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Loss, grief and gratitude

How to cope with grief. By Florence Christensen

On 8th September, a grande dame, the Queen of the United Kingdom, took her last breath, leaving many to grieve her loss.

6 months before, to the day, my mother passed away. On International Women’s Day. And there couldn’t have been a more fitting day for this incredible woman that my mother was. A queen in her own way with unfathomable energy and optimism. A woman who deeply cared about her loved ones and people less privileged than she was.

Why the parallel? Queen Elizabeth II was most certainly a mother figure to her nation. As a French citizen having grown up in a republic – and despite having lived in London for nearly 20 years – I have never developed an attachment towards the monarchy or the royal family for that matter. Culturally, it is not something I can fully understand. But what I can easily understand is that for many, the Queen represented stability and continuity and for some, somehow, hope. Over a 70-year reign spent in the public eye, many people felt they knew her and grew attached to her. With her gone, it is everything they got accustomed to associating with and projecting onto her that has now gone too.

Anticipating a wave of anguish, charities and mental health organisations are reminding the nation that they are here to help the most bereft navigate their grief by lending a listening ear. Grief is going to make the headlines for a while because it affects the psyche of the collective.

Grief is something we will all experience at some point on a more personal level – if you haven’t experienced it already. It is not an omen, it is a simple fact. We all lose someone or something we are close to at some point in our lives. How we process grief is personal to each and every one of us but below are some reminders and rituals that can be helpful.

  • Allow yourself to feel the wide and complex spectrum of emotions when grieving: anger or denial, disbelief, extreme sadness and fatigue, actual physical pain or a feeling of unshakable heaviness, heavy breathing, restless sleep, a fluctuating appetite and in some cases, guilt, to name only un a few.
  • Grief translates into very tangible physical ways. Those sensations can be very intense but be patient and remind yourself that grief will have its ebbs and flows. At times, it will feel like a wave is taking you under. And at other times, you will find that waves are gently lapping on the shore.
  • Accept the fact that your emotions and how you handle them are going to be thus: more volatile and unpredictable for an unknown period.
  • Do what you can and be kind to yourself.
  • Spend some time in solitude if you feel the need to but don’t stay isolated.
  • Open up and express grief verbally, in spoken and/or written words.
  • Let a network of loved ones, friends and family, support you in these difficult times.
  • Support and nurture yourself through time spent in nature, movement, meditation, breath work, simple nourishing foods and whatever can bring a bit of light and lightness to your day. A little goes a long way.
  • Put a ritual into place to honour the memory of your loved one.
  • You might like to pray at the same time and/or in the same place which doesn’t have to be his or her last resting place.
  • Trust that you can maintain a spiritual connection regardless of time and space.
  • You might feel drawn to dedicating a specific spot in your home for a little altar featuring some pictures, memorabilia, candles or flowers. I have done so on my bedside table: some pictures of my mum, one of her bracelets and a shell picked up on 'our' beach as she loved the sea so much. 

All of the above are only suggestions. You will know what is suitable for you to do or to avoid as the case may be.

It is important to emphasise that grief doesn’t entail the attempt of diminishing or suppressing the attachment felt to the deceased person in the first place. Some people are sometimes unwittingly doing so to dampen the extent of the pain they feel.

On the contrary, bring yourself to celebrate the depth of that attachment, and find it in your heart to be grateful to have known such a bond at all even if it no longer exists in a familiar form.

Regardless of your spiritual preferences, trust that beyond the physical form of your loved one, his or her spirit endures: in the way you go about doing things, in some expressions, resemblances perhaps, mannerisms, in all the ways, subtle and more obvious, in which your loved one influenced your personality, informed some of your choices and enriched your life overall.

On the other side of grief, there can be gratitude. Gratitude for the moments shared, for the memories, for the love, for the fact that such a wonderful soul ever materialised and walked this Earth, leaving behind a legacy of their very own.

Florence Christensen

Versatile yoga with a sprinkle of joy and neuroscience