The death of a loved one causes us great grief and leads us into a state of lethargy that we never believe we can recover from. This state is completely normal after a loss, and everyone mourns in their unique way.
Something breaks inside us when someone we love dies. It isn't easy to describe because it entails many thoughts and questions that we rarely have answers to.
To cope with these feelings and help ourselves, we must encourage ourselves to explore and bring to light the questions that plague us and fill our minds.
We must give ourselves permission to speak and express ourselves. We all have different ways to deal with grief, from weeping and anxiety to depression and fear.
Being able to express myself in grief has been one thing that I believe has been helpful on my grief journey so far.
If you have been following my journey, one thing that I hope stands out is that I am naturally curious, and I learn by asking questions.
The thing is that I rarely have a ready-made answer to the questions; still, I also know when a response or a solution isn't enough.
I suppose one of the key questions on my mind is: Should you express your feelings and thoughts? How do you express yourself when you have experienced a life-changing event such as the death of a loved one?
Do you dive straight into acceptance? Or is it that we have conditioned ourselves to the extent that we feel it's wrong to ask questions when these events happen?
Grief is indeed both an individual and unique journey, which means no one size fits all.
I have observed that one of my early and ongoing physical symptoms of grief is heavy sighs or random exclamations of ‘Chai!’. I sigh a lot.
I could be engaged in a conversation, and with no warning, I would let out a deep or sometimes heavy sigh.
Some friends and relatives have picked up on it and would often ask me, "Tolu, what's on your mind?" other times, it's "are you okay?" What usually followed such questions is another heavy sigh.
I pondered on the following questions.
So why am I sighing a lot? Is it helpful in regulating my breathing when I'm stressed?
Is this a subconscious behaviour I take to communicate my anxiety or upset to those around me? Perhaps is it my mental reset button?
I paid attention to my breathing and noticed a pattern. I found it curious that some thoughts that evoke the deep sigh were fleeting, and others were deep thoughts.
I saw that my breathing would become shallow before each heavy sigh.
I concluded each sigh was my outward expression of either disappointment, defeat, frustration, and longing.
One of the most challenging aspects of the grief process is that the sadness can become so tightly bottled up inside us that even though we want, need, or just let it out, we don't know how.
The risk is that we keep going day after day, never letting it go until we are completely broken.
Another thing I found as my grief release valve is talking about my grief. To feel safe to express my unrefined feelings by being able to ask any question and also to express myself.
I suppose we can group the questions I was asking to:
Why has this happened to me? Why my loved one? Why now?
I know that time makes memories fade, Will I forget Chidinma's voice, laughter, and face?
Will I ever be the same again? How am I going to cope with grief? Am I losing my mind?
How long will grief and mourning last? What do I do with everything that I am feeling and experiencing?
Talking about death and grief is hard. It's easy to speak to someone grieving from a 'fix it' perspective if you haven't experienced a similar loss first hand or trained on how to support such people.
This perspective leads people to make up stories about appropriate and inappropriate ways to deal with grief after a loss.
We particularly base the ability to express our emotions when grieving on our personality, religion and the cultural lens through which we see the world.
What are some barriers to expressing our emotions when grieving?
Religion and culture can be a barrier to expressing grief, as we are often too quick to look at the brighter side of any adversity that we face.
I don't think there's anything wrong with looking at the bright side, silver lining, etc. I believe a premature introduction of similar phrases on the grief journey minimises the bereaved person's pain and may lead to delayed grief.
My experience with the loss of a loved one so far is that there is a reason you feel the way you feel. Identifying and expressing emotions in a safe space is essential for your mental and emotional wellbeing.
One habit most of us have picked up growing up is that we are extremely good at bottling up our emotions. We have mastered how to ignore and override our feelings.
We struggle to admit how we genuinely feel, let alone share our most private thoughts.
We are sometimes too quick to dispel thoughts and emotions. Is that a good thing?
Grief is extremely patient and cannot be ignored. It demands an outlet and would always return until you have adequately dealt with it.
The fear of being misunderstood, disagreed with, or rejected are other barriers that hinder our ability to express our grief feelings.
Saying what's on our minds may be terrifying, but it's something we must do. If we don't express how we feel about anything, it will inevitably come out at a less-than-pleasant moment.
We are not designed to keep things in for long periods. Our bodies have a way of releasing the negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we've been working so hard to keep bottled up inside.
It always happens when we least expect it and, more often than not, in the worst way possible. When we reach the exploding point, we are in primitive mode and are angry or irritated.
Please don't let your conflicting mass of grief emotions get the best of you by burying them.
It's important to note that your feelings and views are just as valid as everyone else's. Make a point of sharing your thoughts and emotions in the present moment.
What are the consequences of not expressing your emotions when grieving?
There's a natural tendency to feel guilty when expressing our anger, shame, guilt, or annoyance. We are afraid of hurting the feelings of others and God.
Feelings are often ambiguous and can be hard to identify. Anxiety, phobias, depression, and restlessness are the expected outcomes of this type of repression.
Even when we recognise them, it isn't easy to articulate them. It is essential to recognise your emotions of grief and then communicate them properly to prevent the dangers of being susceptible to anxiety and phobias.
Feelings carry a charge of energy, but we also attempt to contain that energy by not expressing our feelings. If we hold on to our grief for an extended period without expressing it, we may become depressed.
We feel relieved when we express our emotions by crying and talking about them.
What are some tell signs you're not expressing your feelings?
I have discovered that holding on to grief emotions like anger, jealousy, guilt for too long without voicing it can lead to depression. When we suppress our feelings for an extended period, we experience psychosomatic symptoms.
We define psychosomatic as: "About the apparent effect of mental and emotional factors contributing to physical disorders. These definitions imply the possibly untenable assumptions enshrined in the long-held view (Cartesian dualism) that the mind and the body are distinct, separable entities."
Suppressed emotions can also cause headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure, asthma, and heart complications. You may reduce the effects of psychosomatic disorders by learning to recognise your emotions.
Another notable discovery is that suppressing our emotions can cause discomfort in our muscle groups, neck, back, shoulder, and jaws.
As a result, bottled up and withheld emotions can trigger tight muscle groups in every region of the body. It is crucial to recognise your feelings to not keep these feelings by tightening your muscle groups.
We identify fear by tightening the muscles of the stomach and diaphragm.
Ways to express your emotions when grieving
Write it out:
One of the most challenging aspects of grief is the feeling that you can't speak to the one person you really want to talk to. I extract the blog posts I share with you from my journal.
It can be beneficial to keep a journal and express your emotions in writing. It's a good idea to go through this journal regularly to see if a trend emerges. Journaling is a very healthy way to express yourself.
Writing poems and songs and creating creative art are alternative ways that can enable you to express your feelings healthily.
Storytelling and writing are both very healthy and beneficial therapeutic resources that allow for the indirect and subtle communication of feelings.
Another way to write it out is to write a letter (any written form of communication such as email, text) to your loved one.
Even if you know they won't be able to read it, writing a letter to a loved one will help you understand how you feel about their death and what unspoken things are bothering you deep down.
Writing letters (written message) to other people can also be beneficial. If you're having trouble telling a friend or family member how you're doing, try writing them a letter first.
It can be simply a way to explain what you want to tell them. You don't have to send the Letter.
Talk it out:
Sharing your feelings with a trustworthy individual, such as a friend, counsellor, therapist, or support group, can be very helpful.
They should be able to listen to your feelings without judging you and encourage you to express your feelings rather than simply sharing them. You may feel relieved and lighter after expressing your emotions.
Another way to talk it out is to vent into a recorded device like the voice memo on your smartphone if you feel you're not ready to share that emotion.
Please join the ongoing peer support group. The current group is for those widowed and young.