Wilhelmina wrote to us, she wanted to share her ideas of how she believes you can manage your grief. Here are her thoughts. We’d like to hear your ideas ,stories and responses. Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why have I written this and why now?
I guess I have written this for a number of reasons the first being that I really felt that I was ready to share my experience, my story, and what I have learnt and I guess I really hope that my tips will help those going through a difficult time. I am as I mentioned earlier in a great place in life, I feel healthy, happy and loved. My life feels balanced to the point that I do think that I have learnt so much over the last 10 years, I couldn’t have written this 2, 3 or 5 years ago only now. I have done a lot of work on myself in terms of soul searching, and also getting all kinds of different types of help. Spiritually I have explored, my religious faith, energy healing as well as getting medical help , reading books and spending time on my own to digest, reflect and try to feel better about what happened. All of which have helped and have really helped me to understand that we are made up of mind, body and soul and when you have been through a traumatic event such as grief all of you needs to heal so remember that.
The first thing that I want to write about is the importance of being inspired.
It is important as it has allowed me to despite feeling low or down to always find beauty in something. This might not make a whole lot of sense but let me try to add a bit more colour to the story so you understand what I mean.
Inspiration comes from a variety of sources and can mean different things to different people. It can mean as little as seeing a butterfly turn from a caterpillar gain its wings and fly, it can be seeing an athlete break world records at a championship or it can be feeling inspired by hearing a motivational speaker or leader persevere and talk through challenging times. It can be inspired by the beautiful use of the English Language in a book or a poem.
When I reflect back on my life so far and I think about what has inspired me, one thing comes to mind which is inspiration from those that have truly struggled, suffered real hardship but still possess such kindness, generosity and openness. When I look back over the last 10 years there have been days where I genuinely did not think I could physically get out of bed. Some of those days have been from physical pain from the trauma I had been through. My life over the last 10 years riddled with illnesses and health problems after my parents passed away and the other times mentally not feeling that I could push through that barrier of hurt and pain. Feeling inspired has allowed me to push past those barriers, to look at those moments and to appreciate the people in the world that have come before us.
To modern day hero’s like Nelson Mandela whose strength and determination for equality has inspired thousands of people. Martin Luther King who looked straight in the eye adversity and put himself his family and everything he had at risk to fight for equal rights. All of those people that spoke out and had a voice when they were told not to. I especially look to and am inspired by strong women who have achieved great things in their lives Mother Theresa, Amelia Earnhardt, Oprah Winfrey, Jessica Ennis, Beyonce Knowles- Carter by being great at whatever they set their mind to by being proud to stand up and be counted as a woman. More close to home my own mother who’s love for her family was greater than the love she ever had for herself. My mother was told she was dying a few days after she was taken into a hospice and her only response was do not tell my children. Her last days on this earth and instead of wanting to make it all about her she made it about us. That’s inspiring.
The most inspiring thing for me personally after my mother died was my younger brother and you might ask the question why was he inspiring? Well he was inspiring for a number of reasons. A young boy at the age of just 16 had just lost his mother, he went on to finish high school do his GCSE’s and get great grades all of which is impressive but the most inspiring thing about him at this time that I will always remember is one of the first things my brother said to me after I had to tell him that my mother had passed away which was “Mina how are we going to look after daddy?” This child had just lost his mother he had so many individual challenges that lay in front of him from a personal point of view but one of his first thoughts and sentences was how are we going to look after my elderly father. That really inspired me if he could think about someone else during this time of such grief then I could to and that is the first lesson be inspired.
Time is NOT a healer but forgiveness and giving yourself permission to heal is
So everyone pretty much tells you when anything happens to you in life that time is a healer and maybe it is for many but in my humble opinion time is definitively not a healer.
The reason I say this is you have people that have been through traumatic events, 10, 15 20 years+ ago and they still have not recovered. If time was such healer shouldn’t they be over it? Shouldn’t they have healed? In my opinion no, because life just does not work that way you have to give more to the process than just time.
When you lose someone modern western society allows you to grieve for what 5 days maybe 2 weeks and then if you’re lucky for the first couple of month’s people might accept you not being yourself. Take it from someone who knows and has lived and experienced it, it takes far longer to heal than you can ever imagine. For each individual it will be different and I can only talk about my personal experience and all I can say is losing my parents affected and scarred me in more ways than I was prepared to accept and admit at the time.
What I think really helps the process is forgiveness and when I say forgiveness that might sound strange but when you lose someone in my experience both parents in 13 months you feel a sense of abandonment then sense of being alone regardless of how many friends and distant relatives are around you feel left, abandoned to cope in this world alone. You can’t help but blame them, blame them for leaving you , they upset your cosmic order your destined path I mean I was planning on having parents way into my 40’s how dare they leave me like this. It took me a very long time to get over this resentment and bitterness that I would not admit to anyone else but myself. It took me at least a couple of years to forgive them. To understand that none of what happened was their fault they died and that’s a part of life , I’ll get to that later but forgiving them for leaving me was an important part of healing and the grieving process.
The second thing related to this was allowing myself to grieve, so what does that mean well it means different things to different people.
For me it meant forgiving myself for not being “normal” experiencing violent emotions, making bad decisions, sometimes wanting to scream, then cry and laugh all in the space of 5 minutes. When I look back I tried so hard to treat the situation logically and cope with it well when in reality the fact I set out to do that meant internally I wasn’t coping at all.
The hardest thing is I look back and I probably wasn’t the best friend, colleague sister or friend sometimes but what I realise now is it took so much out of me to just pretend to function like a normal person it was hard to have any mental, emotional space left to be balanced .
So I guess what I’m trying to say is the grief process can take months, years but allow and give yourself that time because only when the time is right and you have processed it in a way that works for you that you will be able to have more of a healthy balanced way in life. My mother passed away 10 years ago and my father 9 and only last year I healed fully, only last year internally I had healed from the trauma that brought to my life. I had people tell me I wasn’t over their passing and only those that have not experienced it can have that judgement. Do me a favour and please ignore them, so lesson 2 forgive them and give yourself permission to grieve for however long or how you need to. With that said that doesn’t give you permission or a licence to be an asshole but I’m saying acknowledge you’re not ok and don’t beat yourself up too much for it
Death is a part of life and accepting that is hard
So there is no glamorous way to describe this , death there is no avoiding it, there is no pass you can buy that means you escape it. There is no friend you can talk to who can get you round it there is no amount of money you can have that will exempt you from feeling this reality. Death is a part of life it is something that is going to happen to all of us and accepting it is hard.
In some cultures they talk openly about it so when it does happen to loved ones there is no surprise the mourning process is long and you really pay homage to the person and the process. When my mother died we had 2 funerals one in England which was as traditional as it could be for someone that has passed away from West Africa in this society, we then took her body back to Ghana to be buried which surprised many as they asked why should she not be buried in England, well it was obvious that was not her home her death her burial was not about anybody else but her l I didn’t need for her to be buried on English Soil to think about her. I think about her every day. I digress a bit here so back to my point.
In Ghana the funeral was long and took place over a number of days where you create the passageway for that person to the afterlife and parts of the process were hard for me to see and do but it allowed a type of catharsis, to really feel she had passed on to something else . In western society that really is not the case we are still really uncomfortable with the idea and the thought of death. It’s really hard to accept that it is a part of life. I believe in an afterlife and I also believe that our time on this earth is temporary the bodies we occupy the lives we live it’s all temporary. So the question is if we know it’s going to happen why is it still so hard?! . Now that, I don’t have the answer to I’m afraid. If I look at the funeral that took place in England and the funeral that took place in Ghana did either or both make it easier to accept that my mum had died?
In all honesty no neither, the reality was still the same. I lived death for 2 years as in I felt like death and I were becoming bad friends it kept taking the people I loved away from me. I could smell feel and hear it coming each time but I didn’t want to and I couldn’t stop it. The reasons it hurts so bad and is still shocking despite sometimes losing people that are Ill, elderly or in serious pain is because we are human and we still live and care for those that leave us in this life.
After I lost my parents I found myself asking why each time why? Why me? Why us? I kept trying to make sense of it, trying to understand. The only conclusion I’ve come to is the one above it’s an eventuality it has to happen to all of us but accepting that is hard. Accepting that we can no longer have a conversation with that person, a hug a kiss it’s just hard and no matter what we do or say or how logical we try to be about it that is the fact of the matter.
This is my shortest chapter because it’s something that I’m still struggling with I don’t have the answers and I’ve come to terms with the fact it is a part of life but I’m not saying I’m accepting it what I am saying is accepting it is hard. The only comfort in this is knowing it will happen to each and every one of us regardless of when and that is a fact.
Your attitude is your last greatest freedom
I recently went to a night of inspirational talks and the first talk of the evening was by a poet , he spoke about losing a leg and how that changed him and his perception of life and his story was inspirational but the one thing that he said that really resonated with me was “ your attitude is your last greatest freedom” . Over the years I’ve heard similar phrases around choosing your attitude but this really summarised it perfectly for me. In this life many things cost different amounts and have a certain price tag associated to them but your attitude does not it’s free.
Losing my mother was very difficult because to be honest I quite simply was not ready for her to go, she was a really strong woman and I was stupid enough to think that she could cheat death. Before my mother died in more recent years I had a turbulent relationship with my father and some blamed him for my mother’s death at this point I had some choices to make, what would be my attitude I could be angry and bitter towards my father or I could cling to the last parent I had on this earth although he wasn’t perfect he was still my parent. Choosing this approach helped me, after all we were all grieving.
The second thing that I want to talk about here is not getting caught up in victim mentality and thinking that the whole world is against you. Yes, you might feel like this for a little while we are all allowed to wallow in our own self-pity but thinking you are a victim for the rest of your life is not going to help you. Yes, it’s really hard losing someone you love but adopting the victim mentality and attitude is basically the equivalent of putting chains on your hands and seeing yourself as a slave and a prisoner to life for the rest of your life. Yes something awful and terrible has happened to you but that moment or those series of events does not have to be what defines you. It does not have to be what people remember you for or what you remember yourself by.
Before my mother and father died I was always the sort of person that was grateful for everything I became even more so. I had great people around me and instead of focusing on what had been taken from me I focused on what I had been given. Instead of focusing on how I now would lack emotional, mental, physical and financial support I focused on how I could create these things myself with the cards I’d been dealt.
That is not to say that I never miss receiving these things from my parents because despite what people tell you it does not feel the same. Why would it? Those people created you and brought you into this world and that attachment is unique. However what I am saying is be very clear about what story you want to be telling, be clear on your attitude because that will consciously or unconsciously affect your reality and the life you lead as a result.
Create a purpose for your life
Creating a purpose for our lives is something that most of us look to do at some point or have thought about, that big question why are we here? What are we meant to do with our lives? When I talk about purpose and this is linked to inspiration I mean when we lose people that we love in life sometimes not through bereavement but other factors and consequences of life it can be difficult to move on and fill that void. This is particularly difficult when those people have passed away.
In my experience it was really important after my mother passed away to create a purpose for my life nothing particularly big or grand but a reason for me to get out of bed every morning. When my mother was lying on the hospice bed my family, as in my aunts encouraged me to speak to my mum as they believe in their culture that the spirit of the person in still in the room shortly after they pass away so I went and spoke to my mother and I told her that I would do my very best in life to make her proud. I still get emotional and can feel my eyes well up as I write this as I don’t often reflect of that time and try to explain it to others. That was purpose number 1 purpose number 2 linked very close to this was to ensure that my brother finished his education. One of the things that my mother wanted the most was to see us all through to university. Sadly she did not get to see my brother graduate but he did. My sister and I made sure of it. So in the back of my mind all the time was to make sure my brother went to university and got a degree. That then would be my mother’s job done. So what then happened over the next couple of years of my life was about getting him to that point but at the same time trying to enjoy my life. I changed jobs pretty soon after my mother passed away yes I wanted to do more than work on customer service but the key motivation and driver was to earn more money so I could contribute more to the home as my dad was a pensioner.
After my father died the purpose did not change but if anything I think I became even more determined to make it happen. With no parental income again it was time to change jobs so I could continue to help my sister financially to support my brother all I can say is I tried my very best to ensure he never missed out, went without and I tried to make sure had emotional and financial support at all times. Giving to him as much as I could but keeping some reserve for myself for my sanity and to live as much like a normal 20 something year old as I could. Those were very tough times not just for me but for all involved. What we had all been through had been traumatic but having a sense of purpose and finding a logical way forward that I emotionally connected to helped me a great deal. After my brother graduated I felt a sense of pride that all those years of struggle and hard work had paid off. I then began the journey of really working out what I want to do with my life and since have had many hobbies and interests but my primary purpose being to help people and that’s what I seek to do.
The point I’m trying to make and my advice is as it can be so difficult when you lose someone you love but find a purpose, something you can connect to that make the days meaningful again and that will help get you through it.
Dealing with the loss and loneliness
This is the hardest thing for me to write about because it’s not something I have really mastered but I can share what I believe has helped me. When you lose loved ones, parents in my case it can feel like you have lost a sense of belonging to something, a family unit. I have often felt lonely and it’s the kind of thing that can’t be helped it is no one’s fault.
You can look and think and see that everyone else is always going to have their own families, their own lives and therefore their own priorities .Your thought process can become very insular. What this means especially as you get older I have found is that you can feel really isolated. I live alone and I would say 70-80% of the time I am really comfortable with being alone. I have got used to my own company and really value the time and space. The other 30% for some reason can be so difficult despite having an extended family and also friend I have felt very lonely at times so lonely that it physically hurts. During these times I’ve actually found it helpful to recognise it and like every other emotion, allow it to breathe, sit with it for a while. I don’t find it helpful to push past this feeling initially I’ve found it much helpful to withdraw for a while and gather my thoughts and think of things that will make me feel better. The danger is if you allow yourself to wallow or sit with it for too long as that can lead to depression. What has then helped me is to confide in 1 or 2 people explain how I’m feeling and then slowly start to do things that I enjoy doing. The worst thing you can do at times like this is use social media to look at how everyone else is living their lives as in my experience this will only make you feel worse.
Think about good times and good experiences you have had in your life and try to plan for more events and things that you enjoy. Think about things that you can be grateful for .Put yourself out into your local community maybe through church or other social groups try to help others. I often find what helps me is talking to new people and trying new activities to help change the energy. There will be points in all of our lives where we will be alone, we come into the world alone and we leave alone and that is the reality that we do need to accept. However with that said loneliness is real and so is isolation and it is something that when you lose loved ones like your parents at a young age and can really difficult to deal with. I’ve often felt that I don’t have a place and have a sense of longing of when I will feel like I do have one again. I think that maybe one day when I have my own family I will but who knows maybe after you have gone through traumatic events and such loss there will always be a part of you that does feel a void, a sense of loss and loneliness that will never go. The only option to move forward is to reach out to others sometimes those that you might be surprised to find feel just as lonely as you do sometimes.
Always count your blessings: Be grateful for your mind, body & soul
It’s really easy when times are tough to forget what you are still blessed with what you actually should be grateful for. After I lost my parents still to this day I can still feel bouts of loneliness, no sense of belonging which if you are not careful these feelings can spiral into depression. I talked to this earlier and it is very real. However with that said it’s very easy to forget how you have been blessed in other ways. I was very fortunate that a few years before my parents died I met a lady called Terri who I worked for at my first job in a florist at the age of 14. Terri adopted me into her family and gave me all the love, time and attention as if I was her own and for that I will always be eternally grateful as that was a true blessing. I’ve been blessed throughout my life to have had other people in my life some that are worthy of a mention a friend Cynthia who also adopted me invited me into her home and her family and has been an adopted big sister for me over the last few years, again another blessing. In addition to this friends that have been there and supported me as much as they could and have really seen me through the most difficult time in my life. Friends that knew me when I had parents, who saw and were with me through my struggles and are still my friends today and they hold a very special place in my life. I have to call them out Claire, Emma and my adopted sister Ruxi, eternally grateful for their friendship.
What I also am really grateful for is the fact that I am of clear mind to make my own decisions to think for myself, I am bodily abled I can use my body to walk around the whole world if I wanted to , I could dance all day every day if the spirit guided me to. I also have my soul, the soul which is described as being spiritual and emotional energy of a being. I live in a country where I have freedom to act, my conscious feels clear and I feel good about my life, the decisions I have made and through what I have been through I have always tried to stay grateful and thankful for my blessings and give back to those that have given to me and to others that need help and this I believe has helped flow good karmic energy in my direction.
Life can be hard and things do happen that are incredibly difficult, if you have lost people you have loved you will understand what I mean. However what has really helped me is always remembering that I am still blessed and I have things that I am still eternally grateful for. Every man/woman is on their own journey and it is when you start to compare and contrast and forget your own blessings is when that whole victim mentality creeps in and that is dangerous for your own mind and definitely for your own soul. There is one thing that is true which is illness or death does not discriminate against anyone or anything and as said in my previous chapter it is a fact of life and it will happen to us all. I am not saying that you have no right to feel aggrieved as you do, and I do that is for sure but do not lose sight of all the other things, people in your life, that you have not been and have reason as everybody else does to be grateful for. In this life we are not entitled to anything, it amazes me how so many people feel entitled to things, people, love or money. We are not entitled to anything and therefore for every day we wake up and breathe, we laugh , we smile, we run, we dance, we cry it is a blessing, do not forget that and how quickly it could all stop.
Accept who you are
One of the things that I found hard was accepting who I was and with acceptance not being ashamed or embarrassed to let people know what has happened to you. I used to dread mother’s day, father’s day because it drew attention to something that I did not have. I would dread someone asking me what I was doing or where they were because I had to tell the truth and with that would always come that awkward moment where someone feels uncomfortable and you can see the pity in their eyes. I really never wanted pity but what I have learnt over the years is that grief that experience is such a big part of the person that I have become today and played a big role in shaping my attitude and giving me the drive to accomplish things to make my parents proud and for that I am grateful.
I have also learnt that no one, no family is perfect we are all carrying with us our invisible scars and although we may feel that our situation is unique and we are somewhat embarrassed, ashamed everyone else has their own story and can feel those emotions for many different reasons. When I used to think about the word orphan I hated it in my mind it meant someone that didn’t ever have parents and for some reason well I did have them so it is not the same that title did not belong with me. Well it does and there is nothing wrong with it I guess I the reason it bothered me so much was not the word itself but what is was associated with. The idea that I was alone , I had no one, that was my interpretation of the word well in fact it’s just a word and I’m not alone I am lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family members in which I can feel their love. So instead of hiding from this word, that title I now embrace it, accept you were, who you are now and who you want to be. I wrote this poem to express my feelings around this.
I’m an orphan that’s what I am
I have no Mum or Dad
I did have them once I cry
It’s not my fault that they were taken from me in the blink of an eye
My mother in illness poisoned she left
My father heartbroken, depressed with nothing to look forward to but death
They left us alone, so worried so lost, with nothing or no one to cling to but each other and earthly dust.
Frozen and broken in more ways than the eye could see.
Frozen and broken not knowing what would be
Many years of hurt and suffering inside
Many years of confusing trying to make sense of it all in my mind
The shame and embarrassment felt with that one word
No pity please, tears I don’t need them I’ve learnt
It’s taken some time but now I embrace that one word that used to make me feel so out of place
I’m an orphan I tell you I shout out and cry
I’m an orphan I tell you I breathe in and sigh.
The dictionary description of the word faith is to “have complete trust or confidence in someone or something or to “have strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.” This is really interesting because I guess when I think about having faith yes sometimes that can be about having faith in someone or something and yes it can be having faith in a religious or spiritual order but my view and opinion of faith is more related to believing that things will get better they will change.
When I say that I am not discounting the dictionary definition because faith is absolutely all those things and sometimes when I think of faith it is in relation to those things but for the broad part it is about the fact that tomorrow is a different day.
When you have been bereaved it can sometimes feel like you are going to feel the hurt and the pain every day for the rest of your life. It can often lead us to not have faith, faith in a higher purpose, faith in a higher force, faith in better days to come. This lack or loss of faith is what can lead to dark times for the mind, soul and the spirit. I know there were times where all I had to cling to was faith and I guess some might even call it blind faith at the time no one else that I knew had experienced anything else that I had so I had no factual account to refer to that things were going to get better, but for some reason I knew I had to find faith that things and times would change and would get better maybe this was blind faith but having faith that I was not going to feel like this for the rest of my life helped define my own reality.
It can be hard to believe but things do and will get better if you have faith and believe they will. It really is as simple as that, positive thinking does bring a positive reality and outcome. This is something that has been researched and studied in CBT therapy. I am not saying this is always easy but I truly believe that it has helped me. Sometimes my faith was in God, I would pray and hope that he would light up better days for me to experience in the future. Sometimes the faith was in myself faith that I could get through a really difficult time and sometimes it was blind faith but my question is always is that such a bad thing. One of my favourite films of all time is Corina Corina it’s a film that has Ray Liotta and Whoopi Goldberg. My favourite scene in the film is when Molly a young girl whose mother has just passed away speaks to her father about the fact that her mother is in heaven. Her father then responds by telling her there is no heaven so she should stop saying that. So Molly asked her father if there is no heaven and no God why do people say there is?. Her father then replied because it makes them feel better, Molly then has a great reply which is “well what is so bad about that?”. This completely stumps her father and he has no response. My point being if you have faith in someone/something /some higher being or force of nature, and you are not hurting anyone or forcing your beliefs onto anyone else then in my opinion there is nothing wrong with it at all. When you are grieving your faith will waver at times and like a said in an earlier chapter you will from time to time still feel sad, upset , angry and confused as to why you have lost your loved one but on this one I have to say trust me have faith it will get better and it will.
Thank you for reading I hope it’s given you food for thought, and hopefully given you some words of help and encouragement if you are going through a tough time.
Wilhelmina Elizabeth Dina John