It was a beautiful autumnal evening for a walk through London. The day had been rather productive. Then, all of a sudden, waves of grief enveloped me. Tears rolled down by cheeks as I walked through the park. I felt empty, lonely, numb. No one noticed. And then it passed, as I continued my walk towards the rail station for my trip home. It wasn't the first or last such moment. Walks, especially in parks, seemed to be the place where the waves found me, leaving a wake of sadness.
I was grieving the life I expected for my son, and for my wife and me, before the damaging impact of encephalitis on his brain. Grieving the lost opportunities, moments and milestones that I couldn't experience, or share with my family and friends. And the reminders are all around me, every day. For all of the five stages of grief I found acceptance the hardest to find, even though I skipped past depression. Letting go of my expectations and hopes was far harder than I had thought.
I wasted far too much energy and emotion on challenging the situation we face. The inequity of all of it. I looked to the lives of others for examples of what we hoped for; it all looked rosier even though I only saw a partial view of their true lives. Then I decided to stop it.
Here are six things I've learnt along the way to look after myself and others while grieving:
1. Try to go with the flow of your emotions; there are no rules, no rhythm when it comes to grief. It's ok to be sad. And happy too, without any feelings of guilt.
2. Still enjoy the view through the window on the life you expected. But close the window carefully when you return to your own life; I used to find the days after time with friends and family the most difficult until I found enough self-control to stop making comparisons. And use social media to stay connected, if you like, but take care not to over-use it otherwise negative envy creeps in.
3. Find the right people to talk to, whether a close family member, friend or a professional. And focus your time with people who make you feel good, and who don't expect too much from you at a time when you may not have that much to give to them.
4. Recognise that the emotions from grief will pass, even if they might never quite go away. The shadows lift as the sunlight of hope and opportunity from your new life seeps through if you let it.
5. Give yourself some space to grieve, reflect, reenergise and then refocus. Remember that you'll probably be stronger for the experience, managing everyday stress better than before.
6. Start being grateful for what you do have. Invest your energy in the very people around you who need you the most. It's as simple as that.
I'm sure there will be more tearful moments during walks in the future. But I know the waves will subside, as I tread a new path in life. And that it'll be ok.