Aundi Kolber – therapist and author – says this: “To be human is to grieve.” Learning to grieve is the bedrock of mental health and such a critical part of being human, but our culture does not honor loss well, so this is an important conversation to have and a counter intuitive way to live in a world where we are certain to face loss.
So when you find yourself here – nothing is as it should be…you did nothing wrong and you did not deserve this. How do you find your anchor, your footing, when life has turned upside down? Anger, disappointment, confusion, and doubt are all normal responses to grief and sorrow. Grief triggers feelings of helplessness and it undermines our sense of safety, security, and control. Understanding the journey of grief can help us find the resiliency we need to overcome the certainty of loss.
THE MYTH OF GRIEF
We have such a narrow definition of grief but it’s so much more than death, it’s smaller losses and transitions too. If you lose someone or something that matters, grief happens.
· The end of a dream
· An illness
· A divorce
· Moving cities
There are different levels of loss and different intensities of grief but is so much broader than our limited understanding.
CHALLENGES WITH GRIEF
Grief is complicated and difficult to navigate. It’s helpful to understand a few key truths:
1. Emotions demand to be processed
One of the challenges with grief is that from a very young age we’re taught that it is not okay to feel our feelings. Yet, our emotions are unique to us. The journey of grief is unique to you and your experience. Grief is this microcosm idea that can change in it’s size and intensity but at it’s core it’s always about knowing how to process. Accept the way you feel, no matter how you feel….and avoid judgement. Give yourself the permission to be…and to feel…just as you are and right where you’re at.
There is danger in selectively numbing your feelings. It is impossible to numb grief, sorrow, sadness, and fear without also numbing joy, love, gratitude….the very emotions that strengthen our resiliency in times of transition and loss. When we don’t create space to feel our pain we become a slave to it. I’m working with a client now related to the loss of a family member. She feels angry but doesn’t want to be angry. Instead of avoiding or dismissing uncomfortable feelings, learn to lean into them. Your healing is on the other side of the pain.
Grief is trauma and the body keeps the score – when our feelings are left unprocessed our bodies will manifest the pain because grief is incredibly painful – emotionally, physically, spiritually.
“Feel it, that thing you don’t want to feel. Feel it and be free.” -Nyeri Raweed
2. Grief is layered and unexpected
What’s tricky about grief is that it can be incredibly confusing. So many other emotions hide behind grief; especially anger. Losses can start to add up and become incredibly complicated as we’re not simply grieving one thing we are often grieving every loss that we have ever experienced. I often teach my clients that grief is like a wave. The intensity will come and go and at times it will threaten to take you under – often when you least expect it. Trust though that it will recede and that you will find secure footing again.
THE GOAL OF GRIEF
The goal of grief is to move toward acceptance but there is no set timeline on when that happens or what that process will look like. Grief is an individual journey – as individual as a fingerprint. Grief looks different for everyone and each individual grieves differently but here’s what we know….it isn’t linear. Elizabeth Kubler Ross identified the stages of grief that you are probably familiar with and though it gives us a helpful framework, grief is nuanced and it doesn’t follow a simple path or formula. Don’t put pressure on yourself for it to look a certain way. Giving yourself permission and space to grieve puts on you the path toward acceptance and learning to live your new normal.
MOVING THROUGH GRIEF
If the goal of grief to move toward acceptance, how do we find our way?
Begin by being honest with yourself about where you’re at. Denying or avoiding it will simply leave you feeling stuck and unable to move forward.
2. Learn to grieve in healthy ways
This is really a response to learning to feel our feelings and accept our feelings and our own individual journey. I often encourage clients to create a ritual to honor the loss or transition or to honor the day – by lighting a candle or by saying a prayer. Grief/loss changes you and honoring that truth is an important part of the journey. In addition to rituals we can create a timeline of loss, join a support group, or read books that teach important grief practices and principles.
3. Lean into community
We live isolated lives but we are hard wired for connection and community. Open your heart to wise, compassionate people who will walk with you in this season of grief. I would also encourage you to be honest and to ask for what you need because the people in your life won’t know unless you tell them.
SUPPORTING OTHERS IN GRIEF
Maybe you are not grieving right now but a friend or family member is. How do you show up for them? It’s really important to avoid minimizing the pain by saying things like “everything happens for a reason” – even if you believe this to be true, it’s not helpful. Learn to listen, you don’t have to fix it, simply be a safe place for them to process as you validate their feelings and their pain. Remind them they are not alone.
If you find yourself in a season of grief, you may need professional support to help you navigate the loss, there is no shame in that. Unprocessed grief can get stuck and turn into depression – so don’t hesitate to reach out to get professional help with a counselor.