Grief: The Road to Healing
Note: If at any point while reading this post you feel the need to pass judgment on how I grieve or choose to heal—don’t. I wrote this post with no intention of imposing my beliefs on anyone. I’m sharing my experience with the hope of helping someone who is going through the same emotional journey I did. I’ve made peace with my grief and I’m perfectly comfortable with the way I’m choosing to heal my emotional wounds. Please understand that this post is coming from a very vulnerable place.
In the previous post, I described the ups and downs of grief. Grief is much like an injury, eventually you will heal, but not in the way that others imagine. To the bereaved person reading this, please know this: only YOU know what 'recovery' looks like. Grief is your battle so don't let others determine the conditions of your victory.
My first few months of grieving were the toughest as I was still learning to make sense of my emotions. I've never known emotional pain this excruciating before and so to go through it on a day-to-day basis while still having to lead a normal life was tough. Nothing felt normal to me. There were days I contemplated on not going to work because I found it so difficult to focus. My world was a blur, it felt like everything around me was running at a difference pace.
One of the many challenges of healing is having people tell you what to do while grieving. I had people who have never known grief, give me advice. The emotional ups and downs that result from grief is incomparable because it's an irreversible loss. You can replace lovers, you can regain money, but you can't replace another life.
The biggest inner-conflict for me was thinking that grieving wasn't 'right'. I felt that as a Muslim who believed in fate, I did not accept my cousin's death gracefully. Whenever I found myself crying, I genuinely believed I was doing something wrong so I forcefully dismissed any sadness I was feeling. This conflict of emotions were further backed up by some Muslims telling me I shouldn't feel this way—I should just sedekah doa (dedicate a prayer) and come to terms with it because death is inevitable.
I didn't disagree with anything they said because those are my beliefs, too, but those words did nothing to ease my pain at a time when I was most vulnerable and in need of support rather than instructions. Knowing that I'll never get to see him again in this life still brings me to tears, telling me he is in a better place doesn't give much to comfort anyone who longs to see their deceased loved one.
It's nearly a year since my cousin has passed away and I'm still grieving his death but thankfully, I've come to terms with my grief. I don't hate myself for feeling the pain of grief anymore, I've accepted that it is a natural human emotion that comes with being separated from someone they greatly care about.
I don’t expect all my suggestions to be helpful, after all, grief is experienced differently for everyone but I hope what worked for me, could be of some help to the bereaved that is reading this.
Get professional help.
There seems to be a stigma attached to people who see a therapist (note: psychologists and counselors can both be therapists but both professions require different qualifications). Contrary to popular belief, seeing a therapist doesn’t make you ‘crazy’. We have no problem going to a doctor when we’re sick, why is seeing a therapist any different?
I value my mental health as much as I value my physical health. If my mental health is going to affect every area of my life—especially my job and social life—I don’t see why I shouldn’t address it. After a few months of not confiding in anyone, I finally felt ready to open up to someone about my grief.
Religious beliefs play a huge role in how someone copes with any kind of loss. As my religious views influenced how I viewed death, I decided to see a Muslim counselor for grief therapy with the objective to end my grief. Below were the concerns I raised during therapy:
- I was taking too long to heal
- I wasn’t accepting divine decree (taqdir) which goes against my beliefs
- I didn’t feel entitled to suffer
Looking back, I had such a shallow understanding of suffering; I always felt like I was not allowed to suffer for as long as I had all my basic needs covered. I’ve a job, a roof over my head, my family, good health. How dare I feel upset? I felt like my situation pales in comparison to someone in poverty who lost their parents, child or even sibling. I was constantly suppressing my grief and in the end, it only made me feel worse. Seeing a counselor for grief therapy was one of the best decisions I made this year because had I not done so, I would still be beating myself up for feeling something perfectly natural. My main lesson from therapy:
Grief is fitrah (human nature)
It is a perfectly natural and acceptable reaction to experience pain when someone you love has been taken away from you. I remember when I told my therapist that I no longer wanted to grieve; her response was not what I expected:
M: I don’t want to feel this pain anymore.
T: Then what would you like to feel?
M: I don’t want to be upset or cry anymore. I want to feel normal, like nothing happened. I want to move on.
T: Is that how someone is supposed to feel when someone they love dies? Is it ‘normal’ to forget over 20 years of memories in just a few months?
When she asked me that I couldn’t convince myself that what I wanted was normal. With a tone of defeat and a pang of relief in my chest, I said no. She then told me that even Rasullulah SAW cried when he lost his child.
Educate yourself on grief.
We often fear the things we are not familiar with: what could possibly be scarier than slowly being unable to recognise the person you've become? Grief-stricken, demotivated, agitated, numb. Grief turns you into someone you're not so it's important to understand the processes that are taking place inside your head so you don't lose sight of who you really are underneath all that pain. Once you begin to understand what you're going through, you'll stop beating yourself up for how you feel and instead appreciate that this is just something you've to go through.
These 3 books gave me so much comfort while educating me on all the emotions I was experiencing while grieving. I especially recommend 'On Grief & Grieving' by Elisabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler. I had to order both Kubler Ross books on Amazon.com as they were sold out everywhere in KL. 'Tuesdays With Morrie' is great for everyone even if they're not grieving; it will change how you chart your life.
Find ways to express your grief.
I carry a grief journal wherever I go. Whenever I get a grief attack, I’ll spend a few minutes penning down my feelings. Grief is like a child who hates being ignored, you’ve to give it the love and attention it wants. I also spend my time painting, writing poetry and being close to nature as an escape.
Don’t be ashamed of your grief.
At one point, I felt like I was being dramatic and would pretend I was ok so that I didn’t appear ‘out of control’. Grieving is acceptable and people who make you feel ashamed for feeling pain from loss have never lost a great love in their lives. Their inability to empathise makes me feel sad for them because perhaps they don’t have anyone that they fear losing.
Talk to people with the same experience.
If you’re willing to talk about your grief, join a bereavement group. Nothing is as comforting as knowing there are people out there who won’t judge you for the pain that you feel. I spoke to colleagues and friends who lost their relatives and they were of great help because they understood exactly how I felt.
Express your grief.
As writing is my therapy, I joined an online writing course for the bereaved called Write Your Grief. It’s not free but every cent was worth it because I connected with others who were going through the same thing as me and I found the courage to blog about my grief as a result.
Make time for grief.
Grief is demanding and doesn’t like to be neglected; you need to make time for it. No matter how busy you are, grief will find a way to fit it into your schedule without your consent so it’s either you who makes the call or it will. After work, I would spend at least an hour just writing, reciting yasin for my cousin, crying, drawing, anything that allowed me to dig deep into my emotions.
Despite what you may think, you don't 'get over' grief, you just get through it no matter how long it takes. See this as a chance to be the kindest you've ever been to yourself. I was surprised to discover that even in grief, I was horrible to myself. As much as you need support from others, also know that the greatest source of strength and comfort is from yourself.