Nothing is harder to deal with than when a wave of grief threatens to pull you under at a moment’s notice

I was talking to a friend the other week about being childless and how it never seems to end in terms of the things that can trigger a wave of grief, that leaves you feeling as though you’re being sucked under yet again. Imagine if we could explain to people that aren’t part of this community what it’s actually like.

Take for example, my experience the other day. I was sat with a collection of friends, all of whom belong to this community. As we sat in the late January sunshine, a young child started screaming. The kind of scream that punches a hole in your head and to some extent your heart too. We all joked that ‘thank goodness we don’t have to deal with that…’, but do you know what that relief is only momentary and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that thought ‘actually, I really wish I did have to’. And there was a little puddle of grief that just gently lapped at my toes to make itself known and a small stab at the heart.

Grief then came along and tapped me on the shoulder later that evening as I sat watching a program and an advert popped up full of tiddlers. My partner has become very adept at fast forwarding through these, but for the first time in a long time we were watching something in real time rather than on sky plus. Shit!! No fast forward, just a frantic punching on the keys of the remote to change the channel!

And you’re able to sit with it for a little while, with it tapping your shoulder and letting you believe you can cope. Until something else comes along like an anniversary or an insensitive comment and before you know it you’ve been pulled under again by another wave of grief.

That’s the problem you see, grief doesn’t just randomly knock you sideways, it can accumulate and pool around you. It can be triggered by something, anything when you’re out and about. It can be triggered by the television – a program, an advert. It can triggered by a comment from someone, such as the always hilarious ‘why don’t you take mine..?’. Oh do fuck off!  

If it’s not the wanky comments trying to minimalise your grief because they don’t understand, they can’t empathise or they’re just an insensitive arse, it’s the pity party. Please don’t, just fucking don’t…

And there’s the problem, because our grief is invisible, it’s taboo, it’s an elephant in the room and so people don’t or can’t take account of it. This in turn makes it difficult for us to be able to cope or deal with something that gets launched at us at a moment’s notice, and that means we can end up trying to hide away for fear of being triggered and feeling that grief well up, yet again.

So what are my tips for dealing with this?

  • Avoidance – I know it’s not a long term fix for all your triggers, but here’s the thing, avoidance means you’re able to make your day-to-day life manageable. It can include not going to events, breaking or limiting contact with people and not feeling duty-bound to do anything that feels too much. It just means it gives you space to recover from the wave of grief and to get yourself some headspace.
  • Safe space – I’m not a huge fan of this term, as it gets used for the wrong reasons. But a safe space is critical if you’re struggling. It can be a physical space, maybe your home, a room, a place that is deserted out in the open…. It can be a mental space, such as meditation or a visualisation of a beach, mountain etc that means you can ‘escape’ when things get tough. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s yours and means you get some time to yourself.
  • Feeling the feels – for a long time I tried to suppress all of my emotions around the grief. Often I wouldn’t cry there and then, if I could help it. I would save it up until I felt safe and then let it go, but it was incredibly hard and often led to me feeling locked down and unable to feel it when I needed to. As much as I still struggle with it, fuck it, if I’m upset I’m going to show it there and then. I would recommend that you try to do this too, because then people know when they’ve done something that’s not on. It leads to a conversation, or often just an understanding of your boundaries.
  • Escape plans – when you’ve felt that wave of grief well up and you’re in a social situation, just get the fuck out of there. It can be hard in a business meeting, but I’ve done it when someone announced a pregnancy out of left field. ‘That’s wonderful’ I beamed, ‘but you’ll have to excuse me, I just need the loo’.

The waves of grief are hard to deal with, as I know, but coping mechanisms and finding things that work for you are key if you are going to be able to deal with them in the short to medium term. In the long term, the only thing that can help is time, lots and lots of time. There is no prescription for how, when and if they stop, because it’s your journey and as individual as you. But key to surviving the waves is making sure you do what you can to protect yourself.   

Waves can be hard to deal with, but there are ways you can help yourself deal with them

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