Grief is an unmistakable feeling. The pit in your stomach, pressure behind the eyes, and a feeling of dissociation takes hold as you try to comprehend the irretrievable loss of your loved one. Death is a reminder that life is impermanent, that all things must come to an end, and that pain is unavoidable. However, as is true with many tragedies, the silver lining is that the experience of grief can offer you an opportunity to peer at existence with gratitude, humility, and the chance to reclaim your life.
In the first few months of grief, you may not feel ready to participate in grief groups, reach out to people, or do anything related to moving on and that’s okay.
A professor of mine once said, “you are the exclusive rights holder of your grief”, meaning that no one can tell you how to grieve or when to stop. Having this as a mantra can be a helpful reminder that you don’t owe your recovery to anyone but yourself. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to grieve, it all just depends on your style and what you need.
Some individuals who are recovering from an irretrievable loss may need to kick, scream, and contact their anger honestly and without censorship. Others may need a highly supportive, gentle, and regulated approach to process their grief. And then of course there’s a mixture of the two and an incredibly diverse range of processes.
Since I cannot tell you how to grieve, all I can do is offer you the support and encouragement to feel whatever is coming up for you. Regardless of how you’re feeling in this moment, you are deserving of compassion and grace.
Some steps you can take to honor the grief inside of you may include:
Learning to Say No.
Having clear and firm boundaries is essential. Healing is much harder to come by when you’re caught up in pleasing others or sidestepping your feelings in favor of maintaining the status quo. Saying no does not equate to being mean, unforgiving, or selfish; It can actually be the opposite. When you say no, you’re lovingly committing to your needs, which helps you take better care of yourself and eventually ripples out into your community. How does saying no during grief help? It conveys the message that your feelings are important and your energy is being reserved for processing your loss. Taking time out for healing is vital. Saying no to anything that does not serve you, despite if it sounds good (like joining a grief group when you’re not ready), is perfectly acceptable and valid.
The value of ritual has long been documented as a beneficial and healing act that creates connection with the self and the universe (or spirit, or God, or great beyond; i.e. any “higher energy”). Rituals, particularly related to grief, can give meaning to our losses, or better yet, a generate a holding space for emotional release and closure. What rituals for grief come to mind? It’s completely relative to you and what would serve you. For example, a 20-minute contemplative walk in nature, lighting a candle for a 10-minute reflection, or setting a time-limited space for grief to emerge and flow are all rooted in some type of ritual that encourages intentional connection to your feelings. A ritual doesn’t have to be spiritual or religious for it to matter; The point is to connect to your grief in a purposeful and mindful way so that it may be honored and released.
Finding a creative outlet for grief to stream through you is a truly remarkable method of processing your loss in a sensory and emotion-focused kind of way. Logic has its value, but sometimes it cannot fully comprehend the more complex sort of reactions that live inside of us. Creative writing, journaling, painting, dance/movement, are just a few ways to express what is stirring within. None of these expressive activities need to be perfect, shown to anyone, or kept even for yourself. You can destroy inanimate objects, declutter your space, draw on the walls, blast hardcore metal, plant beautiful flowers, or write stories to capture the physical and emotional manifestations of grief. There is no right or wrong way to get creative and tap into your primal instincts (as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others).
I know I mentioned above that you may not be ready to contact a grief support group or therapist, but down the road you may feel a longing to take this significant step and connect with others. A simple google search for grief support groups in your area should yield some fairly robust results. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from a friend or loved one if you’re feeling scatter brained or too emotionally tapped to begin searching for support in your area. Some churches, community centers, and mental health agencies offer free grief groups that meet at various times. Take some time to research what’s out there; You don’t have to do this alone.
If you are finding that grief is becoming a beast that you cannot manage and catch yourself feeling suicidal, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for immediate support at 1-800-273-8255. Remember that grief, along with every other feeling out there, is transient. Your emotions are always ebbing and flowing with every moment that passes by.
Be gentle and kind to yourself and treat your internal experiences with respect.