Life After Loss - Dealing with Grief
It’s important to remember that grief affects people in different ways. Firstly, it’s the type of loss that person has suffered – a family member, a friend, a pet, a partner for example. It doesn’t have to be a death either; we grieve broken relationships, the loss of money, various other losses. Also we all have different upbringings which could affect this massively, some of us were raised in a religious or spiritual environment, others have different beliefs. Some have suffered loss before, some have not. A person’s age, or their personal relationships could have a dramatic effect, plus of course, both physical and mental health.
The Kubler-Ross model sets out 5 stages of grief. Identifying where you, or someone else, is at on this scale could be helpful.
Denial – trying to avoid the inevitable
Anger – the outpouring of emotion
Bargaining – trying to see a way out
Depression – realization of the inevitable
Acceptance – finally finding the way forward
The important thing to realise is that all the feelings being experienced are normal, and part of the process. You may experience all of these but you may only feel some and again, that’s normal. It’s essential we understand that everyone is different and may take longer to recover than others. There isn’t a set time and we shouldn’t compare our own grief to others. There’s not set time off work either; some people find it helpful to get back to work and into a routine sooner whereas others feel they need to stay away longer.
Working on board yachts in such close proximity to others often means that feelings seem to be magnified or intensified. There’s literally no escaping; dealing with someone who is grieving can take its toll, emotionally, on the other crew too so self-care is something that must not be overlooked.
There’s no easy fix for grief but there are practical things which could help. Express your feelings, talk them through and don’t be afraid to talk about the person you’ve lost – importantly for those helping someone who is grieving is that they talk about them too. Don’t feel awkward. And don’t feel you should ignore feelings (bottled up emotion never comes out smoothly) and nobody needs to put a brave face on or act “strong”.
It’s normal to feel sad and it’s good to make some allowances for that. Routines are good! Normality may seem like a world away but getting on with day to day jobs could help. We usually think of grieving as purely emotional but there can be physical symptoms – keep an eye out for fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, pains, and insomnia. The mind and body are connected, when your body is well, this can help you deal with more emotional stress so even if you don’t feel like it, eat well and try to get some sleep. If you feel up to it then exercising will help too.
Although alcohol seems like a great idea to numb the pain, watch out – it’ll be far, far worse when it wears off (and that can be said for drugs too).
Counselling or therapy may be the right option for you. Speak to your doctor if you feel this is the right way for you, there are lots of people out there who are happy to operate over skype or facetime so you can even have counselling when you’re at sea. Plus there are apps available, all you need is a bit of internet and you can message a counsellor. Remember it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. When we lose someone suddenly, this can manifest as PTSD or psychological trauma and you might need some guidance to help you start the healing process.
If you’re working alongside someone who is grieving, then keep an eye on them – if you feel they’re not coping well or seem to be overwhelmed with intense emotions then if you feel comfortable to do so, speak to them about what’s going on. It’s possible they need to stay away from work for a while to feel more like themselves. If you don’t want to talk to them directly then speak to the head of department or captain, or another crew member.
It’s easy for people who don’t understand to lose patience with someone who’s grieving; Twitter user @LaurenHerschel recently went viral by sharing “the ball and the box” analogy her doctor told her which is a great way to explain to those who’ve been fortunate enough not to lose anyone how it feels.
"So grief is like this: There’s a box with a ball in it. And a pain button. And no, I am not known for my art skills. In the beginning, the ball is huge. You can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it - it just keeps hurting. Sometimes it seems unrelenting. Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as much. It’s better because you can function day to day more easily. But the downside is that the ball randomly hits that button when you least expect it."
"For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less and you have more time to recover between hits, unlike when the ball was still giant. I thought this was the best description of grief I’ve heard in a long time." We agree.
Where to turn for help
Find a bereavement helpline:
In the U.S.: Crisis Call Center at 775-784-8090
UK: Cruse Bereavement Care at 0808 808 1677
Australia: GriefLine at (03) 9935 7400