The Healthy Way to Deal with Grief
The dry and cold valley of grief may be one of the hardest places to be in life. And it's almost guaranteed that you will encounter this valley at least once in your life. Maybe you've imagined to yourself what it will be like when one day your parents die. Or maybe you don't have to imagine it. Maybe you have lost someone close to you. Maybe they haven't died, but you have still lost them. People don't have to die for you to grieve them. I know that I've lost friends that I loved. And those days of grief were definitely the hardest times in my life.
So, what do you do to make sure that you're heart and soul do not sink into a pit and never come out? What do you do when the people that you care about are lost in their own pit of grief?
Let Yourself Grieve
Too often we rush ourselves and others through the stages of grieving. Don't do that! Let yourself feel everything. Let yourself express it openly. Get it out!
Everyone grieves in their own way despite there being common feelings—a mix of strong emotions such as shock/disbelief/denial (which usually come right after the loss), sadness, anger, guilt, resentment, or fear all in different orders and combinations. The combinations are likely to repeat as well.
Don't be ashamed of long it is taking you to 'get over' it. Those challenging times are an opportunity to remind us of what’s most meaningful in life. They are also opportunities to practice enormous self-compassion while allowing emotions to surface, emotions most of us don’t want to deal with.
There’s no exact timeline as to when feelings of grief will end and the point isn’t to get over grief but to learn how to accept, adjust and integrate yourself into a future life without this person/pet/object.
The goal is to accept that the future you thought you’d have will not look like what you thought it would.
Grief, like every other emotion, serves as a feedback system, providing us with helpful and important information. It exists to remind us of how deeply we cared about and loved something or someone.
Helping those that Grieve
Grief is not just difficult for those experiencing it; it is also particularly difficult for the people witnessing the grief process! We don’t always know what to do when people we love are experiencing grief. What are the right things to say? You don’t want to say the wrong thing and make things worse for the person mourning. You likely just want to cheer them up and help them move forward. Most of us don't look for ways that we can experience their grief with them and support them through it.
The hardest thing for us to do (and yet the best thing we can do for them) is just to BE with them and try to understand what they experience. Often, the best thing to do is hold the space for their full spectrum of emotions, lend them a friendly ear, and validate and normalize their experience. Sometimes people need to feel safe and not judged to allow themselves to feel and express themselves fully. Come with compassion, an open-minded curiosity to see what the other person needs and stay present with their emotions.
I am not a licensed therapist; however, I do know that there are some potentially unhealthy places grief can take you like extended denial (not facing the truth that this person, object, or a pet is with you anymore). Extended denial could lead to the avoidance of facing your inner feelings. Sometimes the pain of the loss is so large that you’re not in the place to process what happened; however, if you completely close yourselves and your heart, and you do not deal with the emotional pain, it could manifest in other areas such as disease or impact other relationships in your life.
Another potential unhealthy place grief can take you is deep depression, where the sadness completely consumes you, leaving you feeling absolutely hopeless or unable to move or do anything, and you could possibly develop unhealthy habits to numb and or avoid the pain such as consuming excess alcohol, using harmful drugs or even inflicting pain on yourself. Other negative ways of dealing with the pain of grief could include over-eating or not eating enough.
You know yourself best and if you think you are engaging in harmful behavior that is going against your values or becoming a health issue, it’s perfectly alright to reach out for help! Grief is a challenging experience.
It’s important to allow the feelings of grief to take its natural course and be aware of what works for you. I understand that it's not always the right time to process challenging emotions, as there isn't a "pause button" we can press for the other areas of our lives to fully BE with the discomfort. Processing challenging emotions can take a lot of energy out of us and can even feel like it's taken the actual life out of us. Do what you can to process in layers while also continuing to show up in other areas of your life.
This is your personal process with grief so take the time to move through the intensity. And know that whenever the time comes and you’re ready to move through the intense feelings of grief,
it’s completely normal to feel those intense feelings over and over again. Know that the intense feelings will more than likely soften as time goes on. And as time goes on, gratitude and joy are absolutely possible, even as you’re experiencing grief.
Be gentle with yourself and allow light and love to enter your heart through your heartbreak. As Rumi said it so beautifully,
“the wound is the place where the light enters you”.- Rumi