National Grief Awareness Day on August 30th was developed to promote a greater awareness and understanding of the multitude of ways in which individuals cope with loss, as well as encourage a more open discussion about loss and bereavement and inform people about the realities of grief.
Due to the very nature, depth and breadth of the topic, writing a short blog post about grief and loss is not an easy task. In the spirit of fostering more open communication about grief, I have decided to briefly share one of my own transition grief stories.
When I first attempted this blogpost several weeks ago, although I was no longer being swept away in depths of the whirlpool of my own transition grief, I could still dip my toes in (okay, probably more my legs in!) from time to time and experience the murkiness of loss. For me, this was experienced as overwhelming feelings of loneliness, longing, regret, and resentment. Several weeks on, having returned from a visit to London, my place of transition and ‘home’ for me for over 20 years before moving to Singapore, now I feel much less overwhelmed by loss and much more connected to the people and place that I left behind.
As a dear friend movingly expressed as we said our goodbyes after my short stay, “my heart is now full again”. Although I felt the same, my heart was not completely full – a reminder to me that processing transition grief is not easy or uncomplicated and, as grief experts have declared, “time does not heal all wounds, it’s how we use the time that really makes the difference” (Liz Gleeson, 2022).
So just what is transition grief? Grief is a natural process we go through when we experience a loss or an ending, the most understandable being the loss of a loved one or pet. We can however also experience the loss of a place, a house, a job, a community, our identity, health or status. Transition grief is an often-neglected experience that many of us may face during a major life change such as moving to a new country, city, school, starting a new job, or going through a significant life event such as a divorce or a death.
Grief from transition is complex and challenging. This is because grief itself can be difficult to navigate, as it is not a linear process that is predictable and is more often extremely overwhelming, confusing, painful and very unpredictable. It is also because when we decide to make a change or transition, it is usually for a good and positive reason, so according to ourselves and others, we should not necessarily be sad, angry, or anxious or all of the other ‘crazy’ emotions we actually do feel – all very normal grief responses. This only adds pressure to be optimistic and to potentially not being able to express our emotions, instead avoiding them or not finding the support we may need to process our grief in a healthy way.
A further challenge of transition grief is that it can be an ongoing experience. As it is occurring due to change, it may continue for as long as we are adjusting to our new life or new circumstances. This may take months, or sometimes years which can prolong the grief process, making it difficult to adjust to the new place or position in life, or to be able to move on.
Although grief is recognised as a normal human response, and according to Freud is “a natural process that should not be tampered with”, since Freud’s initial statement in the 1900’s, there has been a greater understanding that grief is not always simple and can lead to difficulties if it is prolonged. It can disrupt a person’s life, leading to loneliness and intense emotions including depression. Opening up the discussion around grief allows us to be able to better cope with grief from transition and support others who may be going through this experience.
Some ways that may be help us along our own personal grief journey include:
Accept that grief is a natural process that occurs due to change, endings and loss
There is no wrong or right way to grieve, the grief process is messy, unpredictable and not linear. As the famous bereavement counsellor and educator Rabbi Earl A. Grollman stated: “grief is the price we pay for love”. Knowing this helps us to be able to have compassion and patience, both for ourselves and loved ones who may be experiencing grief
Engage in self-care
Taking care of yourself by getting good sleep, eating well and engaging in exercise is important. Doing activities or hobbies that relax you or encourage happiness is helpful. Some ideas include yoga for grief, walking in nature, cooking or playing a sport. Being kind and patient with yourself and your loved ones is another important way to be able to process grief healthily.
Acknowledge any losses that come with change
This may include saying goodbye to familiar old routines, people and places and letting go of expectations that you may have that are not possible or realistic. Developing a ritual to do this may be helpful, such as writing a letter or a poem, or walking through your ‘old’ neighbourhood or house to say goodbye.
Develop some stability
Having a familiar routine can help us to feel more in control in our new situation and may help us to transition more easily. It may help to keep up a regular exercise routine, sleep schedule and have familiar things around you.
Connecting with family and friends and any other important social supports can help to reduce feelings of loneliness around transition, be it in person, online or via the phone. Sharing how you feel with others, getting advice and perhaps connecting with others with a similar experience can aid in managing change. Professional support may also be helpful to be able to talk through your thoughts and feelings.
Maintain connection with the place, person, part of ourself or thing that has been lost
The theory of Continuing Bonds (Klass, Silverman and Nickman, 1996) supports the idea that we remain connected with our loved ones potentially throughout our entire lives, which validates that grief is an ongoing process. This relationship isn’t static and evolves over time. Keeping connected to the place and people we have lost is a way to enrich our lives in the present. This can be done by keeping objects that are special and remind us of the place or country we have moved from and staying in touch with friends and loved ones we have left behind.
Transitions, endings, grief and loss are all an inevitable part of life. Understanding more about the grief process, what we can do to help ourselves and others move through the grief (in our own time), can help to alleviate some of the stigma around grief and hopefully help us to be more compassionate towards ourselves and others when we are in the depths of the grief whirlpool.
If your or your loved ones are finding it difficult to manage grief, reach out for professional help, someone to support you through this challenging process such as a counsellor or psychologist.
To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freud, S. (1917). Mourning and melancholia. London.
Geraldine Walsh, interview with Liz Gleeson ‘Grief is not linear’ : Challenging three myths about grieving, Irish Times (15/09/22).
Klass, Silverman and Nickman (1996) Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief (Death Education, Aging and Health Care)
The “Whirlpool of Grief by Dr Wilson” (Retrieved, 2019)