Written by QCMHA Sponsorship Coordinator Kate Sinclair
I have noticed in the past year that people love to avoid talking about death, loss and grief. I never had to deal with this topic myself beyond the death of distant elderly family members – until my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in February. I was on exchange when I learned the news, and something I dealt with a lot was navigating the loss of my exchange in addition to this huge shift in my family. This occurrence highlights something I have grown to learn – grief can come from death, but also breakups, the loss of an exciting opportunity or just big life changes. Learning how to manage grief and loss is important no matter what you are grieving, and developing coping mechanisms can be so helpful in managing your mental health.
I am not here to say I know all the answers about grief, suffering and loss, but I am here to say that it’s something a lot more people deal with than we think. It’s a cliche, but it’s true, grief is a club no one wants to be a part of, but once you are, you realize how many others are there too. Working in a pretty intense job this summer acted almost as a safety net for me – it was ok not to think about my mom; work was just too busy and too important. I threw everything I had into that job, ensuring that I got that return offer so that me spending the last weeks of my mom’s life tucked away on my laptop was not meaningless. But as the end of the summer came and I got that return offer, and I headed back to Kingston; I realized that I still didn’t feel any better. Everyone deals with grief differently, and I spent many months locking things up before I started to process my emotions.
Since returning to Queen’s for my fourth year, I have struggled with maximizing every social opportunity and taking the time to reflect, acknowledge and process my grief. If you haven’t dealt with grief firsthand, you have still probably heard the metaphor that “grief is like a ball in a box,” and that ball bounces around, and every time it hits the edge is when you feel the grief. At first, the ball is enormous, but it slowly shrinks and hits the edge less and less frequently. To tell you the absolute truth, I don’t know if this is true. Grief can come up randomly and sporadically, and there are days when I can’t even get out of bed. But it also exists when I think about it intentionally and take time to remember my mom and what she means to me.
Learning tactics to help manage my grief so that I can still honour my mother but still get the things done that I need to do has been a major accomplishment for me. I have always been someone who is quite emotionally reserved, and my mom’s death has forced me to embrace my feelings and deal with them pre-emptively rather than shoving them down. By understanding when I am feeling any emotions related to my grief, whether it be sadness, anger, loneliness or anything else, I can then acknowledge what I am feeling and move forward in externalizing it. Externalizing emotions allows you to avoid negative health effects and can help you process your grief. This can come in many forms, like crying, journaling your feelings, or talking to a friend about your feelings. These are just examples, but giving your feelings an outlet validates them and creates a much healthier response than carrying them internally.
Like I said before, this is just my story of grief, and I don’t know everything, but by externalizing my feelings and letting things out, I have been able to form much closer relationships with those around me. No matter what kind of grief or loss you are dealing with, it’s important to let things out so you can grow through it.