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Undigested grief(s)

Lewes Cemetery graveyard at dawn

Remembering people we loved, and honouring both their memory and importance in your life and that of your community is very important. But death is rarely neat, and often leaves unresolved issues for those left behind.

Some deaths can feel less conflicted than others: if someone has had a long, fulfilled life, if the way they die is dignified, if they are ready to go. But even with those deaths, if your relationship with them was complicated (and very few relationships don’t have their challenges), there can be ‘stuff’ that needs to be digested.

Talking about ‘undigested’ grief (or griefs) doesn’t conjure a pleasant image I grant you. The point is life can be, and often is, messy. Films and TV programmes often tie things up in neat packages. In real life, that’s very rarely how it works. Family dynamics can get shaken up by a death and you never quite know how they will resettle. The assumption that impending death means people will behave well and resolve differences is rarely reality, in my experience. If you didn’t get on with your parent or sibling and they die – it is very likely you are left with some emotional complications.

I believe, all being well, it’s better for the mind and body for grief to be digested, eventually. That can be extremely difficult – it is often a long, exhausting process at the best of times.

But recent years have been far from the best of anything. So many were left bereaved by Covid without a proper outlet for the usual rituals we associate with death. I think it has left a lot of people lost, anxious and lonely.

Processing grief takes time and energy. A supportive community can help. Not having to worry about umpteen other things at the same time helps a lot but realistically few people have that luxury.

But there’s an ‘expense’ associated with not grieving too. It can feel as if undigested grief gets stuck in the body and soul like undigested food. It festers.

There are no simple solutions. Obviously, time matters, but if there are conflicts, talking about them with a bereavement counsellor might help (see resources below), or a supportive community, such a Grief Cafes by the Good Grief Society.

Walking in nature helps me, listening to birdsong, as does swimming and singing with my choir. Gardening, getting your hands in the earth. Writing a journal or sketching. Any craft or sporting activity where you really have to concentrate. Frankly, for some people, swearing can be a tonic. Some people I know do sweary craft activities. Cross-stitch (how apt), or even mosaics. Being kind to yourself when you are struggling might sound really obvious, but we forget. It can be easier to beat ourselves up if that feels more familiar.

I’m going to finish with some useful resources – aware as I type, that the act of doing anything, even finding help, when you feel drained and depleted can all feel a bit much. Never feel guilty for just stopping, slumping, napping or just catching a breath. Grief is really hard and can feel very lonely.

A few resources

Cariad Lloyd’s Griefcast podcast and her book You Are Not Alone.
Nick Cave on grief
Cruse bereavement counselling
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide

Grief Encounters Brighton & Hove, peer support group for LGBTQ people who have experienced a bereavement.

Sands – support for stillbirth and neonatal death

The Loss Foundation – free bereavement support for those who have lost people to cancer or Covid

The Alder Centre – for people affected by the death of a child at any age

Baking and Bereavement Stoneham Bakery

Martlets Earthworks, bereavement group for men

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