The grief process really is all about emotions.
The Oxford dictionary describes emotion as: any feelings of joy, sorrow, fear, love, affection, despair – the list of words is almost endless. What matters to you is the emotional link you had with your loved one.
Emotions are closely linked to thoughts and feelings. We all know that there are a lot of negative emotions when we are grieving, such as depression, anger, anxiety and guilt. However, there are also positive emotions as well – for example gratitude, pride, hope and love.
Positive emotions need not be intense, or prolonged to produce beneficial effects. In fact, if you can experience even a small amount of positive emotions (there may not be as many as the negative ones) you will still do better than not having any positive emotions at all.
These positive emotions play an important role in regulating depression and other negative ones that are associated with grief. If you are able to experience positive emotions in the first few months following your loss, you are likely to experience less grief and distress in the future months and years.
However, it’s more likely and natural that negative feelings and emotions will come from the recent past when someone was taken ill, or was involved in an accident. Try and think of the times you had together before that happened. One widower told us that it helped him to think of the 27 years he shared with his wife before the final months of her illness. A bit like comparing 27 years to 27 months – there was a great deal more time of happiness and family memories than the period when she was ill.
Please be aware that positive emotions can help and improve the way in which you cope with your loss. A result of gaining some distance from the negative emotions and being replenished by positive ones, means you will be able focus your attention on tasks that are now important to you.
There are some things which you can do to help enhance your positive emotions. Two of these are ‘Engagement’ and ‘Focusing on What Matters’.
Becoming involved in activities which engage your interests can be very helpful in enhancing positive emotions – it just helps to feel good about something you are doing. Just enjoying yourself and having fun. It helps to break the grip of negative thoughts. Some examples of engaging activities could include a shopping expedition with a friend, or attending a sporting event with a group of friends. Some people have joined walking clubs where there is often the likelihood of meeting other members who have experienced similar life changing events. You also get the added benefit of good exercise and enjoying being out in the fresh air.
Getting involved in any activity is beneficial, but when you are engaging with other people it just helps you to get on with your life. Following the death of her husband, one woman said, “One of my co-workers invited me to go line dancing with her after work. I have never tried line dancing and hate dancing, so my expectations were low. Imagine my surprise, it was a lot of fun, and we are going again next week”.
Focusing on What Matters
To help you move forward, you could consider the following question: given everything that has happened, what matters to me at this point in my life? One woman, who had lost her older son, decided that what mattered now was to be the best possible mother to her surviving son. “I arranged a sleep-over for my son, and cooked him his favourite dinner. It made me feel happy,” she said. A woman whose husband had died decided what mattered now was staying healthy so she could raise her children. “I had cancelled my two previously scheduled mammograms, but this time I kept my appointment. It felt good to do something for my family”.
For some people, what matters now is trying to help others who have experienced similar life changing events. After a suitable time period, and only you will know when the time is right, you may find yourself drawn to very worthwhile organisations e.g. Cruse, SOBS, Alzheimer Society and Samaritans. Within these organisations you can become involved in fund raising, organising, or becoming a support volunteer in connection with your loved one’s illness, or condition.
In fact many of the Cruse Bereavement Care in Gwent volunteers became involved following the death of a friend, or family member. One such volunteer said, “After the death of my wife, I had a group of amazing friends around me and of course my family. I had so much support. But then I thought about people who had no one to help them in their hours of need. So I joined Cruse as a support volunteer”.
It’s also important to note that for a bereaved person, what matters now may not be the same as what mattered then (i.e. before your loss). As one woman explained, “Before my daughter’s death I was obsessed with decorating the house. This has no importance to me now.”
So, to try and summarise; your emotions are what make you who you are. Everyone experiences lots of different emotions, but how you deal with them can affect how you view the future. Trying to remain focussed on the positive side of your personality will help you as you move forward.