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5 Ways to deal with grief and loss when you’re struggling

Grief is something almost all of us have to deal with from time to time in our lives. So many things can trigger grief from losing your grandparents when you are young, your parents or partner, and some go through the terrible heartache of losing their children. Other deep sources of grief can be; losing your job, failing in a marriage, disconnecting with important people in your life. We, as men are renowned for trying to bottle up our grief, hiding it from the world as if the world won’t let us express that terrible sadness inside us. Professionals tell us that this is probably the worst strategy that we can take to deal with grief.

I would like to share with you a terrible grief myself and my family have had to deal with for some 18 years. At age 39 my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. This triggered in all of us who loved Tine so very much significant stress and deep grief. The worry and the facing up to mortality in those first few weeks were palpable. The surgery, radiation, and then chemotherapy that saw all her hair go was strangely one of the biggest psychological blows for her. And yet she was probably the first to insist on us getting on with things and she dragged us along for her incredibly well lived life. She passed away in February 2020 age 57, this bringing on that definitive grief that absence of a best friend will always bring.

What did we do with our grief? What are some tips to deal with it?

  • Try Positive Denial: This is pretty much how we lived those 18 years. We didn’t let the cancer or the grief dominate our lives. In fact, it motivated us to live life large. Tine lived a life loving nature and travel. She encouraged us to see her world and love the vistas, the shorelines, the hugs. What I mean here is we didn’t focus on the illness and grief.

  • Try expression: I think maybe I did this better than the rest of the family in some ways. I have had a love affair with words the whole of my life. I needed to get out my feelings and thoughts and worries and emotions. I wrote in many different ways. Academic, social, and ultimately novel writing.

  • Grieve any way you can: Listen to your kids, let them hear you too. Cry. Crying is one of the most powerful ways to let grief express itself and is associated ultimately with much better psychological outcomes. Let other people cry with you about their grief.
  • Acceptance: This is probably the hardest thing to do and I think some people never quite come to really accept the new situation without their loved one. Easier said than done and the essence is to know you have as much time as you need to do it and that there is help at hand to come to this acceptance.

  • Professional help: Men often think they can do it on their own. Men are often wrong. Just like going to the surgeon with a broken leg, getting professional help for serious mental issues related to grief of all types should be an obvious and readily available thing to do. Access is only a phone call or a GP visit away and many of us could do with admitting we need help so that we can remain strong and mentally fit to help those we love.

I am not a mental health professional. I am a Vascular Surgeon and author. This journey of grief, however, especially in these isolating Covid times has focussed my thoughts on this. In this context creativity has been essential to me. I feel wholly human when I am creating interesting things with words.  With my novel, I have spent dedicated time to shape ideas, descriptions, characters, and places into a cohesive whole. Finding that creative outlet has been essential to how I have dealt with my grief. I hope my story helps you if you are suffering silently, I hope you find ways to express your feelings too.

Richard. A Harris is a vascular surgeon and author living in Sydney.

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