When grief enters our lives, we often feel unprepared for it. We may feel like a black cloud is following us, or as though we’ve become that black cloud, raining pain and sorrow down in every direction. The emotions that arise feel overwhelming and abundant, and we rarely feel prepared to meet such emotions.
It is often an unconscious habit to respond to painful emotions through fight or flight reactions. Feelings of sadness, sorrow, shame, guilt, denial, and despair make us uncomfortable, so we may try to avoid them.
There is a phrase, “What you resist, persists.” When we resist the uncomfortable feelings, they can seem to gain a stronger hold on our lives that may block us from beginning to heal.
So, how do we brace ourselves for the storms of grief? How do we arm ourselves with tools to stay afloat, so we don’t get lost in the torrential sea of grief we’ve been thrust into?
Consider this quote by best selling author, Eckhart Tolle.
“Any negative emotion that is not fully faced and seen for what it is in the moment it arises does not completely dissolve,” Tolle explains. “It leaves behind a remnant.”
~Eckhart Tolle, Best-selling Author, “A New Earth”
Pain is like a person. It wants to be seen and heard. Much like we hold a memorial or funeral service for our loved ones who have passed, it is valuable to honor and acknowledge your feelings of loss, anger, sadness, regret, and even joy surrounding the life and death of your loved one.
It may sound scary, but leaning into the pain, instead of away from it, can actually create a pathway to healing. When an emotional wave comes at you in the storms of grief, you will find riding the wave, rather than paddling against it, will lead to a more peaceful passing of the storm.
Rather than pushing your emotions away or trying to avoid them, you can actually soften right into them. Arm yourself with tools of compassion and self-empathy as you work to dissolve the strong “charge” around these powerful feelings.
Allow yourself to express all your emotions fully in the moment they arise. Society tells us to stay strong, put on a brave face, keep moving forward, be tough for others, never give up – but these messages are the exact opposite of what we need when a loved one passes.
The energy of grief is like an inflatable pool – the emotions, pain, and trauma can fill you up within. If try to “stuff” the pain, ignore it, or simply go around it, it doesn’t go away. It festers within, grows stagnant and sour. Left unexpressed, pain transforms into a life-eating poison that seeps into every corner of your life. The longer it sits, the more it destroys your ability to experience joy and peace. Unattended pain will sour your relationships, your work - your daily ability to survive and thrive.
DO’s & DON’T’s of Expressing the Pain
Time and again, you may be tempted to return to your own sources of pain-numbing avoidance such as tuning out to the TV or internet, shopping, eating, sex, drugs, or alcohol. DO learn to recognize your triggers and your numbing tools so that with this awareness, you can begin to build new habits of expressing and acknowledging the pain, instead of avoiding it.
DON’T be afraid to “break down.” Let go, let it out. Soften into the pain as you tenderly work to express, and then, heal it.
DON’T be afraid of your tears – they are the first language we are given as a baby. They are our innate, natural, healthy expression of pain.
DON’T feel you need to “be strong” for others. People only say that because they are afraid of facing their own pain and/or yours. The best example you could set for yourself, and those around you – even your children – is in expressing the pain openly and honestly.
If you’re angry, DO give that anger a healthy outlet to be expressed – scream it, cry it, write it, punch it in a pillow, kick it in the wind, yell it to the sky, whiplash it onto a canvas with paint.
Whatever “negative emotions” arise, DO meet them wholeheartedly with tools of self-expression. Consider writing in a journal daily, utilizing a space of quiet reflection to douse yourself with tender self-empathy, spending time in nature to nurture your soul, channeling your feelings into creative projects like cooking, painting, writing, drawing or singing.
Although few people know how to simply “be” with the bereaved, if you are fortunate to have friends or family who can be a source of empathy and tender compassion, DO include others in your self-expression process as well. Also, consider seeking out a professional counselor who can really acknowledge your feelings, and help you begin to identify the specific hurts beneath them as you work towards healing.
Each day will bring different ebbs and flows of hurts and healing as you give yourself permission to express, honor and fully acknowledge the waves of grief. It may be hard to believe, but in this space of being broken open, you may uncover strengths and wisdom you never could have imagined before.
Martha Beck said it best here:
“Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests and falls in a series of waves. Each wave washes a part of us away and deposits treasures we never imagined. Out goes naivete, in comes wisdom; out goes anger, in comes discernment; out goes despair, in comes kindness. No one would call it easy, but the rhythm of emotional pain that we learn to tolerate is natural, constructive and expansive… The pain leaves you healthier than it found you.” ~Martha Beck
As you meet each day and each wave, be compassionate with yourself. Treat yourself, and your pain, like you would a child, gently leaning into the tender soft spots of the pain. Give yourself empathy as you uncover the deepest sorrows, and even joys, that surround your loss. The internal dialogue you create here becomes a powerful tool for acknowledging your pain, and beginning to transform it into a sense of peace and healing.
Remember, there is no timetable on grief. The loss of your loved one will be with you forever. Just as you go back to a gravesite to honor and acknowledge your loved one, return to yourself, again and again, taking time to continue to honor and acknowledge the pain around your loss.