by Sonia Brill, LCSW: If you are experiencing grief right now, remember that your path may be unique but you are never alone. Here are four ways to help you navigate the five stages of grief in your own time…
Everybody experiences grief at some point in their lives. We tend to associate grief with death, but other losses also trigger grief, such as separation from a significant other, loss of work, and good health.
Grief is a natural response to loss. Grief Awareness Day recognizes that there’s no right or wrong way to resolve grief. Your experience of grief is as unique as you are.
When You Least Expect It, Things Change
When I lost my mother, a part of me knew that although her physical form was gone, her essence remained. Yet, the rest of me experienced a deep void. They say, the deeper the love, the bigger the grief. Although you cannot measure grief by its size, you can say that big changes take place when you experience grief.
Finding steady ground is important to healing in order to reconnect with body, mind, and soul. Here are some ways to help you navigate grief.
1. Become Aware of Your Emotions
You’re hardwired to avoid emotional pain. Doing so, helps you survive difficult moments. So, it might seem counterintuitive to invite painful emotions. Yet, when you avoid grief, it seems to stick around longer.
You may have noticed that overworking and changing the subject helps for a bit of time. But all of sudden, you may find yourself feeling numb or thinking the whole thing is surreal. It may be too hard to talk about it. Or you may not be feeling like yourself. Think about getting back to yourself like the first time you dip your feet in the cold ocean or when you had to make a big decision.
Take a few moments to journal. As emotions rise to the top, simply notice them and become present to it. Become aware of your grief like a good friend would become aware of your struggle. It’s likely they will be there for you and support you in a challenging time. Likewise, hold a space for yourself without trying to judge it. The simple act of holding space allows you to become aware of your emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.
The way I held space for myself was through journaling and reflection. After writing journal entries for more than 28 days, reviewing them gave me perspective and insight about the journey with grief.
2. Remind Yourself that Loss Is a Beginning of Something New
Good-intentioned friends and relatives may say things like, “In time, you’ll feel better” or “Try not to think about it so much” or “You’ll be okay.” In the beginning stages of loss, these words of support may feel hollow. You might be hurting badly. It might be hard to imagine that loss is the beginning of something new. It might be hard to imagine that all human experiences change, evolve, and shift into something else.
Remember, feeling out of sync is a natural response to grief. Unlike clinical depression, grief is triggered by a loss. It is part of your evolution and building resilience. The Swiss psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler Ross, describes the five stages of grief as such:
This framework is helpful in understanding emotional experiences; equally, it might lead you to think that grief has a timeline and a clear path. The fact is that human experience is nuanced. It is possible you may experience anger first and shock second, or both at the same time. Or neither. In other words, your experience of loss is multidirectional. It is changing and evolving from moment to moment. Among other things, it is based on your perception of the event, your thoughts, the context, and your interpretation of what it means to you. Rather than being prescriptive about the course of grief, you can become present to it.
3. Create a Ritual to Build Grief Resilience
The thing about loss is there’s little say-so about what has happened. Rather than relying on something out there, when you start to lean into your deeper wisdom within, you allow your mind-body-soul to reveal the best path forward so that you can reconnect with your resilience. By returning to yourself, you empower yourself through a new perspective and remember a part of yourself that is resilient—you reconnect to something deep within that allows you to adapt, bounce back, and start over.
The simplest way is to create a ritual. All cultures have rituals. They are passed down from generation to generation to honor letting go while also bridging a path toward renewal. A ritual can be a self-care practice. Lighting a candle, drinking your favorite herbal tea, or writing down five things you are grateful for today are all practices you can start easily.
4. Try Meditation as a Medicine for Grief
Meditation is a practice that helps you tune into yourself and everything around you. But it may be difficult to practice meditation during grief because people struggle with emotional distress, feel physically exhausted, and experience an ongoing void.
To make meditation easier, at the beginning of your practice and after you have closed your eyes and are in a comfortable position, bring your right palm to your heart center and your left palm to your forehead. Just this act immediately signals to the brain and body that you are safe. You can then incorporate a breath-based practice (pranayama). Since breath and thoughts are interconnected, starting a breath-based practice helps decrease the number of thoughts and prepares you for meditation. When you feel a bit more settled, you can bring your arms into a comfortable position and palms face upward as you start your meditation practice.
If grief has been persistent and impacting your functioning, consider talking with a grief counselor. Although, it is natural to feel distressed, going it alone is not necessary. Talking with a professional doesn’t indicate something is wrong with you, it means you are aware of your struggle.
As humans, we all struggle. Another way to feel supported is to surround yourself with self-care practices and people. Self-care practices are an important part of experiencing emotional well-being, as is taking a walk and following a daily routine. Eating healthy meals and taking care of yourself is about self-preservation and self-compassion. When you take care of yourself, you feel better about taking care of others in your life.
For Grief Awareness Day, remember your path of grief may be unique but you are never alone. The grief around the loss of my mother has been evolving; there have been signs and experiences that help me realize her presence goes beyond the physical body. Yet, celebrations, holidays, and birthdays are vulnerable moments that require planning ahead with the suggestions made here. The evolution of how you move through grief gives you the resilience to continue your evolution. It makes you realize that you can manage, cope, and overcome grief in your own time.