Delayed grief: 'I pretended I was fine but really I wasn't'

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Putting on a brave face during bereavement can lead to delayed grief, writes Niamh Ennis


I remember the moment so well. I was sitting at my desk in front of my laptop and I thought ‘Maybe this is it. This is my lot. Maybe I’m one of those people who bad things happen to and it’s up to me just to keep managing them as best I can.

'Maybe I’m not supposed to experience the joy and happiness others get to, at least not in this lifetime. And maybe if I just accept it, give in to it, it will start to feel a whole lot easier!’

I know this has the potential to sound more than a little dramatic, which in truth, is not beyond me, but honestly at the time, it didn’t feel over the top in any way. It reflected what was going on in my life.

My fiancé had died just months before our wedding, my family had all been taken away from me and I was left very much alone in the world

It actually kind of helped to make sense of everything that had happened to me over the years. In a short space of time I had experienced multiple bereavements, my fiancé had died just months before our wedding, my family had all been taken away from me and I was left very much alone in the world.

I honestly felt like it was more than just bad luck and I suppose I just needed to understand WHY all these bad things kept happening to me.

By accepting that this might be my lot in life, it was helping me feel it was less random and more to do with destiny. For a brief while it made sense and that acceptance helped me soldier on. I didn’t feel like I was fighting against anything; I was just putting one foot in front of the other.

I had this misguided opinion that I needed to appear to be doing fine when inside the truth was totally different.

To the outside world I appeared to be doing okay. I had perfected the art of ‘gosh, no, I’m fine, worst things happen at sea!’ with a stupid, fake smile planted on my face. I had this misguided opinion that I needed to appear to be doing fine when inside the truth was totally different.

I have gone on record before as saying that this was my first mistake. The idea that I felt I needed to pretend to be doing alright to those around me for fear of them running to the hills was badly informed.

This in fact meant that I delayed starting the grieving process for longer than I should have, simply because I was worried what others would think.

Not all that long after, a few weeks later in fact, I was out for a walk on the pier in Dun Laoghaire and I can actually remember the exact point of the pier I was on when I had this thought. 'What if I decided not to accept that this was my lot and that I believed I could choose how this would play out in my future?'.

Even now as I read this, I’m struck by how well thought out that sentence comes across, considering I had never had that thought ever before.

But it was there, loud and clear, and something inside me, something very strong inside me, was telling me that this was the truth. This was my truth.

I had no idea then just HOW I was going to put this into action but the feeling it stirred up in me reassured me that this information would come later. It would come when I needed it. I trusted that once I knew why I was doing something the how wouldn’t matter so much.

There’s always a turning point where we could have gone one way but perhaps unknowingly chose a different route and it turned out to be the right choice

There are times in all our lives when we can look back and see that a thought, a feeling, a word or an action had the power to change the course of how we would go on to live our lives.

There’s always a turning point where we could have gone one way but perhaps unknowingly chose a different route and it turned out to be the right choice. That was mine.

I can recall now that time in my life when I had lost all of those closest to me, all suddenly and separately, and was left feeling more than a little lost and definitely a lot more broken.

But the answers on how to pull myself back from this still came. They came once I created space for those thoughts I began thinking that day on the pier.

I realised that the choice as to how I began putting the pieces back together was entirely mine. Once I acknowledged that I was not to blame for any of the tragic losses I had experienced, but that I was entirely responsible for just how I came through these, then I would regain some control over the direction my life might move.

In order for us to build a life we love, a life that matters, a life that might result in us leaving a proud legacy behind, we can often need to let everything that is familiar and comfortable fall apart.

Everything that had propped me up for so long had slowly disappeared from my life

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The crumbling needs to happen so that we can start again. The structure of my life had to be bulldozed to the ground just so that I could start the rebuild once more.

This was my experience. Everything that had propped me up for so long had slowly disappeared from my life. I can see now having lived through it that so much of what was familiar was not right for me. Once the people were gone, very little else made sense. They had been my purpose and without them now I needed to find a new purpose.

So what to do if you have reached that point in your life where you have a sense that this is not where you want to be or indeed where you should be? Get clarity on where it is you really want to get to. What’s your destination point? When you close your eyes and picture where you want to be, where is that? Who is there with you?

Then ask yourself just what’s been blocking you or who has been blocking you from moving forward. Consider what boundaries you might need to put in place and ask yourself honestly what do you know that you are no longer willing to tolerate? This question is vital.

The answer points to where it is you are going. Choose to listen and you’ll get there.

Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach, www.niamhennis.com, working with clients who are ready now to make significant changes in their lives as well as those who need help navigating the unwelcome changes in their lives.

She is hosting her next free online workshop ‘Don't Dim to Fit In’ on May 22nd. Click here to reserve your space

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