A MINDFUL way through GRIEF

Grief, as anyone who has experienced it will tell you (and most of us have), is a life-changer. You’re never quite the same person you were before the loss. We can grow a little stronger, wiser even, but we’re always different. We can learn to live with the loss but we never truly go back to being the same person we were before it.

How people deal with loss has been studied and written about for many years. Most famously, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s first wrote of the five stages: shock and denial, bargaining, depression, anger; and the fifth and final stage, acceptance. Grief is a subject that has always fascinated me because it is such a complex emotion. There is no typical response to loss and people deal with it in different ways. Sadness, anger and fear are most commonly felt during the process. It is an universally human experience. Those who I’ve spoken to on the subject all say the same thing, nothing reminds us more that we are human than the pain of significant loss.

There are times in all our lives when things seem hopeless, and we feel alone. Mindfulness helped me during a time of grief. I have to say, along with the kindness and love of those closest to me, it was a lifeline. It’s a technique that works for many and one I’d like to share with you now. In a way, it’s a practice of being still; figuratively. Being still with our emotions. In other words (and in mindfulness terms), bringing a sense of acceptance to our experience.

In mindfulness acceptance means accepting how you feel right now, rather than resisting it or wishing it to be different. It doesn’t mean resignation. It means being with your experience, whatever it is. The thing about painful emotions is that we don’t like them; sadness, anger, fear; we really struggle with them, try to push them away or fix them in some way; mindfulness teaches us to try and let them be. Coupled with the wisdom that everything is temporary and nothing stays the same. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, maybe for some people it is, but for me and for many people I’ve met, it’s one of the hardest lessons we’ll ever learn. But possibly the most important.

Over the years, since practicing mindfulness, I’ve tried to bring a sense of acceptance to difficult times. Sometimes it has worked really well, other times, not so much. But it is a practice.

If I was to go back and talk to my much younger self, the one who was really struggling, here’s what I would say. Be still and try not to be too hard on yourself. You’re doing your best to get through. Be careful with that negative self-talk, it gets louder and crueller the lower you feel. Notice your thoughts but remember they’re not facts. Be still and just breathe when the anger rises up inside you. On the days when the sadness threatens to pull you under, remember, just breathe. When fear makes all those around you seem untrustworthy and dangerous, remember, be still and just breathe. Try not to turn away, try not to panic; do not be afraid. This feeling will not last forever.

And although it feels like you may never find joy or curiosity again, gently but firmly remind yourself that you will. One day you may even forge meaning from this experience. Be still and on the days and nights when you simply can’t manage this, that’s okay; just breathe and gently tell yourself you’ll try again tomorrow.

Louise Thompson is Health and Wellbeing manager at Manchester Art Gallery