We avoid grief.
Why wouldn’t we? When grief comes knocking it means we have lost something important to us. Grief leeches the color out of life, breaks our hearts, makes us want to crawl out of our skin and sucks us into self-pity.
We think of it in negative terms: a dark cloud, a thief, the enemy. We try to avoid it, try to get through it as quickly as possible and apologize for “not getting over it.” Grief is the great messenger of change, the unwelcome companion through ever transforming relationships and situations.
Grief is the constant reminder that, whether we want it to or not, this too will pass. But we shouldn’t be at odds with grief. It has important lessons to teach us.
Grief comes in many shapes and sizes:
Sometimes we see it coming a mile away, dreading it as it gets closer and closer, like someone suffering a terminal illness.
Sometimes grief blindsides us: a sudden death, loss of a job, or betrayal.
Sometimes it slips in the back window and sidles up to us when we least expect it—I sat with a friend recently who cried tears of sadness upon hearing she was pregnant, even though she very much wanted a child.
Sometimes grief comes for no apparent reason or we tap into the greater universal feelings of grief and feel our hearts aching for the state of our world, our country, the animals, the environment.
When we stop to take notice, we find that grief and sadness seem to stalk us through life. It makes sense when you think about it: life is change and where there is change there is a constant flow of beginnings and endings, loss and gains, life and death. Where there is life and change, there is grief.
But we tend to fight grief. My pregnant friend asked me, “Why am I crying? I should be happy.” And of course she was happy, but she was also grieving her life as she had known it up to that point, which is perfectly natural and valid.
Grief isn’t a feeling. It’s a process that can include different states of mind and many feelings; anger, pain, frustration, depression, loneliness, fear and of course sadness. Sadness is the one constant feeling of grief, our guide through the grieving process. We cannot shut off one feeling without shutting ourselves off from the other feelings too.
In my practice as a hypnotherapist and life coach I have seen the damage that can be done by fighting grief and sadness. Grief is a natural process that helps us to let go. When we deny ourselves that process, we end up getting stuck.
Like my pregnant friend, we often respond to grief by thinking we shouldn’t feel it, or aren’t entitled to it. Some people cut themselves off from the grief and sadness by putting on a “happy face” and confidently saying, “I’m fine.” The problem in building a wall around ourselves to keep the grief and sadness out is that we end up keeping life out too. We don’t get access to the love and support that will help us through.
The opposite response is equally damaging: those who plunge into the grief and wont let go stay mired in the sadness, anger and guilt, refusing to let those feelings heal. They may use the loss as a connection to the past or use it as an excuse from moving forward. One client with a serious illness voiced this type of stuck-ness perfectly: “But if I let the anger go then it’s like I am saying that I accept the diagnosis. It’s like I am giving up.” What they didn’t see is that by holding onto the anger, they were only hurting themselves further.
Either way, when we fight the process of grief and get stuck, all we see is the loss, the door that has closed, and we miss out on all the doors that are opening. We cannot be present to our lives and relationships in the now until we let go of what was in the past.
Grief has a lot to teach us about honoring where we have been so that we can welcome what comes next.
It teaches us compassion for ourselves and others. When we lose something important to us the layers of sadness that we experience help us to acknowledge the many ways in which the loss affects us, our lives, and our relationships. As we acknowledge the loss and it’s complex affect upon us we learn new ways of being without that person, relationship or thing.
It is not about forgetting.
Grief is a process of transformation and healing if we will allow it to unfold.
What’s the best way to grieve? All you need to do is let yourself feel what you feel without denying it or ignoring it or holding on to it. Just let those feelings, whatever they may be, flow through you. It means being kind to yourself, admitting that you are hurting, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and getting the help and support you need to help you in your healing.
Grieving healthfully means not putting a time limit on your process. It might take minutes or years. It may seem complete and then, as one friend puts it, “grief leaps out and mugs you when you least expect it.” And there is some grief that will stay with us our entire life, becoming softer and worn with time but still there like a scar upon our hearts. Each experience is unique and needs to be honored as such.
It isn’t easy befriending grief, but in the end we are healthier, more connected, more compassionate, and more authentic people for it. It is when we stop fighting grief that we become open to the greatest lesson grief has to teach us—a lesson in saying yes. Yes to change in its many forms. Yes to loss and growth. Yes to sadness and joy and all the feelings in between.
In other words, yes to life.
Author: Alexcis Spencer Lopez
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Mackenzie Greer/Flickr