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Coping with grief in daily life: Why is it so hard?

Updated: May 24


" When my dad died, I didn't know where to put my grief. The first time I had a miscarriage was the same. I didn't know how to fit what I was feeling with normal, everyday life. "

-Rachel Joyce





Bereavement, the experience of losing a loved one, is an inevitable part of being human.


That's an easy thing to say. I was going to follow it with 'as we all know' or something like that.


But whilst it's true, I don't think it comes anywhere near reflecting our actual, day-to-day attitude to it, or what it's like to experience it. Rachel Joyce expresses something deeper, and, I think, truer about it when she says that she "didn't know how to fit" it in with "normal, everyday life".


If you've lost someone, your world as you know it is altered irreversibly. It can't be 'fixed', and in that there's a unique kind of pain and sorrow. It affects you emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually - all aspects of your life.



So, what's daily life like for you when you're grieving?


If you're navigating the loss of a loved one, perhaps you feel like you're living in a parallel universe. On the one hand is the everyday world around you, bustling and unaltered with its routines and rhythms. On the other, your world is starkly different. It feels as though what was once comfortable and familiar has been wrenched from you. The gulf between these can feel like a 'nowhere land' from where it's hard to find your way.



The unchanged everyday world


The everyday world continues onward. People go about their business around you, oblivious and unaffected. This relentless normality may seem surreal to you. Your workplace continues to demand productivity, social events go on as scheduled and the general pace of life feels merciless.



The altered reality of the bereaved


You might feel so vulnerable - as if you're missing a skin. Emotions can feel sharp, raw or disturbing, spiralling you repeatedly through sadness, longing, agitation, guilt or regret.


Time might seem to be acting strangely. It's as if it no longer means the same to you as it did. The routines and activities that once formed the backbone of your daily life can suddenly appear trivial, too demanding, or not relevant anymore. You might find yourself 'going through the motions', feeling detached from everyone and everything around you. Everything feels a bit 'wrong' and disorientating. This is exhausting, bringing along with it physical effects like fatigue, sleep disturbance or a lack of appetite, all adding to your sense that nothing feels 'right' anymore.


Feeling disconnected


Friends and family, although well-intentioned, may not fully grasp the depth of what you're going through. Feeling helpless about what to say may result in them saying nothing. Conversations and social exchanges can seem superficial, or strained to you. It can be a struggle to relate to daily stuff that feels inconsequential, and this further widens the gap between you and the outside world.



The 'invisibility' of grieving


Let me introduce 'the invisibility of grief'. There's quite a good chance that you already recognise it. It's an invisible burden that you carry, hiding it from the outside world. Everyday life requires you to mask your pain, contributing to an unspoken acceptance of silence around it. You're left trying to reconcile your internal emotional turmoil with the external expectations of normal life. This can feel almost impossible.




'Normal life' - that's all of us!



What does 'normal life' expect of the grieving?


Death, when it's happened in our world, feels uncomfortable to talk about. Discussing it openly can feel morbid or subtly 'inappropriate'. The sadness, fear and loss feels 'too much' and, somehow, too unfortunate a thing to bring up. We might be reminded of our own mortality. We don't know how to talk about it, we've never learned how. The silence and invisibility persists.



So, is this just how it has to be for us?


I think it's a question worth thinking about. We know, ('sort of'), that in reality bereavement and loss unifies us all: it's something deeply human that we share and it's at the centre of all of our lives. But we keep it pushed to the side as something to be hidden. Then, when it happens to us, and that deep truth knocks our own world sideways, it may well feel like we're on our own with it. I think it's precisely this that can make our experience of grief so hard to endure and, at times, lonely.


We believe we must steer through and 'overcome' our grief on our own. Perhaps it's part of the independence and self-reliance with which we've been instilled.




Bereaved humans: loss of connection


Humans are social beings. This is different from whether or not you consider yourself a sociable or outgoing person. We're wired to seek and maintain bonds with people, for survival, emotional well-being and general functioning in the world. This deeply influences how we experience grief and loss.


Our individual worlds are each formed of our shared experiences and memories. Our relationships shape our understanding of the world and our place in it, so when an important bond is broken, it feels like losing an essential part of our world. It can make us question our own identity and sense of security and connection to the world. This is profound: grieving people say that the world 'kind of looks the same', but feels very, very different.


The death of a loved one can shatter our fundamental belief that the world is a just, safe, predictable, largely friendly place. We might question the value and purpose of our own lives or grapple with questions like why our loved one had to die, or why we've been left to continue without them?


Reconnecting bereaved humans: Connection and Normalisation



Connection


Connection comes through emotional support and mutual acknowledgment: it helps us feel seen and understood - hugely reducing our sense of isolation. Remembering that bereavement is at the root of our world, (alongside love and belonging), allows the isolation and disconnection felt by the bereaved to be put into context. Having that one person - could be a friend or family member or someone else - with whom you feel able to talk honestly and openly about your thoughts and feelings, can be a massive step to keeping you feel connected to the daily world and to understanding your own, new world.


Normalisation


'Normalisation' is a term much used by grief workers and it's a vital and very helpful concept to hold on to. In grief, you might feel that your feelings and reactions to your grief must be 'abnormal'. This isn't surprising: we don't talk about it, so how are we to know? It can certainly feel abnormal. It might be really reassuring for you - to find that it's completely normal and understandable in the context of your loss.



Connection and normalisation helps by:-


  • Reducing isolation reminds us that we're not alone

  • A safe space for us, where we don't feel judged

  • Empathetic support helps us to explore our feelings and experiences more deeply, helping us find our personal path towards a renewed sense of hope.

  • Helps you find comfort and reassurance.

  • Sharing your humanness.



Keeping our humanness in mind adds depth to our individual stories, and to the combined story of us all. Maybe it's about expanding both outwards: both the day-to-day world and the new, often frightening, world of the bereaved. Moving them closer together.


Navigating the isolation of grief in daily life - that parallel universe - is a large part of what makes it so hard. My sense is, though, that we are getting better at it. Maybe the growth of social media over the last couple of decades has had something to do with it. If you are struggling with loss, I hope this has helped place what you're experiencing in a context that adds to your understanding and self-compassion. These will be invaluable aids for you on your way through your grief. There is a way for you, there is for all of us. It's about finding yours. If you would like a safe, supportive space to help you with this, please contact me using the buttons on the footer below.















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