see my journey.
After a bit of an unexpected grief moment this evening, I was searching for a bit of emotional first aid as usual in these times, and I found this blog post from Sanzplans called ‘Stop kicking the turtle‘. It’s been so helpful at putting into words what I’m finding really difficult to do at the moment.
I came back to my mum’s house today for Christmas. It was about 8pm and she was out at a gig, so I let myself in (cue comedic moments of falling over my hoop, dropping presents and crashing into the door…) I put everything down and promptly burst into tears.
The reason for this sudden change in emotion was that I’d just seen a book I’d bought my mum and dad a few years earlier, and it triggered a deep spike of grief I hadn’t known was still there. It was like being winded; hit in the stomach and heart by a stunningly dull and thuddy force that left an imprint.
The present had been given on my dad’s last well Christmas, though we weren’t to know that then. Seeing that book poked that horrible, lurchy part of my stomach concerned with bitter irony and regret and anger, because it was a Lonely Planet book called ‘Make the Most of Your Time on Earth’. My dad, especially, had loved travelling, and this book seemed to suit him down to the ground.
It occurred to me as I burst into tears, that I was upset (and, I think, angry) that my fit, well, 62-year-old dad hadn’t been able to go to any of the places he’d wanted to explore. It seemed an unexpected surge of grief, but then, grief is odd and inexplicable and hits you at the most inopportune moments sometimes.
I’ve had a lot of issues over my lifetime with feeling and letting out emotion. I’m pretty avoidant (fearful avoidant, really) and not feeling emotions very deeply was a defense mechanism which has kind of backfired over time as I no longer have much passion for anything in life and haven’t, up until recently, actually known how to experience (much less express) anger or sadness without it exploding in a torrent, especially over unrelated, little things.
I used to just withdraw if a negative emotion happened, rather than let it out and risk upsetting someone. And I’ve been doing the same, to a huge extent, with the grief. As Dr. Anita Sanz says on her Sanzplans blog – mentioned above – I was ‘turtling’, but also ‘kicking the turtle’ by trying to push myself to function how I’d function if I wasn’t still grieving. This extra bit of self-criticism, as you can probably imagine, didn’t help anything.
And now, two-and-a-half years after dad passed away from naso-pharyngeal cancer, I’m only just starting to allow the grief in and let myself feel it. I know it’s ‘complicated grief’ whereby there’s a whole load of unresolved emotions towards dad to do with anger and codependency and self-esteem, and, God, all sorts; which all means that my grief is much harder to experience as it’s more confused. So I’m not surprised it’s taking longer.
But at least I’m letting myself slowly begin to feel it – probably because I’m doing a lot of work on allowing myself to feel a full spectrum of emotions. It’s really hard, but I’m slowly noticing that I can allow myself to be vulnerable around certain people. So, today, for the first time, I called my boyfriend when I was upset. I let him in and only felt a little bit as though he was judging me and getting angry with me (he wasn’t, at all – he was wonderful and lovely and very supportive). I kept it short-ish, but I still did it, reaching out when I felt I needed to.
I think it’ll take quite a while before I can call a friend in tears without feeling as though ‘they won’t want me to’, but I’m determined to let them in too. I’m so scared of losing friends by being vulnerable that I just don’t do it. Once bitten, so many times shy! And this results in being a bit of a very comfortable and content hermit at times, which has worsened hugely since the deep and confused emotions I’ve felt about dad passing away.
So, yes, I’m still ‘turtling’ and hiding hugely, but I think until I manage to let out some of the myriad of feelings I have, some of which have been present for a couple of decades, that’s what I’m going to do. My self-esteem has plummeted this last two-and-a-half years as I’ve got annoyed at myself not being able to function ‘normally’ because of the weight on my heart. I still find it almost beyond me to go out at night more than a few times a year, and I feel as though I’ve lost a lot of my fun, but I’ve asked my dear friends to be patient and I think they’ll understand. I’ve pushed them out and away a huge amount (I think to make sure they don’t hurt me because I’m being vulnerable around them and “friends don’t like that” from horrible, horrible past experiences!) so I’m asking a lot!
Reading back over this post, it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come with my emotions. I’m far less judgemental and pressured towards myself now, and so much more open. I’m not trying to ‘pretend everything is okay’ or tell people I’m ‘fine’ or even that I ‘will be fine’. And I’m proud of myself!
So, to let grief in:
- Admit it’s going to hurt
It really is. Like being hit by a truck right in the heart, with a lasting black cloud that kind of sits there. It’s love, really. You loved them so much that them not being here hurts, and so it should. Just let it hurt.
- Realise that you won’t be able to be ‘normal’ for a while.
It might mean you’re hidey, more irritable, angry, more tired by everyday activities. You might not be able to get out of bed in the morning because the world seems too sad, or too difficult to face because the grief is exhausting you (it does that.)
- Understand that there is no ‘right time’ to grieve. There’s no ‘right length of time’ to grieve either.
You might have lots of numbness for months or years. You might start grieving deeply straight after the person you love has passed away. You might question everything. You might find it easier some days and then have a prolonged period where it’s harder. There’s no right and wrong here. Don’t try to impose a time limit.
- Allow yourself the grief.
Try to reach out as well. Friends are amazing if you let them be. Cry wherever you are and just ask for help. Shop assistants can be great at just ushering you into a back room with tissues! It’s important you let the emotion out.
I’d love to hear your experiences with complicated grief (especially if you’re fearful avoidant too – I think it can add extra facets to grief that are hard to resolve) and any further ways of knowing how to let emotions out to people without feeling as if you’re ‘pulling them down’ or ‘boring them’ or ‘a weirdo’.
And for all those who are struggling with grief this Christmastide, ‘don’t kick the turtle’!
Peace, love and sparkles…
Ruth ✨ xx