For many people I know this year has got off to a particularly difficult start with the loss of a loved one or friend. Far too many times I have heard the phrase, “they were no age”. Grief is a complex and multifaceted thing. The OED define it as ‘intense sorrow’ whereas MedicineNet describe it as ‘the normal process of reacting to loss’. Personally, I don’t agree with either definition though I think the OED is closer because while we are there – in the midst of grief – it’s not normal, its wholeheartedly abnormal. Grief may be experienced by many if not all of us but this does not make it ‘normal’ though it does make many aspects of  it shared experiences. People may say to us that they are sorry for our loss describing the death of a person, but the loss was not the person as such, it is our rudder, our other half, the part that completed us, it is the one we are now lost without. We may tell ourselves off for allowing ourselves to feel so bereft however it would be wrong to feel otherwise, the degree to which we experience the feelings of grief are directly proportionate to the feelings we had for the person and what their no longer being with us means to us. We will become depressed, we may well withdraw feeling utterly lost and without the words to describe the gap left in our lives. We may avoid or immerse ourselves in ‘getting things organised’ or ‘clearing out’ but sooner or later the grief will be there, a very palpable and weighty experience which tends to be accompanied by the most determined of black dogs. It’s not ‘normal’ its abnormal but it is shared. There is tremendous weight in grief – it never gets any lighter however we do get better at carrying the load which we carry in a progressively more subconscious way as time goes on. Something that does help with this process is remembering that it is shared and is a road many have travelled before.  We can reach out to those around us and accept help where its offered though this in itself may be indescribably difficult at the time. There are the six stages of grief – shock, denial, anger, bargaining, grieving and acceptance but this is not a straightforward process with a neatly planned route through each. We may sit in anger for what feels like an eternity followed by the briefest moment of acceptance before plunging straight back into anger again. We do however all go through all the phases. Prompts could come from anywhere to trigger any of these changes – we could have reached a place of acceptance when one day we pass someone wearing the same perfume or aftershave as the person who we are grieving for and we will be straight back in again. Remember it’s not a race and the destination may change daily, but the cloud does lift by degrees, we get better at carrying the weight, we find strength we never knew we had. In time we may tame the black dog and allow it to become a pet for a while until it’s time to turn it loose. We find a new normal where our grief was anything but