If someone you love has died, whether recently or a long time ago, and you are looking for help -real help – then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been in the same boat as you. In fact that is exactly how I ended up becoming a G.R.I.E.F ™ Specialist and helping adults who have lost someone they love. You may have guessed that already. You don’t really hear any 5 yr-olds saying ‘I want to be a G.R.I.E.F Specialist when I grow up’!
The last thing in the world I expected to hear.
Almost 9 years ago now my dad died. I was in Australia, he and my family were in New Zealand. I was flying home that day to spend time with my nana who was dying of cancer. As I stood outside my office with my suitcase, waiting for my taxi to Melbourne airport, looking forward to my holiday and to spending time with Nana, I returned my mum’s odd phone message only for her to tell me Dad had just died of a heart attack. He had no history of heart disease or serious problems. He had been chatting to the plasterer trying to get work in the house done before my arrival…when he suddenly clutched his chest and collapsed.
And my world changed forever right there.
And that was only the beginning for my family. My nana almost died the day after dad’s funeral. She survived and lived another 4 months. But in that time we had another 4 family members die so that when Nana died she was the 6th death in 4 months for us.
If you are feeling sympathy for my situation about now put that on hold and read on. This story doesn’t go how you might think it does.
My journey into G.R.I.E.F. started pretty normally and isn’t so different to other people’s. I went through one version or another of hell for a couple of years. People around me thought I was ‘handling’ it well. I’ve never been a big one for falling apart in public….and I was in pieces behind the scenes. My life felt like it stopped, like everything had stopped. And there were plenty of times I wanted my life to really truly stop. Yes I do mean what you think I mean.
I probably don’t need to tell you how brutal that was. The next few months were a combination of numbness and pain and the next couple of years were among the toughest of my life. In those first few months I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. I felt numb, I couldn’t sleep, I had no energy, I lost weight I couldn’t afford to lose. I felt like stone with a constant dull ache inside me. My super-busy social life cut down to the 5 really close friends that I could bear to be around at all. I was back at work, smiling like the Cheshire cat as I had responsibilities and wanted to be ‘strong’. But I was crashing as soon as work had finished, completely exhausted. My body was in agony – aches and pains and stress I’d never felt. At one point I ended up in emergency at the hospital barely able to talk or stand with pains, worse than I had ever felt before or have since, in my abdomen. The nurses rushed me in past all the others waiting…only for the pain to subside and the doctors to tell me the tests showed nothing physically wrong.
In public, for as long as I could stand to be there, I smiled and laughed and said I was ok. Most people thought I was ok. I was a terribly long way from being ok.
Straight after Dad died I had started looking for help….just like you are now. I just couldn’t manage on my own. I didn’t know what to do, how to hold myself together, and I was barely coping, despite outward appearances. You name it, I probably tried some version of it. From psychologists and life coaches, spiritual healers and teachers, yoga and meditation, physical therapies, etc. But I didn’t find anything that really, truly helped. I found they either wanted me to sit in a chair and talk about my pain hour after hour – which was cathartic and felt nice to be heard and understood…but didn’t actually change anything. OR I was given tips, tricks, and methods to help me manage my grief and move forward with it – which was useful but still didn’t change the constant pain that was living in my heart. What I wanted was an actual solution…but no-one could offer me one as they all believed that at least some of my pain would be permanent.
I was paying for lots of help that didn’t really help, thinking my life was kinda ruined, thinking I’d never totally get over all this, missing the people I’d lost, having some friends there and some not, wanting to escape it all, and dealing with one version or other of agony. Did I have it easy? Hell no.
But I found myself drawn on to keep looking for new and different help. Something in me knew there had to be more than this, this pain, this waiting, this idea that time would magically change something for me. Seriously, as if my dad and other family members would have wanted to end up as a painful memory, a regret, a life sentence for the people they loved. And I was very lucky to find my way eventually into teachings that introduced me to a totally different way of understanding and experiencing the deaths in my life….and then into the work I am now so blessed to do.
Grief isn’t a state, or a single emotion, or a set of stages. It is a journey of meaning-making. Our experience of death is about the meanings that it all holds for us, the meanings we give every part of it. I didn’t set out to get rid of, dissolve, heal, cope with, manage, or learn to live with my painful emotions. I set out to make it different and to get my dad back, and what I ended up doing was changing the meaning of what had happened. I learnt to look for and understand the elements of G.R.I.E.F. that nobody acknowledges or speaks about. And what I found blew me away and changed my life forever. And the painful part of G.R.I.E.F. left me completely and I was, and am, totally pain-free.
The deaths in my family were the worst thing that had ever happened to me. At the time. Where my search took me was to a place where they are now the most profound, important, and meaningful events of my life. I do not regret them. And when I think about every aspect of my dad’s life, including his death, I smile. Rather than dishonour him at all, this has brought huge meaning to his life and his death for me. I see him, experience him, and remember him in a way that, unfortunately so far, few get to experience.
G.R.I.E.F. to me is not just about pain. Sure that was part of it. That was all there was initially – I had no-one back then to help me find a different meaning. And if you don’t know any different then that is all there will be, to one degree or another. When I look on it now my full G.R.I.E.F. experience was a journey to find meaning, purpose, beauty and truth in one of life’s biggest lessons – death.
It was the most powerful, life-affirming and inspiring thing I have ever been through….which means that when people tell me they are sorry for my loss, look horrified at my story, or try to say that surely I must still be in some pain I don’t know what to say…..as I see it totally differently.
G.R.I.E.F. for me has meant a journey that has ended in freedom from pain, a deep constant connection to my dad in a way I never imagined possible, and utter gratitude for the events of my life. My experience wasn’t different from anyone else’s, it wasn’t easier, it wasn’t special. Before I found a different path I saw the experience of losing someone you love as only meaningless, random, painful, sad, something to avoid, something to live with, something to do your best to recover from. But I don’t now.
I’m here to tell you that no matter who you have lost in your life, no matter what that experience has been like so far, what you have believed and been told about it, it can hold a totally different meaning for you. You can move to a place of freedom, connection.
That’s a bit of my journey….at least the G.R.I.E.F. part of it. I’d love to get to know you too. Come find me on facebook, twitter, or email me directly on email@example.com and feel free to share your story with me too.