4 Benefits of Experiencing Grief and Loss

And what it can mean for eventually living a better life.


Life, at its core, is about death. There’s no escaping from its eventuality. We’ve all been through a year of prominent loss, and some of us even losing loved ones before their time. The pandemic has thrown death into the forefront and caused it to often be experienced behind closed doors.

As it has become such a main feature, it serves as a daily reminder of how we are such futile beings. We never know when the next day could be our last or how much time we have got left. That’s part of the wonder, uncertainty and joy of being human and having the privilege of being alive.

This is not going to be some forcefully positive story about how death and grief is always a wonderful and enlightening experience — because it’s not all of the time. Additionally, everybody is different. No person grieves in the same way, and it takes some longer than others to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But in this year of prominent loss, I wanted to add in some light. As nobody can escape a life without loss, we all have to eventually come to terms with it.

Doing so can cause a re-appreciation for life or even a fundamental reshaping of how we see the world. Under its layers of darkness, there are glimmers of light. Here’s how to seek them out and eventually start leading a more fulfilling life when you’re ready.


1. You learn heaps about yourself

Many of us probably go about our day to day lives, not entirely feeling in tune with ourselves. Maybe we are people pleasers who often say yes to invitations and requests at the detriment of our own well being. Maybe we are trying to fit in with a friendship group we shouldn’t be a part of. Or maybe we have strained, unfixable relationships with our family that we continue to persist with despite the strain on our mental health.

Whatever it is — there will be times in our lives where we push our needs to one side to accommodate others — there is a time and place for being selfless. But experiencing grief and loss is one point in our lives where we should be unashamedly selfish.

When I lost my older brother last year, just before lockdown happened for the first time, I had no idea how to process the grief and wealth of emotions that came with it. Apart from losing a few family pets and distant family members in the past, I had never dealt with grief on such a personal level. I had no idea what to do with those emotions. It was a year-long process of working out how best I could cope with it, and it was pretty unconventional.

I requested family and friends to leave me alone.

Despite the thoughtful messages and barrage of ‘how are you?’ constantly, I just wanted to be left to it. I needed to be undisturbed to process these emotions in the best way for me.

Everybody will have a different coping mechanism, but silent solitude was the way I got through it. Not replying to anyone, not talking and processing these emotions through journaling, mindful exercise and eventually falling in love with writing was my way out. It certainly won’t be everybody’s — but that’s what this process taught me.

Of course, nobody craves grief or wants to go through it, but it will certainly teach you a lot about yourself and how you process difficult emotions. This will undoubtedly then stay with you for life.


2. It can bring us closer together

Although this contrasts with the solitude I just expressed, it’s nonetheless an important facet of going through grief. Death is the one asset of life that everybody will share — despite other differences beyond our control.

In the deepest, rawest thaws of grief, it’s easy to forget. Believe me, I did. For me, this realisation definitely took time, and it might for you too. It might take months or even years to gain this sense of commonality, but once you do, it will make you realise just how similar we all are.

“Despite grief being individual, it is also universal.” — William Berry, LMHC., CAP

Although grief is such an individual experience, death in a wider sense is universal. Once you are out of the darkest side, it can be a great comfort to know that everybody around us — whether stranger or friend — will at some point go through a similar range of emotions. After all, death is such an integral part of our lives. It’s what makes us human.

In a year where death has featured so heavily across the world with the pandemic, knowing that all of us will never be able to escape it is strangely comforting.

In the depths of isolation and pain, sometimes this realisation can help, but it will definitely become an advantage once you are through the other side. Realising our universality, rather than difference, encourages us to be more empathetic and understanding towards each other.


3. It teaches us to be better listeners

I’ve never been the best listener, and I think it’s because my mind likes to whirl at one hundred miles an hour. But I’m working on it. For me, solitude was an essential part of processing grief for the first year after I lost my brother.

But when I started to feel comfortable with opening up and talking about it all, I realised how important it was that the other person was a good listener. It can be easy to smother the grieving person in positive sentiments, affirmations of love and all the rest, and forget to pause and listen.

Before I lost someone, I didn’t know how to comfort another person going through grief. It felt alien and beyond my realm. If I had known then that one of the most important things was to listen, I would have saved myself many worries.

If you’re stuck with finding the right words to say to someone, the best bet is to provide them with a space to vent and for you to listen. It can be tempting to fill the void with positive words and thoughts, but when you’re in the thick of grief and processing it all, in reality, this is meaningless. You just want to be heard.

Listening as a skill is underrated. We live in a world where we all want to be heard on some level, whether that’s through social media or in real life. Politics has become more polarised because individuals fail to listen and have a valuable conversation with each other. If in doubt, we should all be prepared to sit back and listen, as words are meaningless if used just to fill a void.


4. You learn to find joy in the simplest of things

Being at your worst mentally can cause you to see the beauty in the every day, as often it’s the only way through the struggle. Whether it’s finding appreciation in an indulgent cup of coffee in the morning, harnessing a new appreciation for nature or devoting time to doing one thing that you love every day, grief reminds us of these snippets of joy.

As it’s a time to be unashamedly selfish and putting ourselves first, it also involves a process of discovering what makes you feel your best and what can brighten a dark day. Importantly, doing so isn’t implying all the pain will go away but offering a sense of respite.

Nancy Berns, PhD, writing in Psychology Today, talks about the process of learning how to ‘wade through’ and fight against the tide during grief.

Imperative to this is learning how to find the positives even in moments of great pain and loss. This, in turn, will put us on the path to acceptance but importantly, this doesn’t mean those feelings of grief will go away. Part of accepting it is knowing that it may always be there, gently simmering in the background.

“Wade into the pain (like getting use to the cold) until you feel some warmth. Face the pain long enough to be able to look around and see that joy and life remain. You can learn to float while immersed in grief.” — Nancy Berns Ph.D

Finding pleasure and happiness in the smallest things can help you through grief and is an ideal way to approach life. It encourages us to be grateful, resourceful, and live a far more sustainable life than constantly craving excess, which will not further our overall happiness or state of mind.


Going through grief can expose the importance of learning about ourselves, bringing people closer together in their shared struggle, knowing when to listen rather than talk and find joy even in the darkest of times. Nobody wants to experience grief, but it is inevitable for us all and a part of life.

Although grief is a universal emotion, the way we process it can be different. However, like many things in life, there are positives you can take away from the experience if only you know where to look.

Originally published in Mind Cafe on Medium.com


Further reading:

5 Mindfulness Strategies You Can Adopt to Help with Grief and Loss

Dear Ryan


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Book review: If I Could Say Goodbye

As always, many thanks to Net Galley and Hachette UK for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. If I Could Say Goodbye is available for pre order via Waterstones and Amazon.

Synopsis from Goodreads

A heart-warming and uplifting story about love, loss and finding the strength to say goodbye, from the author of The First Time I Saw You.

Jennifer Jones’ life began when her little sister, Kerry, was born. So when her sister dies in a tragic accident, nothing seems to make sense any more.

Despite the support of her husband, Ed, and their wonderful children, Jen can’t comprehend why she is still here, while bright, spirited Kerry is not.

When Jen starts to lose herself in her memories of Kerry, she doesn’t realise that the closer she feels to Kerry, the further she gets from her family.

Jen was never able to say goodbye to her sister. But what if she could?

Would you risk everything if you had the chance to say goodbye?

Publication date: September 17, 2020

Genres: Fiction, modern/contemporary

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Jennifer Jones was always a faithful, older sister to Kerry. However, when Kerry dies in a sudden accident, her whole world turns upside down. Despite having the support of her devoted husband, Edward, and her two children, Jennifer struggles to come to terms with the sudden loss of her sister. She turns her grief inwards, blaming herself for Kerry’s death and wishing the accident had taken her life, instead of her sister’s.

If I Could Say Goodbye, is an honest portrayal of the many facets of grief and it’s reverberating impact on one family. It explores grief openly and honestly, and for that alone it deserves praise. Jennifer becomes so consumed by the memories of her sister, that her mind convinces her she is still there. Kerry is reborn in her imagination and experience of grief as she loses herself in memories of the past.

Grief is something we all experience at some points in our lives, but obviously in many different ways. Emma Cooper manages to explore how Kerry’s death takes a drastic toll on Jennifer’s mental health, from her feelings of guilt, responsibility and regret that follow in the wake of Kerry’s death. Jen finds herself talking to her sister more than her own family. This experience of Kerry being somewhat alive in her imagination, serves as a comfort to Jen in some ways, but ultimately, she realises the need to say goodbye is what will set her free.

“I turn my back on the sea and the cliff, on the grief and guilt that I’ve been drowning in, and break into a run: my life is about to begin again.”

This is a refreshing and realistic portrayal of grief told through Jennifer and her husband, Edward. In having this alternative perspective, Cooper conveys how grief can have a snowballing affect on the ones we love. Ed has to pick up the pieces of their life together, as he struggles to maintain their relationship and family. Jennifer’s family and her children become more distant as her experience of grief consumes her in more ways than one. Intertwined within this exploration of grief is a tale of love, friendship, relationships and family.

Although I thought this was an excellent representation of experiencing the loss of a loved one, I found the book itself hard to read. There was no real structure, which I guess could be part of the point, in being like grief itself, however, it made the reading experience more difficult than it needed to be. Although I engaged with the leading characters, Jen and Ed, I felt it didn’t have a ‘hook’ to keep me reading.

The writing is beautiful and very well structured, which allows for the impact of grief to be explored through many angles, however, the lack of structure and plot is what let it down for me.

For someone who has recently gone through the death of a loved one, this book was harrowing and hard to read in places, but nonetheless essential for its honest depiction of grief and loss. It was comforting in this respect and something I would recommend to others.

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