In the days following a death, there may be multitudes of supporters, friends, and family members surrounding and supporting you. But, soon enough, you’re left rebuilding a new life without your loved one like a Buddhist Monk pieces a sand sculpture together, one grain of sand at a time.
It’s natural to fear being alone in your grief. It feels a little like being tossed out to sea in the middle of a perfect storm, with no life jacket.
However, time alone can also bring healing when we use it to with intention – to express our pain, to honor and acknowledge the life, love, and memory of the deceased. We can build our own life jackets in the middle of that sea of grief. We can save ourselves from drowning in the pain.
Sometimes we want to believe another person can hold our hand and walk us through our own grief, when in fact, we can only walk the journey alone. Only you had exactly the relationship you had to your loved one. No matter how close your friends and family are to you, or to the person who died, their experience of the loss and their journey through grief is not going to be the same as yours. Even if you’ve lost a child, your grief will be different from your spouse’s, and your way of dealing with it, different from theirs.
This can often tear families apart, when we cannot seem to connect in our grief journeys. We may wonder why the other person isn’t acting/feeling/dealing the same way we are. Maybe they are grieving quietly in private, while you are willing to shed tears openly. Maybe they want to talk about it, but you’re not ready to. Maybe they want to memorialize your loved one loudly and proudly, but you’re pain still feels too private to share.
A helpful way to see ourselves, and each other, on this journey is to imagine walking through a mine field. Only you know where the mines – the deepest wounds and hurts within – are hiding in your field of grief. Only you know which wounds are too tender to touch, and which are ready to be seen and shared. If others try to walk alongside you, they may trip a wire unknowingly.
So, to support you in your grief, friends and family may have to tread very lightly, or simply follow your lead from behind.
Consider this quote:
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
– Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey
It is helpful to garner support from valuable sources where and when you can – professional counselors, grief therapy, books, friends, family, and support groups can brace you. All these can serve as guideposts and underpinning on your journey.
But, remember also, that you are your best source of healing on this journey. You have the strength to work through your grief, even though you may feel completely lost it in at times.
You can be a friend to yourself. You can sit with yourself – in your quiet time, walks in nature, morning jogs, and afternoon prayers – and simply acknowledge your pain. You can learn to tolerate the “not knowing,” the inability to fix, cure, or heal the irreversible effects of death. You can learn to sit with your grief, and when you do, it will begin to loosen it’s grasp on your life as you bravely stare into its face.
Rather than curse your time alone, seek to embrace it. Seek to morph it into a healing space you can return to time and again, like a child returns to its mother’s breast.
Use your time with intention, in a personal quest to understand your own coping mechanisms, grieving process, and needs. This will better equip you to communicate your grief and needs with yourself, and your loved ones. You may only be able to say, “I can’t do X, Y, or Z,” right now, or, “I need you to do the dishes and make dinner tonight so I can just sleep.” Or, you may even be able to have an honest conversation with your loved ones where you can simply say, “I have no idea what I’m feeling, and no idea what’s going to set me off, I’m still trying to figure this out right now.”
As you begin to understand your grief more and more, attempting to communicate whatever you can with those around you can be extremely powerful in strengthening your relationships at a time when they are most stressed. Most paramount, however, is the fact that this intentional self-care will fortify your relationship with yourself – the most important relationship you have.
Here are a few ideas for how to embrace your time alone, and use it to create a pathway to healing.
1.) Take time to be alone in nature often. At first, it may feel very unnatural, or your sorrow may cloud your view of beauty and life completely. However, creating on-going rituals of walking in this “breathing space,” can offer a powerful source of calm, quiet, and peace in the pain, slowly unfolding you to beauty again.
2. ) Taking as little as five minutes of quiet reflection daily can make a huge impact on your healing process. Consider this time your inflowing pipeline to filling your inner well, garnering strength to face whatever is ahead.
3.) Hold no expectations on how or what you should feel, how or where you are in on your grief journey. Allow yourself the space to be angry, sad, scared. Breathe into these emotions, allowing them a soft space to be expressed through tears, journal-writing, and creative expression (ie: painting, drawing, cooking, singing, etc.).
4.) Whenever you are alone with yourself and your thoughts, douse your pain with compassion. Speak to yourself like you would a good friend. When your innermost thoughts bubble up to the surface, you can say to yourself, “I’m so sorry you are hurting. I know you miss him deeply. I can see you are in so much pain.”
By utilizing these “intentional tools” of self-care, self-nurturing, self-empathy and self-acknowledgement on your journey through grief, you can create a path to healing and learn how to be alone.
Updated: September 27, 2013