Contrary to popular belief, we get to be in choice about how we grieve. When my mom was dying I envisioned the aftermath would be something like me laying in a crying, helpless mess on the floor for weeks - if not months. I was sure I would completely fall apart...I mean, that's what grief is! That's what grief does - or so I thought. Truth is, it doesn't have to be that way.
Grief is a Mindfuck
After experiencing a significant loss you will undoubtedly experience grief. There are many definitions of grief out there but the one I like to roll with is this:
"Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to a loss or change of any kind, usually experienced as deep sorrow and other conflicting feelings."
In sum, grief is a mindfuck. Folks in grief often feel sadness, hopelessness, despair, loneliness and heartbreak but we can simultaneously hold feelings of relief, elation, solace, and reprieve. For example, after my mom passed away I felt deep sadness that she was gone and immense relief that she was no longer suffering. Someone getting divorced may feel elated knowing they're no longer in a tumultuous relationship, but be heartbroken at losing a person they love or loved so dear.
Conflicting feelings are a normal and natural response to grief, and these feelings will often be (at some point or another) unwelcome, overwhelming and all-consuming. Its a process, not a destination with some finite timeline or end point where we feel "normal" again. After significant loss there is a new normal and its not always pretty, at least not right away.
Grief. Is. Shitty. This is precisely why it gets people so stuck and why being in choice about how you grieve is so important.
Choosing How To Grieve
First and foremost choosing to be honest with yourself and others about the fact that you're grieving is key. You can try to shove the feelings down or drink/sleep/play/fuck them away - but I assure you they will come back and shit will get ugly. So, do yourself and your loved ones a big favour and choose to acknowledge where you're at. You may feel like your heart has shattered into a million pieces, that no one in the world understands you and/or be pissed at the Universe. Whatever or however you feel. Own it.
Once you can admit where you're at - remind yourself that you get to choose what this process will look like for you and how to best move through it. Yes the feelings are overwhelming, yes it feels like the world is now a cold and nasty place but you still have control over your own well-being. You still get to decide whether or not to get out of bed in the morning and whether its okay to smile or, dare I say it, laugh (for the record, it is).
After my mom died I decided that I was going to grieve her fully and wholeheartedly. I knew it was going to suck serious balls, but I wanted to ensure that the emotions I felt over her death didn't end up pent up inside me. I committed to feeling all the feelings and to getting the help I needed from friends, therapists, doctors, whoever to help me cope.
Grief is a bitch - I can't say it enough and there aren't enough ways to say it. But, that doesn't mean you can't move through it in a healthy, productive and fruitful way. Sometimes that may look like laying in a ball on the floor marinating in the depths of your despair for a day (which I've done by the way) and sometimes that means doing normal, everyday shit with your homies where the loss may not even cross your mind. It will be different for every person as every person has a different loss and different experience of it. Just know that you can still take the reigns during this challenging time, and however you choose to move through it is up to you...even and especially when it doesn't feel like it.
The process of grief is long, painful and exhausting and, if you remain open to the possibility, can be one of the most powerful and positively life-altering experiences you'll ever have.
Some Healthy Ways to Cope With Grief
Here are some tips to help you remain in choice and move through grief in a meaningful way:
- Seek Support. Find a safe, trustworthy and reliable support system (friends, hired professionals, support groups, this blog! etc.).
- Express Yourself. Talk, write, paint, sing, whatever helps you express your feelings and help it move through and out of your system.
- Get Active. Finding energy in the midst of grief is hard but doing something to get your serotonin levels up can be super helpful. Even if its just a walk around the park with a friend or pet.
- Find Stillness. Meditating or just spending time alone can help you check in with yourself and have a better understanding of how you're feeling and what your currents needs are.
- Honour the Loss. This may look like a celebration of life for a departed loved one or toasting goodbye to a former version of yourself - whatever it is, honour your experience.