Pillars of Strength 4/8: Time
Psychotherapist Julia Samuel MBE has spent 25 years working with bereaved families. In this weekly blog series, the author of Grief Works is sharing her concept of the ‘pillars of strength’, which we can use to help clients grieve and rebuild their lives. Today, Samuel introduces the fourth pillar – time.
Our relationship with time takes on different hues in grief. The future can look daunting, and we may experience a longing to be in the past. Before we were bereaved we may have felt that time went too fast. Now, just getting through the day may seem overwhelming – waking each morning with dread knowing you have to do yet another day.
This is very tough. In relation to time, the best we can do is to encourage our client to keep their outlook short, keep their attention focussed on today, or this week. Looking far into the future tends to become a stick that clients beat themselves with. They cannot imagine living all that time without the person who has died.
Another aspect of time in grief is the importance of allowing more time than is often expected to make decisions. Regrets are the poison in grief. Often people want to make decisions quickly, believing that if they get it over with they will feel better. That is not the case. Encourage your client to give themselves plenty of time for things like planning the funeral (unless there are religious imperatives) – time to think about options, explore possibilities, change their mind and then make a final decision. They only get to do this once.
It is commonly known – and I think it is wise – that we should not make big life decisions in the first year of grief. Our mind has no capacity to weigh up the pros and cons of a decision, and we are likely to feel a little crazed at times. Your client may feel a pressure to take action because the feeling of powerlessness is so strong. But only time allows proper reflection to help us avoid regret. It is best to put everything on hold until the big hits of the storm of grief have passed.
Grieving takes longer than anyone wants or expects. We cannot fight it, we can only find ways to support ourselves in it. When we block it, there are much higher rates of both physical and mental illness. On the positive side, over time, the intensity of the pain lessens, and we do naturally adjust and re-engage with life again. But there may be times, decades later, when an anniversary, a sight, a smell, or a new loss, triggers our grief and makes it feel as new as the terrible day the person died. We can help clients to understand that this only means that they are human, and important loves remain alive in us forever.
Find out more about Julia’s work and writing at https://juliasamuel.co.uk/