I don’t purport to be an ‘expert’ on grief. I have experienced the death of both of my parents, a number of beloved pets, and a few valued relationships. If someone asked me the unlikely question “Are you good at grieving?” I would undoubtedly reply in the negative. However, it was my experience of bereavement that kick-started me on the path I’m on now.
I generally begin “My Story” with the death of my mum, quite unexpectedly two days before Christmas 1999. Of course, it really began 32 years before that, but for simplicity we’ll begin it then. And for the first six months there is not much to report. I adored my mum. She irritated me but I adored her. I was rubbish at telling her how I felt (it’s a family trait and one that I think broke my mum’s heart on a regular basis). We weren’t (and still aren’t) a family who tell each other we love each other.
So during the first six months after mum’s death I cried twice. Yep, just twice. That’s probably a fairly good indicator of just how buttoned up, repressed, emotionally suppressed and in shock I was. I was back in the office a few days after her death and it was pretty much business as usual, except I was probably even more of a bitch to work for, and I definitely drank more, partied harder, was louder and more obnoxious than I had been before.
Of course, as an enlightened reader, you realise that my behaviour was a cover for my grief and turbulent emotions, but it wasn’t a conscious cover. It was just the only way I knew how to be because, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t cry.
If I were writing a book on grief (which I’m not planning any time soon), I would head this story Bad Grieving, or something similar. So sooner or later something had to change. And at a festival the summer after mum died, I began to experience the most excruciating abdominal pains. I managed to get home from Devon and even took a day off work, which wasn’t something I did as a rule. My friend Julie saved me. She advised me to see a homeopath, having had great experience of homeopathy the previous year.
So I did, and she prescribed me Ignatia 200 and Nat Mur 10M. I hadn’t a clue about homeopathy, or about what was supposed to happen, but it was a relief to talk to someone and take some small white pills. From time to time, a new client comes into the clinic and I see echoes of my 33 year old self sitting there, and I’m reassured to know that Nat Mur and Ignatia are going to help them on their way.
So what happened? The abdominal pains stopped immediately which was a relief. And about 2 weeks after taking the remedy, I found myself on a train from London unable to stop crying. The timing and location could have been better, I have to admit, although even in the midst of those tears I found it amusing that I only had one tiny tissue in my bag which was soon reduced to a soggy mess. The realisations of how I had been blocking my grief, my fear of crying, of showing weakness, and of being a failure came crowding in. And on that train journey, my relationship with grief at least began. In the weeks, months and years that followed I began to cry more readily and began to connect with my feelings in a more intuitive way.
So what do I know about grief? I know that it causes problems when you get stuck in it, as I was, and that certain homeopathic remedies can greatly assist with the un-sticking.
I know that there is no timescale to grief. My mum died 17 years ago and I still miss her and cry from time to time because she’s not here. If you are living or working with someone who has been bereaved, you may have to increase your tolerance levels for several months or even years and be mindful of anniversaries, birthdays (theirs and the bereaved), Christmas and so on.
I know that Elisabeth Kubler Ross, who wrote the definitive work on the five stages of grief, wasn’t basing her research on me! Perhaps the stages are helpful for some people but I think you just have to accept whatever is going on this day, hour or minute and take it as it comes.
I know that many people experience physical illness after bereavement, and I have treated several who became ill after the death of a beloved pet dog.
I still don’t really know what to say to someone who is recently bereaved, except whatever seems appropriate for that person in that moment.
I know you can never assume to know how someone is feeling. And how they are feeling can be different from day to day, hour to hour.
But I do know that being stuck, and wallowing in stuckness, is not a healthy place to remain for long. And I know that homeopathy saved me in June 2000.