Life is an ebb and flow of emotion: an ebb and flow of good, bad and in between. It’s, unfortunately, one of those things where we can’t have one without the other. And along with all the hard stuff comes the waves of grief. Grief is a strange thing - sometimes it comes in rushes, sometimes it comes out of nowhere when we least expect it and sometimes we feel like it never lifts. It’s the heavy and painful reminder that we have lost something, whether it be a person, a relationship, or even a dream.
The definition of grief is “deep sorrow, especially that is caused by someone’s death.” As someone who has had a lot of grief in their life, I had to learn how to cope, how to let it have a voice or I felt like I would never be able to come up for air. In my case, I feel like a lot of the depression I have dealt with has been unprocessed grief. The avoidance of feeling that sorrow that was so painful, but so deeply needed to be felt, heard, and seen.
So what did I do? How have I learned to allow this emotion to flow in and out as needed so that it doesn’t consume me? It has taken almost 32 years to figure it out, but in the last year my mother was diagnosed with cancer, my grandfather passed away and my husband of 8 years (together 11) and I separated. It was truly almost too much for me to handle and I had to dig deep. I had to access all the tools that I have been shown along the way to heal. As I write this, the grief has begun to flow again because that’s the thing, once you learn to just allow it to flow as it comes on, it can pass. It won’t be what you feel ALL the time. It will be a visitor that comes and goes as it needs and not a tenant who moves in and takes over. So here is what I have learned.
Be Gentle with Yourself!
This should apply all the time, but especially in times of grief. One of the most effective exercises I can share with you is to take it one breath at a time. When you feel a wave of grief coming on and your first instinct is to push it down. Sit down and place a hand on your heart and a hand on your navel. As you breathe in, breathe into the grief, feel it. Feel where it lives in your body, push into it, see what message it has for you. As you breathe out, breathe out the grief you just allowed yourself to feel. Continue this for several minutes or until you feel some relief. Allow the tears to flow, all the anger, denial, all stages of grief. It is truly all a part of the process and necessary for processing it.
There are three ways emotion leaves the body: breath, sound and movement. Journaling falls into the movement category and I have found it is one of the most effective ways to process any emotion, but especially grief. Sometimes when we have a loss, it takes time for the shock to wear off and the grief to set in. This is a natural process, but I have found there is a fine line between being in the “shock” or “numb” stage and repressing the emotion and staying there. One way to prevent this is to sit down with your journal and start writing. Journaling is a place where I do not filter myself. I write all the things in my head with no judgement and no shame. I write down all the emotions I feel. Sometimes it is coherent sentences and sometimes it is just words, drawings, scribbles. I journal every day, but I truly retreat to my journal in times when life is hard because it is a place I feel safe and when we feel safe, it is much easier to feel the scarier, heavier emotions.
I believe that dancing is the best medicine. Physically shaking out your body. Shaking out all the stuff we carry around. When grief hits me hard, this is another place I retreat to daily. I choose music that I have an emotional response to (personally, Florence & the Machine always does it) and I just let it all go. I move the way my body chooses to move. I set the intention to release grief from my body. I breath into each movement, I breathe out grief, sorrow, anger, resentment, etc.
Reach out to your support system: Find those people you trust the most. The ones by whom you never feel judged, who listen and hold space. Talk to them about your grief. Let them know that you are going through a lot and that you just need someone to listen, someone to hold space and someone to see you. When we are in the fire, we feel so deeply that we are alone, when the reality is that we never are and we don’t EVER have to go through it alone. Community and connection are deeply healing.
One of the most important things about allowing grief to process is to not judge yourself. I find that we deeply judge ourselves for how we are feeling. We try to figure out why we are feeling this way so that we can tear it apart and somehow tell ourselves that we don’t “deserve to” or have “not right to” feel what we are feeling. Guess what? You have every right to feel every emotion that rushes through your body. Sometimes the grief we feel has nothing to do with events that are happening in our lives. We are sensitive beings. Sometimes it’s the events of the world, things happening to our loved ones around us, etc. Releasing judgement of your emotions will free you from ever having to justify how you feel. You’re already feeling it so why pretend like you aren’t?
Grief is hard, it’s uncomfortable, it’s painful. It seems much more appealing to just move through it quickly and not give it much space, but I would much rather live a life of feeling and allowing for the ebb and flow of emotions to move through my body. I’ve spent much of my life avoiding the darker emotions just to find them at my front door every time I would turn around. That’s the thing, you can’t escape them. They will show up one time or another. Next time you feel grief edge her way into your life, try a few of these tools. See how they work for you. See if you can allow it to just be there, sit alongside it and see what message it has for you. I will leave you with the powerful and truthful saying: “This too shall pass.”