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Grief from the Inside Out

By Niamh Fitzpatrick


Our annual Living with Loss evening was held on 1st November.  It aims to provide information about grief and the range of supports available to bereaved people.  Our guest speaker on this occasion was psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick.  She spoke about her own grief journey following the death of her sister Captain Dara Fitzpatrick in 2017. She has kindly shared this advice if you, or someone you know, is grieving.
• Feel the feelings
Acknowledge the pain, don’t try to ignore it, run from it or mask it. Grief is normal. There is only one way through it and that is to keep going, putting one foot in front of the other and feeling those feelings no matter how painful, they sadly cannot be avoided.
• Allow yourself to take your own path
Grief is personal, everyone’s different in how they grieve and that’s ok. Go at your own pace and grieve in your own way, finding ways to mourn your loved one and learning to navigate your new reality of life without them. Don’t assess yourself by how you think that others are doing, this is your own path that you are walking.
• Control the controllables
We cannot bring our loved ones back, that’s out of our control. But what is in our control is how we choose to focus our attention. Will it help to think only about all the things that you’ll never do together again? Sometimes that will happen and it’s natural, but don’t let your mind stay there. Choose to focus on the happy times you had together because that is within your control and you will feel better when you do tap into that bank of memories.
• Don’t let your mind go down the rabbit hole
Sometimes someone dies and there are questions left unanswered and our minds can run on and think of all the ‘what if?’ scenarios. That rarely helps, so it is important to be disciplined with your thinking and to not let your mind go down that rabbit hole. There’s nothing to be gained by this but there is peace of mind to be lost by engaging in this sort of thinking.
• Chunk it down
It can be quite overwhelming trying to come to terms with a life without your loved one, but it’s about chunking it down and not trying to take it all on board at once. So, it’s about taking each day one at a time and letting things like the first Christmas and the first birthday look after themselves, taking life in small chunks and dealing with each chunk one at a time. Even in terms of how you think about occasions such as Christmas, if it becomes overwhelming chunk it down into a piece that becomes more manageable emotionally. So, if the very idea of having to be happy during the holiday season fills you with dread and you don’t now how you will ever manage to get through Christmas without your loved one, think of it for what it is. In 2017 I told myself that Christmas was “just a Monday and a big chicken”. Seeing it as this rather than as a big day, laden with expectations of happiness, can help you to get through it.
• Practice self-care
Rest, sleep, hydration, good nutrition, fresh air, gentle movement, connection with loved ones, something to occupy you, staying away from toxic people or from unnecessary tasks. These can all help render your body and mind able to carry your loss.
• Gather support
Let people help you as you navigate this journey of grief. Many want to help; indeed, they feel helpless; the giving and receiving of that support can bring huge benefit to all parties. In time you will be yourself again, or at least a new version of yourself, and you will have the capacity to be there for others, but for now it’s ok to take that help. Think about who is offering help or support that you have not accepted yet and consider whether it might be time to do so.
Get professional help
For most people, grief will not require professional help, however for some people a qualified and experienced ear can be hugely beneficial when it comes to finding your way in this new world.
• ‘If you can’t make it better at least don’t make it worse’
On my last birthday before Dara died, I ended up getting annoyed about something and I never saw her that day. I cannot fix that, but I can make it worse by going over and over it in my head and wishing that I had made a different choice that day. So, I tell myself that as I cannot make it better, then my job is to at least not make it worse. Therefore, I focus on all the birthdays and indeed other days that we did have together, rather than focusing my attention on the one day that I regret but cannot change. Whatever you do, don’t make a sad situation worse with a focus of attention on things that you cannot change.
 • ‘I’ll be ok, I just don’t know exactly what ok looks like right now’
Most of us don’t like uncertainty and when a loved one dies life seems about as uncertain as it can be. I tell myself regularly that I’ll be ok, it’s just that I don’t know yet exactly what ok looks like yet. This addresses the uncertainty in my life, but also acknowledges that I trust myself to be ok at some point.
• Useful Resources 
  • Megan Devine – “some things in life cannot be fixed, they can only be carried.
  • Sheryl Sandberg – “Option B”
  • Nancy Berns – Ted talk “The Myth of Closure”
  • BBC iPlayer Facebook – “How does grief change over time?”
  • One of the best things I have read on grief, this is a reply to a person who posted on Reddit that their friend had died, and they didn’t know what to do. An elderly gentleman posted this stunning and insightful reply:
 As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”

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