Three Supportive Practices for Getting a Grasp on Your Grief
By Mandy Eppley, M.A., LPC
There are many difficulties we face when we are Grieving. The Landscape is unfamiliar and frightening. As we all know, the journey of Grieving and what to expect is not an open discussion in our culture. There are all kinds of tips about all kinds of wonderful topics and yet, the topic of Grief is still a bit taboo. We don’t hear people discussing the tips that support us through our Grief at the cocktail party or the local drinking hole. And yet, Grief is as normal a part of our human experience as is our joy. Learning how to move through grief should be as normal as learning the tips for getting into shape or weight loss or financial planning. We cannot avoid Grief. We experience loss from the moment we leave our mother’s womb. Loss is normal and an everyday part of life, like brushing our teeth. We still think that Grief only applies to death. And of course, one of the greatest losses in our lives is when someone we love, care for, and/or know dies.
Now why does all of this matter, you may ask. Why does it matter if I understand that Grief does not only mean death — that losses are woven throughout our lives in the form of disappointments, or relationships/marriages ending, job changes or loss, a beloved pet dies, a dear friend moves away, our own aging, and dreams changing or dying. These are just some of the losses we experience in life. And when we have a loss, we Grieve. We feel the three main feelings of Grief (sadness, anger, and anxiety) which is the human experience of being alive. It also matters because we are often very alienated from our own feelings and feel as though we are doing something wrong if we are Grieving when no one has died. Giving ourselves permission to feel and to Grieve is a powerful choice for our own health. Many diseases, physical disorders, and emotional struggles are caused by not allowing ourselves to feel our feelings of Grief. We have a wide array of sophisticated defense mechanisms that block our feelings and keep us from experiencing our Grief. What is essential is understanding that, while it may be unpleasant at times and hurt emotionally, Grieving is your right when you experience a loss. And learning to Grieve in healthy ways is good for you. It allows you to know more about yourself. So here are some tips for healthy grieving.
Tip #1: BE ON YOUR OWN SIDE!
When we are Grieving and it hurts deeply —when it drops you to your knees (emotionally) — it is very tempting and quite common for the individual to get mad at themselves, actually thinking they are doing something wrong for hurting so badly. When you’ve experienced a loss, no matter what it is, if you feel deeply sad, it’s ok. The amount of sorrow we experience is directly related to how bonded and important to us the person, place, or thing is/was to us. And when you’re Grieving, the last thing you need to do is turn on yourself, place guilt on yourself, or put yourself down with thoughts such as, “I shouldn’t be hurting so badly,” “ I shouldn’t be Grieving for so long” or “I should be over it by now.” These are very unfair statements to make to yourself. They are not true. And they actually prolong the Grieving process. What is absolutely essential in this process is that you say to yourself, “All of my feelings are okay and normal. I will grieve this loss as long as my spirit needs me to. I will be kind, patient, and loving with myself as I move through my grief. I am on my own side.” This will make such a huge difference for you and your entire experience of Grieving. You are human and you have every right to feel your Grief, just as you feel your Joy!
Tip #2: WELCOME YOUR GRIEF IN YOUR OWN MIND
Create the space for your Grief in your own mind. Talk to yourself. And I truly mean have a conversation with yourself. We have an ongoing monologue in our minds happening anyway, so do yourself a favor and talk to yourself about how you are feeling and what you are needing. Talk to friends who can sit with you in your Grief. Do your best to give yourself a break from those who may be accidentally pressuring you to pretend like you’re fine. It’s okay to take a break from well-meaning people, especially if you have to hide your Grief when you are around them. You can openly share how you are feeling and choose to ignore their discomfort, but if it’s too hard for you, then take care of yourself and take the space you need. However, if you do that, make sure you are opening up to others and are talking about how you feel. Don’t try to go it alone. We all need support. Give yourself permission to get support. Look for support groups and online resources to help you understand what you are going through. Welcome your grief by not trying to go it alone. View it as normal and as an important topic to discuss, regardless of what the cultural norms may be; those norms to silently brave it alone are too isolating and keep people feeling as though they are doing something wrong by Grieving. Put post it notes on your bathroom mirror, that say for example, “I welcome my grief as a normal part of my human journey.”
Tip #3: TRUST YOUR FEELINGS
Sadly, we are often taught to not trust our feelings. We’re taught that our feelings are too volatile and will only lead us astray. That is simply not true, and is incredibly conflicting. When we are experiencing such an intensity of feelings through the grieving process it’s because quite simply, it’s normal. Of course, you are deeply sad, perhaps fiercely angry, and nervously anxious as you experience the loss of what mattered to you. Your function of feeling is as normal a part of being human as is your function of thinking. When we experience a loss, of course our feelings intensify and feel sometimes unmanageable. It’s very tempting to become numb and do all the things we do, to escape feeling. Learning to trust our feelings as guides and powerful allies while we are Grieving will shift our whole experience. Understanding that intensity of feelings is congruent when we are Grieving gets us out of a battle with our feelings. Listening to how we are feeling without judgment, with acceptance, and with self-love allows us to better understand ourselves. Trusting your feelings means that you accept how you are feeling as difficult as it may be. It also means finding creative ways of expressing your feelings, instead of avoiding or numbing them. Creative ways may include journaling, talk therapy, yoga, massage, support groups, reading, exercising, resting, being in nature, creating a collage, etc. The important point is to not block your feelings when you’ve experienced a loss, and to trust that your feelings are teaching you about you.
Mandy Eppley is a licensed psychotherapist, in practice for over 21 years. She has devoted herself to counseling individuals, couples, and families struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, and the effects of sexual abuse and trauma, and is considered a Grief Transformation Specialist. She is also a co-founder and Director of Services & Programs at The Respite, A Centre for Grief & Hope and the co-creator of the 7-Step Model of Heart-Centered Grief, with Chris Saâde.