Well, everyone can master a grief, but he who has one. – William Shakespeare
We have all been there, a loss of one kind or another; the death of a friend or family member, the passing of a beloved pet, an unexpected tragedy such as a flood or hurricane that alters our journey forever. You may be experiencing a divorce or the end of a long term relationship. Whatever the loss, it can be downright torturous to get on with living. Most of us veer towards the familiar and when you experience a demise, change crashes in on your life uninvited. But there are tools that can help you navigate through the painful terrain of grieving and dealing with loss.
First and foremost, don’t deny your feelings, otherwise they will end up somewhere in your body and wreak havoc. It is normal to feel a profound sadness, to cry or wail, and to experience a sense of hopelessness. You don’t have to make excuses for your emotions, they are uniquely yours and everyone copes with loss differently. You may feel utterly overwhelmed, angry or unequivocally fearful. When a person or family pet or companion passes it can flood you with memories and the void can feel physical. Or the ending of a marriage or partnership can produce tremendous grief. Acknowledge the surge of emotions with the same empathy you would give others who have experienced loss. This is not the time to be stoic and keep a stiff upper lip.
When you are ready, share your feelings, talk to friends and other family members who are good at listening. What you don’t need is a list of things you ‘should’ do. Open up to people who can actively listen, that means they’re not the ones talking. Stave off those who try to cram unwanted advice down your throat, although they may have your best interest at heart, they are not you, they have not walked your path. Now is the time to be present with what you are experiencing. Facing your feelings helps you to come to terms with them, to put them in perspective, to shake hands with them and realize they are part of the process and part of you.
If we bottle up our feelings they fester and eventually, like bad wine, turn sour and are that much harder to swallow. Open the door to your heart, let the contents spill out to those you feel emotionally safe confiding in. Get out of your thinking mind and into your feelings. The mind tries to rationalize or distract you or even judge you, which will not help your progress towards wholeness. Perhaps write how you’re feeling down or pen a letter to the deceased or journal your experience without censoring your words. Let the paper absorb your sadness or resentment then either keep it or burn it, depending on what will honor your emotional well-being.
If there is no one that can help you unburden your emotions, seek out a support group or a counselor. In fact, there is an array of bereavement groups that could help you with your specific loss and even those with a plethora of family and friends can benefit from the solidarity of those who have suffered similar experiences (although let me be clear every situation is different and don’t compare your grief response to another). Find the right one for you, one you can feel comfortable in expressing yourself honestly and without judgement.
Keep some semblance of a routine. If you like to walk in the morning or evening, perhaps try to keep that healthy habit up. Or maybe you love to water your flowers every morning or make coffee and read a book or listen to the news or watch the squirrels dart in the trees. Whatever it is, by sticking to a few simple constants, you will create a sense of stability that not everything is lost, not everything has changed.
Try to eat as healthy as you can and stay rested. If you have lost your appetite try eating smaller meals more frequently, foods that are easily digested. Get a little exercise to help you sleep, ask a friend to walk with you or perhaps cycling helps clear your mind. If you have a yoga practice, this can be very soothing during times of duress. Taking little measures to maintain your health, will help you cope with the loss. It is okay to step away from the sadness for a bit and indulge yourself in an activity that quiets the pain, if even temporarily. This is not the same as ignoring or escaping your feelings, it is rather an attempt to bring your life back to balance. Throughout the day we experience a gamut of emotions, allow yourself a reprieve from the painful ones.
Breathe, and give yourself time to grieve, be kind to yourself. Try to not self-impose deadlines for when you should feel better. Know that it is a process, just like learning how to be a parent or how to keep your relationship healthy, grieving a loss takes time. Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Allow the wounds of loss their proper healing time and eventually the pain will subside.