How do we process grief and loss?

Equality - 18 May 2020

GMB National President writes on how we process grief and loss during the COVID-19 pandemic for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020.

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“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” is the opening line from the book ‘A Grief Observed’, written by C. S. Lewis, a reflection on the death of his wife in July 1960.

There will be many people reading this who are not only fearful for their family, friends and colleagues of catching the coronavirus, but are also grieving for loved ones who have died during this ‘lockdown’ and cannot have the funeral that they so desperately desire.

Funerals are an occasion where we come together to both mourn and celebrate a life lived; the fact that the person existed in our lives and on this earth. My own family has suffered two bereavements during the past six weeks, not from the coronavirus, but both sudden and unexpected.

It is often said that “grief is the price we pay for love”, and the deepest grief has to be the death of a child. We all know that life is finite, but when the order of things is the wrong way round, then our senses are completely thrown off balance. In 2004, my youngest daughter died and in 2015, my eldest son.

People ask me how I have coped and summoned the energy to carry on. If truth be told, I don’t really know. However, I can share with you the things that I have done that have helped and supported me.

Family and friends give us support and strength, but grief is a lonely emotion. How we grieve is personal to us and there is no right or wrong way to mourn...

Barbara Plant, GMB National President

There is a music direction “poco a poco” which literally means little by little. Any newly bereaved person will tell you how they have lived minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, but days do turn into weeks and weeks do into months and years. Enjoyable and good things will happen to you in that time, and it is ok to laugh again and even feel happiness.

Of course, the loss never goes away, but over time, protective layers surround us to ease that pain and stop it being at the surface of our being.

However, that is not to deny that just like an overstretched elastic band that can suddenly ping back and sting us, that pain can still come back to overwhelm us. It may be because of an anniversary, certain music or for no reason at all.

Family and friends give us support and strength, but grief is a lonely emotion. How we grieve is personal to us and there is no right or wrong way to mourn, although there are obviously some ways that are more harmful than others. It is important not to let anyone tell you how to grieve or insist that you should be over it by now.

One of the protective layers that I have built up around me is by attending a bereavement group. The Compassionate Friends is a charity run by bereaved parents for bereaved parents, and we often say that we are group of friends that wish we did not know each other.

The support and understanding of someone who is further down the path than you is reassuring in itself, knowing that they have suffered the same loss and pain, but have managed to continue.

Gardening has been another activity that gives me peace. Planting and watching things grow and bloom restores the natural order of things. After every winter, there is a spring when we watch the rebirth and the regrowth of beauty. As Audrey Hepburn said, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”.

Not all bereaved people have a garden to enjoy, but we can all tender and care for plants in a patio container, a window box, or even an indoor plant. The therapeutic benefits of gardening for our mental health are only just becoming recognised.

Also beneficial is any kind of physical exercise. Those who know me, know how much I love to dance. I have loved dancing since I was a child – it is such a joyous way to express ourselves.

“I’m singing and dancing in the rain” is a line from a song in my favourite musical film. It was also the song played at the end of my daughter’s funeral.

To conclude on a positive note, my two favourite words are hope and solidarity.

Hope, because that gives us a sense that things can be changed for the better if we are prepared to act, and solidarity, because it is only through collective action and support that we can achieve that hope.

Barbara Plant
GMB National President  


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