Grief is the normal and natural reaction to significant emotional loss of any kind. Grief is the mixed bag of conflicting feelings caused by the end of, or change in, a familiar pattern of behaviour. Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find when you need them one more time, they are no longer there.
The following statistics are heart breaking and could be avoided in many cases. Over half a million people die in the UK every year with an average of 5 grievers per death. That’s 2.5 million new grievers each year due to a death. Over 250,000 grievers per year due to divorce. This figure does not include the children grieving this significant loss. 25% of children in the UK are in single parent families1. By the 10th anniversary of moving in together just under 4 in ten couples will have separated. A Harvard study has found that when a husband or wife dies, the remaining spouse’s risk of dying is 66 per cent higher in the three months after their partner’s death.
Unresolved grief is everywhere.
Common myths about grief:
1. Time heals: Time does not heal. Time is an abstract concept – a unit of measurement that has no healing power. We know people who have waited 10, 30 or 40 or more years to feel better. However actions taken over time can heal.
2. Grieve alone: Often this advice is subtly implied “just give her some space” or “he needs a few minutes alone in the other room”. As children we learn that this means sad feelings should be hidden or experienced alone.
3. Be strong: Usually the griever is asked to be strong for others. “You have to be strong for your wife/Mum/children”
4. Don’t feel sad: This is usually followed by an intellectually true statement that is emotionally useless to the griever. “Don’t feel sad, his suffering is over” or “Don’t cry, at least you had him for 20 years”
5. Replace the loss: This is really common with pet loss or the end of a romantic relationship. “We’ll get you a new dog” or “there’s plenty more fish in the sea”
6. Keep busy: “If I just keep busy I won’t have to think about the loss”. This one is sad because some people spend their whole lives with this mentality and never get the chance to grieve and complete what was unfinished with the particular loss.
The G word – Guilt.
The word “guilty” is often used by a griever.
Griever: My son died alone, I feel so guilty.
Grief Recovery Specialist: Did you ever do anything with intent to harm your son? Griever: No, of course not (This is an almost universal response)
Grief Recovery Specialist: The dictionary definition of guilt is “intent to harm” and you didn’t do that. You are devastated enough by his death, please don’t add to it an incorrect word that distorts your feelings. Would it be more accurate to say there are things you wish had been different, or better or that you’d done more of?
Griever: Oh yes! Source: ‘Guide to loss’ , 61 tips on grief: free download from http://info.griefrecoverymethod.com/mainpage-ebook
The experts on the gardening programme on the radio said that repotting is traumatic for plants. I had never thought about that before. Should it be any different for children and families moving house?
By virtue of my dad’s job, we moved more or less every 2 years. Some of the places we lived in are not easy to find on the map of India. I completed 12 years of schooling in 8 different schools in India. It was normal to be the new girl in class. We went to schools that catered to families that moved frequently. So, often there would be other new kids in class too. It was heart-breaking to leave friends just when our friendships were deepening. As time went on, it became a part of life and although it was sad, I could handle it much better. That was partially because I altered the quality of my relationships. I didn’t allow them to get too deep. I protected myself by holding back a bit of me for myself. That bit would always be safe. I didn’t know I was doing it then but I see it now.
The cycle repeated itself with Saagar. The difference was that he travelled outside India to places where he would be the only coloured kid in class, where they spoke a different language in a peculiar accent, where he had no close friends or extended family, where it was normal for people to live all their lives in one place and be buried in the cemetery two streets away from their primary school.
Grief can come in intangible forms – loss of trust, loss of innocence, loss of safety, loss of childhood, loss of control and loss of faith. A 2010 study of 7,000 American adults found that the more times a person had moved house in childhood, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and well-being, irrespective of their age, gender and education.
“You are well enough to safely go home now”, said the panel.
“But I can’t! I need one more day to complete my church!”, said Di, who was being treated at Bexley hospital for Postnatal Depression in 1966. She had a brilliant occupational therapist who took them to the swimming pool, organised hair-dressing days and helped patients to make things. Di made a church with bits of shattered wind-screen glass, put together with resin but the spire wasn’t on yet. This beautifully tactile piece of art was named ‘Faith’ by Ruth, her daughter.
Ruth was a talented young lawyer. She was an actor and singer. She was kind, generous and gorgeous! She travelled extensively. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her late 20s. She coped well with the help of health services, her friends and family but tragically lost her battle at the age of 47.
Di is in her second year of missing Ruth terribly. She has created the most beautiful garden in her memory. Some of the plants there are from Ruth’s house. Her mediterranean wall is stunning.
Being bereaved by suicide is a huge risk factor for suicide. Around 125 youth suicides a year occur soon after the person involved has experienced a bereavement. One in four (25%) of under-20s and 28% of 20 to 24-year-olds had lost a relative, partner, friend or acquaintance around a year or more beforehand. In 11% of suicides among under-20s, the person who those involved had lost had also taken their own life.
People who have been bereaved need greater support to reduce the risk of them killing themselves. Agencies who are meant to help are not good at recognising this risk and need to improve.
This morning I caught up with Di over a cup of tea. We both believe that if Saagar and Ruth have met each other wherever they are, they must get on famously. The link below is a conversation with Di. She talks about her insights on mental health services over 5 decades. Thanks a lot Di!
In the mid 80s, Dr Vincent Felitti ran an Obesity clinic in America. Many people enrolled and hundreds of pounds were shed by them. But he found that the drop-out rate from his programme was as high as 50% despite good results. He did not understand this and went back to look closely at patient notes.
“I had assumed that people who were 400, 500, 600 pounds would be getting heavier and heavier year after year. In two thousand people, I did not see it once. When they gained weight, it was abrupt and then they stabilized. If they lost weight, they regained all of it or more over a very short time.”
The turning point in Felitti’s quest came by accident. He was running through yet another series of questions with yet another obesity program. How much did you weigh when you were born…when you were in first grade…when you were in high school…when you first became sexually active…
One female patient replied – “Forty pounds” and broke down in floods of tears, “I was four years old.” He found similar common themes emerging from various stories and went on researching this subject for the next 25 years.
The obese people that Felitti was interviewing were 100, 200, 300, 400 overweight, but they didn’t see their weight as a problem. To them, eating was a fix, a solution like IV drug user calls a dose a “fix”.
Eating made them feel better. Eating soothed their anxiety, fear, anger or depression – it worked like alcohol or tobacco or methamphetamines. Not eating increased their anxiety, depression, and fear to levels that were intolerable. For many people, just being obese solved a problem. In the case of the woman who’d been raped, she felt as if she were invisible to men.
Felitti went on to further explore the impact of childhood trauma on people and coined the term – ACE, Adverse Chilhood Experience. He found a strong co-relation between the number of ACEs and early death.
The Papyrus AGM this morning brought together many people with the same vision – to keep every young person safe and happy. The numerous hurdles on ground made my heart sink. This is too big a task. It’s too much for me or anyone else. But, I am not alone and they are not alone. We are together. Most of us in the room had been touched by suicide and were carrying our pain boldly around, hoping to use this massive emotional energy to reduce further pain in this world. Bit by bit we will keep planting seeds of hope. One person at a time, we will keep smashing the stigma. We will keep taking small steps and keep walking without looking fearfully into the distance.
Wake up lovers, it is time to start the journey! We have seen enough of this world, it is time to see another. Though these two gardens may be beautiful, let us pass beyond them and go to the Gardener, let us go prostrating like a torrent to the ocean. Let us journey from the vale of tears to the wedding feast, and bring the colour of blossom to our pale cheeks. Let us journey home, our hearts trembling like autumn leaves about to fall; in this world of dust there is no avoiding pain or feeling exiled. This path is full of trials, we need companions let us join their caravan and let love be our guide. We have stayed home, scared like mice but we are lion cubs, let us roar like lions. Let our soul turn into a mirror, that passionately wants to reflect Beauty. Let us begin the journey home.
‘Children and Young People’s Mental Health – Taking Early Action’ : title of a conference I attended today.
The hall was packed with 350-400 people, working for the well-being of kids as teachers, social workers, decision makers and others. Two speakers mentioned suicide in the passing – Rt. Hon. Norman Lamb MP, who lost his sister through this tragedy 2 years ago and Richard Andrews, who set up the charity Healios after experiencing serious difficulties in accessing support for friends and family affected by serious mental illness.
One of the professors spoke about the reasons for early deaths of people with mental ill-health. He attributed this mainly to physical problems such as hypertension, obesity and smoking related problems. Death by suicide wasn’t mentioned.
I learnt a lot, some of which I shall share in the next few days. A Green Paper is being drawn up to set out proposals for delivering better mental health support for children and young people. During one of the question times, I suggested that bearing in mind that suicide is the biggest killer of young people in this country, 2 things must be included in the Green Paper –
Suicide Prevention Training for all medical and nursing staff and students, just like CPR training, to bring parity of esteem between physical and mental ill-health.
Meaningful sharing of information about para-suicidal young people between medical teams, police, first-responders and families, in the best interest of the patient.
This remark was met with a stunned silence. The room froze. The chairperson mumbled something like ‘eloquent…’ and rapidly moved on to the next person.
Stigma lives here too. Inside the healthcare community.
Wonder what Saagar would have made of Brexit. He would have wanted easy access to France. He was a die-hard Francophile. He loved the intricacies of French language, food and wine, girls… He wanted to work there at some stage, to practice his French.
Trump would have been extremely amusing and concerning for him. I think he would have had fun making a cartoon character of him and imitating his mannerisms and speech. He used to mimic Bush Junior a lot, to our great amusement.
He would have had some strong and interesting opinions about gender identity politics and ‘safe spaces’ in Universities, which mean different things to different people. I was told that in his first year at University he volunteered as a student counsellor for LGBT students but in the second year he withdrew from that role. Did he not feel well enough within himself? Was that an indication that he knew something wasn’t the same?
Burning Middle-East, migrating populations, global tensions, towering infernos and erratic climatic phenomena – I wonder what he would have thought of all these things.
The passage of time is dragging me away from the point when he was alive. I grieve the widening gap between then and now. That time is receding further and further away like a very low tide. Physically, the current keeps flowing in one direction – away. Mentally, it dances, twirls and circles, touching many points over the past 24 years and gathering up as many gems as possible, folding them neatly and putting them away safely, to be revisited again and again and again… What if I forget everything? What if it goes too far away and then disappears? What if I can’t touch that time ever again?