In our fast-paced world, somethings just can’t be fast-tracked. Among them is grief.
This is a lesson that Victoria Cripps has learned the hard way. The very hard way. Three years ago, the 66-year-old Londoner lost her 36-year-old daughter Alana to bladder cancer.
Previously married for two decades to a funeral director, Cripps thought she had a handle on the grieving process. But when she lost her only child, she also lost the will to live.
Seeking help from Rebecca Machado, a psychotherapist and executive director of Daya Counselling Services, Cripps has found her way back to the land of the living, but still finds day-to-day life a challenge.
“One of Alana’s and my favourite movies was Shawshank Redemption and there’s a line – ‘Get busy living or get busy dying’ – that I remembered and it helped me decide to try living again,” says Cripps.
So she did.
According to Machado, “Grief is a part of life because we connect with other human beings and experience pain when they are absent. Often we can’t make sense of how the world can be changed in this way. How can the sun be shining and others are carrying on when our world has so profoundly changed that it seems to have stopped?”
With an ageing demographic dominating the landscape of North America, grief will more actively dominate our collective psyche. So, learning how to deal with it is important.
The five stages of grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – do exist, but don’t usually happen as a linear process, says Machado.
Sarah Hilton, of Stressed Out Solutions, agrees. “Each of the stages doesn’t last a minute or a day. It’s like a roller coaster: some days you’re feeling better and then a song or a smell can send you back into feeling anger, sadness and denial all at the same time,” she says.
She adds that those with some sort of spiritual connection are often able to move beyond grief more easily than those who have none. “People who believe in a higher power can often grieve more easily because it’s part of their culture and different types of spirituality have their own types of processes for grieving,” she says.
Lisa Evans takes a different approach to help with grieving. A reflexologist with a mobile practice, she found that doing reflexology on someone who is grieving can provide relief when a distant relative who had recently lost her husband was visiting.
“I had my stool with me and performed a reflexology session on her outdoors,” explains Evans, saying that this proved to be a cathartic experience for her relative. “She said it was the first time she could really breathe since it happened.”
Evans describes reflexology as “acupressure on the bottoms of the feet, corresponding with all the organs and glands, stimulating nerves to send more energy to every part of the body.”
Evans has performed treatments on a dozen or more people through her volunteer work with Bereaved Families of London over the past two years. While each person’s take on it is unique, the experience has similarly profound results.
“In groups or therapy, they are expected talk but often don’t know what to say or how to process what they are feeling. When they sit in my chair their situation is being addressed, but they don’t have to do or say anything. Often this helps them feel able to open up, sometimes for the first time,” says Evans.
Since each person’s grief journey is individual, Machado says it must happen at his or her own pace. “We need to tune into ourselves and notice what’s right for each of us. Some do better with support, others by being alone.”
Knowing that you can work through it is the best encouragement. “We are set up to move through grief and to heal because throughout history death has happened, and we are wired to heal from it no matter how hard the process might be,” she concludes.