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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Surviving Another Year Around the Sun

I’m never one for making a big deal out of birthdays. The more I have of them, the more I want to ignore them. I know I’m only young, but I’ve always feared getting old.

23 feels like the beginning of getting older, or of life getting more serious. I thought I’d write a sort of self reflection post, but I don’t really know where I’m going with it. This might be one that ends up being deleted.

I was thinking the other day that I haven’t done much in a year. Sure, I finished university and graduated but since last September I haven’t really achieved much. I started a job I loved, finished that one, started another job and then furlough happened and I’m back to square one.

I haven’t got that ‘proper’ job that everyone speaks of and I still don’t know when I will. I guess my younger self always thought I would have it together by this age and be a proper adult. But what does a proper adult even mean?

Time is a strange thing and it means different things to everyone. Some people want to get married in their twenties and have children straight away, whereas others want to wait. I’m not in a rush, but I do wish my life had a bit more momentum and I was somewhat closer to being where I want to.

But I can’t blame myself for that, Covid happened out of the blue and was never something I could control. And I have been making steps and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and that’s what matters, right?

The next few years are going to be a hard one to try and start a career in and it feels like our generation has faced obstacle after obstacle (nearly two global recessions now, come on) so this year I’m not going to be too hard on myself and I’m going to celebrate every small achievement.

I may be 23, but that doesn’t mean I have to have my whole life together – it just feels that way due to societal pressures and expectations.

Bu I do have things to be proud of.

I’ve been brave enough to put myself all over the internet in the form of blog posts, articles and writing on Medium. First year university me would never have been this bold, maybe not even third year university me. I’ve gained a certain amount of confidence with my writing but I’m nowhere near there yet – but it’s a journey, right?

I feel like I am managing my anxiety better than I used to. At university I used to let it just take hold of me. But now I make the effort and I’m learning about what’s best for me. Having a slower pace to life since the pandemic has definitely helped, and so has rediscovering journaling.

I think in a way I have channeled myself more this year, as I’ve been able to do things I lost track of at university. Like reading, writing and just being. I haven’t found myself fully yet, but apparently that happens more as you go into your 20s…

I’m by no means perfect or where I want to be yet – but that’s okay. I survived another year – and that’s enough to celebrate in itself.

It’s also Hugh Grant’s birthday today, so happy birthday to him (he’s 60!)

What I’ve Learned from Writing Book Reviews

So it’s now September and I find myself with a backlog of over 40 book reviews. And when I haven’t written these book reviews, I’ve always been thinking about books in some way, consciously or unconsciously reviewing them in my head.

Apart from simply loving writing them, over the year I’ve realised I have learned a lot from them too. I’m no expert – quite the opposite. But this is what I have learned from the experience so far.

I Value Having a Record of Everything I’ve Read

This may sound like the obvious one – but hear me out.

When I was younger and I had all the time in the world to read, I would whizz through books at a speed so fast that if you asked me about the book the next day, I wouldn’t be able to tell you a thing about it. In other words – I would forget everything I’d read.

Writing book reviews has forced me to consolidate my thoughts on a book and has left me a neat little trail of reviews across the internet – which will be lovely to look back on in years to come. If I’m ever sat there thinking, “I wonder what I read when I was 22?” as long as the Internet is still alive, I’ll be able to know the answer.

If You Don’t Like the Book – Just Give Up

I used to be a firm believer that once you’ve started a book, you should never give up on it. Now that I (almost) read every book to write a review, there would be nothing worse than having to plough through a book I didn’t like and write a review about it after.

Life’s too short and there are so many books out there, ditch the ones you don’t like and then you can make more time for the ones you do.

And yes, it is okay to abandon the book at any time. Thirty pages from the end and you just can’t be bothered anymore? Then put it down and move onto the next.

It’s Rare to Find Someone Who Agrees With You 100%

For every book read, there’s a wealth of different opinions that come with it. Every book is going to be received and interpreted in a number of ways, and this is largely a credit to the power of literature.

We all think and feel in different ways so it’s almost impossible that we are going to have the same experience with a book. Additionally, we all like different things in books. Some of us like a fast-paced plot over an in-depth character study. It all depends on the reader.

Part of the wonder of being part of the book community is seeing everyone’s different opinions on a book – it’s one of my favourite things. But I’ve learnt more than ever is that no one is going to agree with you all the time. For instance, I felt like an anomaly when the book world was going mad for Normal People, and I had forced myself to read it for a second time but was still left wondering what all the fuss was about.

All Reviews Matter

Before I started writing reviews on my blog, I naively thought that only book reviewers that wrote for the top magazines and newspapers gained influence and mattered. It’s easy to think, right?

Sure, my reviews will have far less of an audience but they still have the potential to alter the perception or success of a book. Working with lesser-known authors that have approached me (which is still unbelievable in itself) I’ve realised the value of a well-written book review and what that can mean for an author – and it doesn’t have to be written by someone well established.

In a world where we can all be writers and reviewers on Amazon, NetGalley and Goodreads, all of our opinions and thoughts matter too. That’s the beauty of the internet.

Image: @katstokes_ via Uplash

Sometimes It Can Be Hard to Put Thoughts into Words

Some reviews have been easier to write than others. Sometimes I have felt so overwhelmed with a book that I’ve struggled to put my thoughts to paper, or haven’t even written a review for it, in fear of not being able to do it justice. Take The Goldfinch for example, probably one of the best books I have ever read, but I couldn’t write a review of it because it was almost too good – and my thoughts on it lacked a real coherency that book reviews need. So I left it, and that’s okay.

And then some books deal with difficult topics, such as Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and An American Marriage – incredibly important books, but I’ve found reviews for these hard to write in case I phrase something badly or have interpreted the message in the wrong way.

But now and always, it will be imperative that we continue to review these types of books and test ourselves. It’s better to try and get it wrong than to sit back and not try at all.


It’s been a fun nine months of writing book reviews and I’ve gained a lot from it. As someone who can easily forget books despite whilst reading them being madly in love with them, I’ve realised the value in keeping some kind of record of my thoughts to look back on. For non book bloggers, it doesn’t have to be a book review, but even making a few simple notes in a diary or journal, detailing what you thought of the book.

I’ve realised above all, that I love writing book reviews and starting conversations with readers across the world, as despite being many miles apart, we can be united by the shared experience of having read the same book. The sense of community at the heart of the online book world is invaluable and I hope I’ve managed to positively contribute in some way, despite only being here for a short while.

Here’s to more brilliant reads and writing more book reviews to come!


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