Papow Ponders #19: Loss

Note: This post will discuss death and loss.

I’ve not written for a long time due to some difficult life events. After taking some time and giving myself space to reflect, I’ve decided to write this as writing has always been a healthy way for me to process my thoughts and feelings.

My Experience

This year I have experienced a great deal of loss. Everyone’s experience of loss is different; I’m writing from my own perspective.

Death has always been a big fear of mine. From a young age, I’ve worried about my loved ones passing away. This turned into very real anxiety as an adult: I had intrusive thoughts about awful things happening to my friends and family or I’d be deeply morbid and wonder why I should do anything as everyone was going to die anyway. This became a reality for me a few months ago. I ended up doing what I wished I’d never have to do in life: I saw a last breath, held a cold hand and spoke at a funeral.

I can’t really explain how it feels but I’ll try the best I can. For me, I felt a gut-wrenching mix of anger, sadness and emptiness. It’s like living with a permanent black cloud over your head or a heavy stone weighing on your chest. You look back on all the things you could have said or done. You can hold it together one minute and then you’re a mess the next. It swallows you. My general behaviour changed. I became very clingy to my immediate family (for fear of losing more loved ones). I withdrew from people, only talking to those who knew what was going on. I lost all impetus to do anything productive or creative. I stopped reading and writing, I stopped dressing up, I stopped enjoying my food, I stopped exercising and I stopped washing my face. When I was on my own,  I’d be at home staring at my phone or ruminating.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have much time to stay this way. My other half filled up days with activities he knew I’d enjoy (and had to get out of the house for). I spent time with family from the other side of the world. Friends called me, had dinner with me and talked about all kinds of inane rubbish with me. I went back to work and my class filled up my days.

Roughly two months on, I took a long trip away with my better half. I needed space away from everything and, at the end of the trip, naively I thought I had put my grief and sorrow into a locked box and thrown away the key. Roll on to my birthday a few weeks later and I ended up spending the majority of the day in uncontrollable tears.

Now, I’ve come to the realisation that loss and the feelings that come with it can’t be switched off. It’s like a hum in the background of your life (some of the time you barely notice it, some of the time it’s the only thing you can hear) and you live with it the best you can. That’s what my experience has been so far.

I wrote this to help me make sense of what’s happened and also to share what’s been helping me and hindering me over the past six months – just in case it helps anyone else.

What Helped?

  • Taking time away from work – while work can be a great distraction, having some time away gave me time to actually process what was happening.
  • Routine – it’s always helped my anxiety and it has also been beneficial during the grieving process.
  • Nature – it’s a form of escape.
  • Talking – it makes a difference. Even if it’s just asking for a cup of tea or some quiet, it helps.
  • Looking through photos – this can be bittersweet but it helps to remind you of the good stuff.
  • Getting out of the house – a change of surrounding can make a difference to your mood.
  • Being with/without people – I needed time on my own but also time with people. Finding a balance is hard but the right mix has a positive impact.
  • Books – another way to escape reality.
  • Tea

What Hindered?

  • People telling me how to feel
  • People pushing me to talk when I wasn’t ready
  • Filling my days with too many things
  • Not telling people how I feel
  • Expecting others who are grieving to feel the same as I do
  • Trying to keep everyone happy

I could write so much more but I feel like this is enough right now. To anyone who has been a support in the past few months, I can’t thank you enough. For anyone going through something similar, know that you are not alone.