by GSN Provider Shelly King, MA, LPC
While we all experience grief and loss in our own ways, there are common experiences many of us share. Here are some of things that I have found to be most important when working with grief and loss:
Tell Your Stories
It is so important to find your people to talk with. Humans have evolved with the ability to tell stories. It connects us through history and time. As humans, we are wired to connect. Yet with grief and loss, it can be so hard to tell our stories for so many reasons. Our culture generally doesn’t do grief well. There is the expectation to grieve privately and to “move on” quickly. And for any of us grieving, we know this just isn’t true, yet it’s easy to question our sanity when so many people implicitly and explicitly communicate to us that we’re doing it “wrong” or making them uncomfortable. Rather than questioning the insanity of these messages, we think we’re the ones losing it. Instead it is essential to find the person(s) that are best able to support you. This might be a family member, friend, on-line support, therapist, clergy, or Grief Support Network gathering (if you live in the area). You may have to search a bit to find your connection, but these connections are your life-lines.
Find Your Community
Life is totally rearranged by loss. You are not the same person as you were before your loss. There is life before loss, and life after. It can be a re-defining moment in one’s lifetime. But again, cultural expectations can be challenging as those around you want their “old” person back – their old spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, etc., and you may be wishing for this too. Instead of getting back to your old self, I view grief and loss as integration process. We are always growing and changing as human beings, and our losses are a part of that process. It is important that you find your community that can support you through this identity change and grief process. Many people express how they’ve lost friends through their grief, found new ones, and have been pleasantly surprised by the people that really show up.
Feel Your Feelings
As with telling your story, feeling your feelings can be challenging. Not only are most of us not getting enough support, we may be scared of our own feelings. Grief is intense. It’s messy. It’s difficult. It can feel crazy. Human nature is to avoid pain. Yet as you probably know or have heard, the only way to really work with grief is to experience it. You may be able to find ways to numb it or avoid it for the time being, but it’s still there. If we keep in mind that loss is an integration process, we can remember that bit by bit we’re able to let thoughts and feelings in, and let them pass through us. We don’t have to hold on to them. We can trust that they will come and go. There can be the fear that if you let yourself “go there” you might never come back. I know that feeling. I remember after the death of my daughter, I found myself lying on the bedroom floor of what was supposed to be her room. And she wasn’t there, never came home from the hospital and I wondered if any of this was really real. Did it happen? Was I crazy? I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. My body, heart and soul needed that. Grief can knock us down hard some days. If and when you’re able, trust that you will be okay. I know you will be okay. You will never be the “same” again, and you don’t need to be. You can do this; you are doing this.
Acceptance can be a big one! So many things in life don’t go our way, and the death of a dear one may be part of that. We all know life is not fair. But what I learned from the death of my first born daughter – life is not about being fair. It’s about accepting what is. From my own experience, I can tell you my first born daughter was not supposed to have a rare chromosomal abnormality and only live for a few days. That was not part of my plan, or something I even knew as a possibility until it happened to me. But when I could let go of my plan, my supposed-to’s or should-haves, when I could sit with what was and be in the moment, wow – I experienced the most amazing love with my daughter. It broke my heart wide open. In my moments of acceptance, everything was truly okay and well with the world. I’ll be honest, I did not and do not stay in these moments of acceptance. I have railed against my daughter’s death, and my life after loss, and yet, when I can come back to the now, to moments of trust and acceptance, I feel that peace and love again. I know it’s always there. So as you are able, I encourage you to step into acceptance, to sit there, and let things be.
Attachment and Legacy
To wrap things up, I have also found it important to acknowledge my attachment to my daughter in life and death. Of course I’m always her mom. And for you, for the person you are remembering, you are attached to them. You are always their friend, partner, family member. We get to nurture these connections in life and death. One way to work with this is to consciously decide how your loved one’s legacy will live on through you. This could mean ANYTHING – from lighting a candle, to donating money to their favorite organization, or singing, dancing or painting with your loved one in mind. The relationship is yours to nurture and treasure.
My thoughts are with us as we move forward into the holiday season. It can be a tough time for so many of us. I send you thoughts of light and love for the season ahead. And I welcome your darkness and fear.