Recently, grief has been coming up often in my sessions with clients. It is an emotion we often try to suppress, but it’s important to recognize that grieving is actually a healing process that should be explored rather than avoided.
The fact that our culture tends to shun grief as an inappropriate emotion tends to promote the idea that something is wrong with them. This is sometimes why people choose to isolate when they could be connecting. I had one patient who on the first interview told me that she had been on antidepressants to handle her mother’s passing. I wanted to scream, “When someone dies, YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO FEEL GRIEF. It’s the healthy way of being.”
When we hear the word “grief”, we often tend to recoil or put that emotion in a basket of negative feelings. In my work with people, I have learned that grief has many nuances and roles within our human experience that deserve to be honored.
Imagine for a moment meeting a dear friend who you haven’t seen in 20 years. You had great times together, you laughed, got into trouble together, had a real friendship. But, then life took you in opposite directions and now you are face to face with them after twenty years of being apart. You see them, and you feel that ache in your chest, “Oh! It’s been so long!” And that ache, also falls in the category of grief.
Then there is the kind of grief that we think of as melancholy. An example of that would be when you think back to the early years of holding of your child who is now 21. A feeling of grief comes up as you remember the innocence of those days and delight in watching her fascination with the new world around her.
And then there is the grief we experience when we lose someone close to us, whether physically or emotionally. Grief can be experienced when someone close to us departs from this life or when a person is no longer in our lives, such as a break up. In those moments, there is a tearing feeling that seems to leave a hole that we can fall into at any moment. And it is truly a tear: The place where that person took up space in our consciousness is now empty and torn causing a pain much like one we experience when skin is torn on our physical bodies.
In my practice, I work with people to uncover the patterning that may be making them sick, or causing disharmony in their lives. Often the deepest, most potent moment of self-awareness unlocks a person’s healing process. I have also noticed that that moment is often accompanied by a sense of deep grief. That moment is the experience of “letting go” which is also what grieving asks of us.
I have put together a guide, “6 Steps to Letting Go of Anything”, which you may download here.
Grieving is the process of the emotions knitting back together the torn fabric of our being much the same way our physical body knits back together skin after it is injured. It is a healthy process, but it is not a comfortable one. As we are knit back together, we are not the same as we were before.
Keep in mind that this process does not make you less than before. In many ways, we are more than we were before. Our life is richer, deeper, fuller, and our hearts have a greater capacity for loving and empathy. Going through the process of grief allows us to evolve to a new experience of wholeness.
This process is hard for many, largely because we have been programmed to avoid it rather than embrace it. What is more unhinging is the apparent reality that grief has its own timing that refuses to conform to “other people’s” readiness for you to be “over it”. Instead, this process and its timing is different for everyone and that is ok.
I was working with a woman in a maximum security prison who was dealing with the reality and sorrow of never seeing her child grow up. She said, “Grief is like a bottle of Coca-Cola. When you first open it, it spurts all over, it’s hard to drink. Then the bubbles calm down a bit, but if you shake the bottle at all, the bubbles come right back.”
What is important to remember is that grief is not a pathology, but it can become pathological if you let it. We can get caught in the tunnels of despair, identify with the grief, forget who we are, and begin to turn away from life. Grief can be brutal. It can take a person by the throat and throw them upon the earth so hard that they believe they can’t get up. And that is okay sometimes too. Feeling incapacitated by life is also a process of learning who we are.
The most effective way I have learned to support someone who is grieving is to just show up. Just show up. Allow yourself to not have the answers. Allow the grieving person to have the space to not be okay. Allow yourself to not know what to do about it. Knowing what to do is not required to heal. Allow them the space to fall into tears for no reason that you can understand. Don’t assume that because the feelings are uncomfortable, something is wrong.