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Are We There Yet? Making Peace with the Ebbs and Flows of Grief

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Are We There Yet? Making Peace with the Ebbs and Flows of Grief

My dad passed away when I was 10 years old and when he was 37 years old. He died of a brain tumour.

My grief around losing my dad has been complicated, deeply painful and at times, pretty lonely. In recent times though, something has lifted. My sadness remains, but it feels quieter, more peaceful.

It’s taken me most of my adult life to recognise how much I was affected by losing my dad. Partly because in my late teens and early twenties this truth was hidden beneath several layers of complex thoughts, feelings and ways of coping, that unknowingly blocked out my pain.

Shame has also stopped me from acknowledging my grief for my dad. At different points I’ve felt weak, dramatic and ashamed when I’ve acknowledged my sadness, to myself, or someone else. I have been scared that when I speak openly people might think that I “just want sympathy” or that I’m attention seeking (I’m even noticing both of these fears arise as I write this post). I have felt a strong external pressure to “move on” and “leave the past behind”. Eventually that pressure also became internally driven. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t “get over” my dad dying.

What I’ve learned is that to let go of the past I first needed to surrender to it. I needed to give the past my full attention. For me, this process has been a backwards and forwards one, and very slow. It’s happened, and is still happening, in the presence of trusted and supportive people.

The most significant part of grieving my dad’s death has been allowing myself to feel all of the feelings that were buried down deep at the time of his illness and his passing. Allowing these emotions in as an adult has been debilitating at times. There have been moments where I have felt so drowned by sadness, fear, guilt, anger and shame that I have wondered if I would ever find a way out.

Finding a way through has been about developing compassion towards myself, and truly allowing the people who love me to support me.

Guilt is another emotion that has featured strongly in my grieving process. If you’ve ever lost someone you love, you may be familiar with the haunting, yet subtle sense of guilt that can accompany the grieving process.

I have vivid memories of myself as a little girl feeling guilty that I hadn’t said goodbye properly. That I hadn’t done enough to help my dad, and my mum. To save him. Soon after he died I felt guilty for not crying enough (and then guilty for crying too much). I felt terribly guilty for not missing him enough. For not thinking about him all the time. Up until recently, as an adult, a sneaking sense of guilt pervaded many of the happy moments in my life. I felt guilty that I was young, healthy, happy and alive.

Reflecting on and sometimes talking about and all of these different types of guilt, why I felt them and what they meant, has helped me to move on from this suffocating feeling. Now when I feel joy, love, peacefulness or gratitude, and guilt bubbles to the surface, I notice the feeling and try to expand around it. To allow it be, rather than will it away. I hope that one day my guilt will fully dissolve, but who knows?

There tends to be a lot of pressure and expectation that comes with grief. I’ve noticed that with all the best intentions, people can sometimes feel concerned or even sorry for you when speak about grief that still lingers, especially when my father passed away such a long time ago. But I don’t feel concerned or sorry for myself. I know that my grief around my dad stems from my love for him and if I create space for it, it’s actually a peaceful and healing way of connecting to how much he mattered to me.

If you think you could benefit from chatting to someone about your own grief, our wonderful team of psychologists are experienced in helping people to navigate through this process, in a way and at a pace that feels right for you. You can also find some additional general information about grief on our information page here.

Most of the content from this blog post was originally posted here for Hey Sigmund.

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About the Author:

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Dr Jacqueline Baulch is a clinical psychologist and the director of Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about shifting the "hush-hush" atmosphere surrounding mental illness, emotions and vulnerability. Jacqueline believes that open and real conversations can spark hope and healing, and help us to feel less alone in this messy business of being a human.