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Grief – Is it better to have loved and lost or never to love at all?

Grief – a complicated and intense mix of feelings – sadness, shock, disbelief, anger, rage, numb, relief, fear, worry, loneliness, powerless, depressed, longing, despair and amongst all that grief, what happens if joy, peace or laughter enter, would that feel shameful…

As I am sure you all know there is no wrong or right way to grieve and people do grieve differently. This can be particularly difficult for families who may feel confused or hurt if they don’t feel another family member is showing grief in the way they had may expect.

Grief is not just for those who have had someone in their life die. It can be felt from any loss, whether that is a breakdown of a relationship, moving away from people you love, a loss such as the loss of physical ability or anticipatory grief when someone you love has a terminal illness or life-limiting illness. The English language also defines grief as a common daily annoyance, such as one getting grief from their friends. I’m not sure if grief having two different definitions undermines the grief we lose something or someone dies.

For anyone that has experienced grief knows how utterly devastating it is. With regards to the death of a loved one, only having one word to describe your feelings shows how limited our language is. When someone dies, the relationship we have had with them is what we lose but there is also layers of complex grief involved when we lose a child or baby or someone we love takes their own life or someone we love is murdered. These losses go against the natural order of what we expect and hope for: that we all live to an old age.

When this doesn’t happen and we lose someone we love prematurely it really punctures our life as we know it. I often describe to clients that grief is like a snow globe, our lives have been shaken up and the snowflakes take time to re-settle and do so in a different place. Grief is particularly difficult when we live in a society (purely thinking from a Western perspective) that struggles to discuss it. Perhaps as a society, we struggle to speak about someone’s loss or grief because this would lead us to consider our own mortality. The lack of discussion can leave the person grieving to feel alone and unsupported. This is particularly difficult when we all lose the relationship we had with the person who has died or is dying. This means we all grieve for a different version of the same person.

People often describe grief as all the love we have for that person that we can no longer express and give to them. In bereavement therapy, we consider the emotional relationship as something that can live on despite the physical relationship no longer available to us. This is a small comfort amongst such great discomfort but often allows people to continue important aspects of the relationship they had or hoped for. This can be something like continuing to speak to the person, continuing things you would do together, keeping their items and delving into things they enjoyed.

Another difference I do in bereavement therapy is to make room for people to discuss and explore the aspects of the death or grief that other people cannot or will not hear, such as the moment their loved one died, the images that still haunt them and exploring all the difficult feelings they have. The heaviness of grief symbolises the phrase ‘it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all’ but when you are in the depths of grief, this concept can be extremely difficult to grapple with.

There is a lot more to explore and my next blog posts are going to be exploring the different deaths, the different ways in which death and life is mourned or celebrated across the globe and delving into the topics of illness and disabilities and what it is like to live in an ableist world.


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