Grief is a Superpower

by Emma Pritchard (MBACP)

Over the past decade, I have been privileged to support many bereaved adults, young people, and their families to navigate often “impossible” grief feelings. Impossible because within grief stories it is normal to spend time trying to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense, whilst finding a sense of purpose within life. Mark Lemon, author, bereavement ambassador for Winston Wish and podcaster for “Grief is my superpower” says “try if you can to picture life before a storm. When the warmth of the sun is on your skin….the birds sing freely. But then without warning ….you’re caught in a hurricane and life as you know it has changed forever”. 

Grief is a healthy response to any bereavement or loss we may experience in our lifetime. I feel it is defined by the intricate relationships and connections we have with the people in our lives . Close family members will grieve in their own way, and equally grief can reunite families and friends after there has been emotional distance. Not everyone who is affected by a bereavement will access counselling support, but I think it is important to note that over a prolonged period of time, complex and unresolved grief may impact our mental health and well-being.

Between 2020 and 2021, there were an estimated 3 million bereaved people (UK Commission on Bereavement). Each year 46,000 children under the age of 18 lose a parent (Winston’s Wish), and approximately one third of students experience a loss during their time at university (Spicca et el, 2022). My wish is for more understanding of how a young person’s grief evolves with them from child to teenager to adulthood. More recently Winston Wish and other child bereavement charities are campaigning for more accurate data to ensure young people’s grief needs are met, which is great to hear.   

Today in both personal and professional lives, the ripples of the covid pandemic remain, and worldwide grief images via social media ensure that grief is all around us whether it is within our storm or not. We often go back into the workplace or back to school within days of our loved one dying, where it is common for colleagues and school friends to not know what to say, and because of this may say nothing. This is a lonely place, and grief has been the “elephant in the room” for decades. Since the covid pandemic, the UK Commission on Bereavement is working hard to raise grief awareness and support bereavement charities. I wonder whether authors such as Clover Stroud and Caitlin Moran who are openly sharing their grief stories are also helping to educate people to find their own grief voice.  

I both applaud and hope that National Grief awareness week will begin to normalise grief as part of living . Having this dedicated time to be kind to ourselves and others in schools, workplaces and communities will hopefully remind us to be kind to our own and others' grief daily. This would have been normal practice in the 1900s, where people wore black to signify, they were grieving, and six months after a death, they wore purple to show they were in the initial stages of grief. The grief process isn’t defined by age, race, or religion, because we all feel sorrow when people die. We can all relate to this place, a term used by the Native American culture “Mitakuye oyasin” to reflect our interconnectedness with each other.  I am inspired by other cultures who take time to grief and celebrate lives with gifts and rituals perhaps because this offers a space where sadness and happiness co-exist.  

Grief may feel more overwhelming at celebratory times of the year and with Christmas approaching, self-care is essential for our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. You may choose to have quiet days of reflection, and during these moments, continuing bonds with our special people and memories by celebrating their lives and your relationship, for example buying flowers, looking at photographs, remembering the legacies they left behind, listening to music, going on walks, and visiting special places can provide comfort. And of course, it is also okay to not to know what to do because there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve when we are missing someone. 

Nature and walking in nature can offer us a healing hug of sunshine to comfort us from our storm and rainy days will mirror our storm to remind us that we are not alone. The seasonal transitions may encourage a new perspective and a gentle reminder of the impermanence of life, as we watch leaves fall from the trees in autumn and notice new beginnings with the first signs of spring. Katherine May describes in her book “Wintering”, our winters and summers are the very ebb and flow of life. 

Nature can also offer us a sense of community with the footprints of the people and animals that have walked before us. And during a woodland walk this week, the holly caught my eye in the sunshine and reminded me of my Grandma Pammy, who loved creating individual Christmas table decorations with holly. She died 30 years ago, and in this moment, I am reminded that our memories can become our superpower for life, a place to remind us to reflect, to make sense and a place where sadness and happiness co-exist.  

I invite you to take a moment to connect with all of your special people this week. 

 

Please see the following Grief support links, if you feel that you or anyone you know would benefit from bereavement support. 

Home - Cruse Bereavement Support 

WINSTON WISH - giving hope to grieving children (winstonswish.org) 

https://uksobs.org (survivors of bereavement to suicide) 

Support and self-care for grief - Mind 

 



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