How To Live and Learn from Grief

Grief is the most intense pain there is. It takes over your whole body and you encounter primal, physical reactions that are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Your heart races, your stomach aches and your head pounds, yet somehow you still feel empty, vacant, like a shell of a person.

I lost my beloved Dad five years ago to this day. He had cancer, and it was terminal. Just shy of one year since his diagnosis, the cancer had wormed it’s way throughout his entire body, including his major organs. He passed away on a sunny Spring day in the comfortable surroundings of the palliative hospital in Sydney, yet I felt nothing but numbness through my entire body. After the numbness came intense sadness and emptiness, how could I live on after losing my rock, my hero, my biggest supporter? I didn’t know if I would ever be able to be truly happy again with this big gaping hole pulsating inside of me.

Georgia caring for her terminally ill dad

Photo: Georgia with her dad after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I saw a counselor and she helped me with my grief. I learnt that it is ok to grieve, and to feel sad. Instead of trying to squash those feelings when they arise, I learnt to acknowledge them and to let them be. In the beginning, I let them be for a long time, sometimes days on end. But the more I learnt to make space for my grief rather than ignore it or bury it, I soon realised that each time I let my grief ‘just be,’ the more it ebbed and flowed and gradually disappeared on it’s own accord, without me trying to stop it. Months and months had passed since dad’s death, and I realised that wow, there were actual moments where I had forgotten about my grief, and it wasn’t always front and centre of my mind.

By acknowledging my grief and learning how to live with it when it wanted to show up, but then compartmentalising it and storing it away until its next ‘outing’ in my being, I was learning how to live with my grief. In fact, I was actually embracing it, actively analyzing it each time it came up (like how did it make me feel that day, was I a crying wreck? Was I numb? Was I super emotional and just needed lots of cuddles?), I was actually facing my grief head on and accepting that it was part of me, and that was ok.

As time went on the grief outings came fewer and far between. And during the ‘in between’ moments, I found that I was finding happiness again, like, true smile-across-my-dial-warm-and-fuzzy happiness! I found I was able to enjoy moments of happiness that weren’t always tinged by the bittersweet sadness of my grief. As ironic as it sounds, when you experience grief sometimes it feels like every happy moment is plagued with sudden guilt that you are feeling happy, when on the flip side you are also feeling such intense sadness. It’s like a yoyo of emotion but instead of the grief permeating every single moment of your life and every emotion you feel, you can learn to compartmentalize it so that one day not every moment of joy brings you that pang of sadness. Grief is such an intense emotion or feeling, arguable the most intense, so when I got to that certain level of intensity whether it’s happy or sad intensity, my grief was always there, waiting to latch on. But now, in that special place where my intensely happy or excited emotions are, grief no longer resides there full time. I have a special room for it and although sometimes it does sneak out and infiltrate my happy place, most of the time my grief knows where it needs to stay.

To anyone who is experiencing grief I urge you to acknowledge it and learn to live with it, as hard as that might be. You will be a different person in the wake of such an experience and you will find out so much about yourself . Rather than using all your emotional energy to squash it down and ignore it, you will find that you have some much more emotional space for growth and clarity. Rather than just survive, you will learn to thrive.

This blog post was written by Caring Canary Director and Founder, Georgia Harley. She was inspired by this article in The Guardian How to live and learn from great loss by Joanna Moorhead

‘Be Kind To Ya Mind’ image taken from Instagram.