Mental health and wellbeing are hot topics at the moment, especially in yachting. A natural progression, perhaps, is to talk specifically about how we deal with grief and how to respectfully interact with others aboard who are grieving.
It’s important to remember that grief affects people in different ways, whether they’ve lost a partner, family member, friend, or pet. It doesn’t have to be a death either — we grieve broken relationships, the loss of money, and various other losses. Each person is also affected by their different upbringings (e.g. being raised in a religious or spiritual environment). Other factors in how we deal with grief could be age, personal relationships, and physical or mental health (or both).
The Kubler-Ross model sets out five stages of grief. Identifying where you — or someone else — are at on this scale can be helpful:
1. Denial: trying to avoid the inevitable
2. Anger: the outpouring of emotion
3. Bargaining: trying to see a way out
4. Depression: realization of the inevitable
5. Acceptance: finally finding the way forward
We must understand that all of these feelings are normal and part of the grieving process — even if you skip over some and experience only a few of the five stages. Every person is different, and it may take longer for some to recover than others. There isn’t a set time to heal from grief and we shouldn’t compare our grief to how others experience it. Some people find it helpful to get back to work and into a routine sooner while some feel they need to stay away longer.
Working in such close proximity to others often magnifies or intensifies these feelings and there’s literally no escaping, whether you’re directly grieving or around someone who is. Dealing with someone who is grieving can take its emotional toll — self-care is something that must not be overlooked.
There’s no easy fix for grief but there are practical things you can do to help: Express your feelings, talk them through, and don’t be afraid to talk about the person you’ve lost. For those helping someone who is grieving, they should talk about the person they’ve lost, too. Don’t feel awkward and don’t ignore your feelings. Nobody needs to put on a brave face or act “strong.” It’s normal to feel sad and it’s good to make some allowances for that.
Routines are good: Normalcy may seem like a world away but getting on with day-to-day jobs could help. We usually think of grieving as purely emotional, but there can be physical symptoms. Keep an eye out for fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, pain, and insomnia. The mind and body are connected, so when your body is well, this can help you deal with more emotional stress. Even if you don’t feel like it, eat well, try to get some sleep, and exercise.
Although alcohol seems like a great idea to numb the pain, watch out: it’ll be far, far worse when it wears off (and that can be said for drugs too).
Instead of self-medicating with alcohol, getting counseling or therapy may be the right option for you — talk to your doctor about it. There are many people out there who are happy to operate over Skype or FaceTime, which means you don’t have to miss out just because you’re at sea. Plus, there are other apps available; all you need is Internet access and you can message a counselor. Remember that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. When we lose someone suddenly, this can manifest as PTSD or psychological trauma and you might need some guidance on starting the healing process.
If you’re working alongside someone who is grieving, keep an eye on them. If you feel they’re not coping well or seem to be overwhelmed, speak to them about what’s going on (if you feel comfortable doing so). It’s possible that they need to stay away from work for a while to feel more like themselves. If you don’t want to talk to them directly, then speak to the head of department, captain, or another crewmember.
It’s easy for people who don’t understand to lose patience with someone who is grieving. Twitter user @LaurenHerschel recently went viral by sharing “the ball and the box” analogy her doctor explained, which is a great way to describe how it feels lose someone to those who never have.
“So grief is like this: There’s a box with a ball in it. And a pain button…In the beginning, the ball is huge. You can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it — it just keeps hurting. Sometimes it seems unrelenting. Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as much. It’s better because you can function day-to-day more easily. But the downside is that the ball randomly hits that button when you least expect it.”
“For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less and you have more time to recover between hits, unlike when the ball was still giant. I thought this was the best description of grief I’ve heard in a long time.” We agree.
Find a bereavement helpline:
In the U.S.: Crisis Call Center at 775-784-8090
UK: Cruse Bereavement Care at 0808 808 1677
Australia: GriefLine at (03) 9935 7400
Seafarer Help: firstname.lastname@example.org, (SMS) +44 7624 818 405, (WhatsApp) +44 7909 470 732