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How I learned to Stay Safe while Surfing the Waves of Grief.

 

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What if I said it is safe to grieve? How would that feel?

What if I said it is safe to move into our grief and allow ourselves to feel all of it?

In 2014, I suffered two major losses in my life.

At the beginning of the year, I physically helped care for a loved one, Steven, during the last nine days of his life. I rarely left his side and barely slept.

Steven died early on a Wednesday morning. His family and I immediately planned his funeral, and by Monday of the next week, I was back at work. That’s just what we do in America, right? Many employers (typically, but not even all) give us three to five days off work when a family member dies, and then we are expected to get right back to our normal routine.

No real break. No breathing room.

By mid-2014, just a few months after Steven’s death, my marriage abruptly ended and my heart was shattered. This came from a struggle to accept Steven’s death and an inability to properly mourn. I was doing all I knew to do after Steven’s death, but it wasn’t enough.

So, not only did I experience the death of someone I loved, I also experienced the loss of my marriage.

The whole time, I continued working. I clearly communicated with my manager all that was transpiring in my life because, for me, it was the right thing to do. I wanted him to understand what I was facing in my personal life to ensure he was aware that I was going through some really hard experiences.

But within a month, I was told I wasn’t smiling enough at work. I wasn’t my usual “sunshine” self. And colleagues were starting to ask what was wrong with me. It became clear to me that these comments weren’t coming from a place of support, but from a place of, “You need to get it together.”

The fact was this: I wasn’t myself. I felt like my entire world had fallen apart. Was I still doing my job well? Yes. Was everything getting done as needed? Yes. But my grief for both Steven and my marriage made others uncomfortable, and they wanted me to change.

I wasn’t talking to colleagues about my grief. I wasn’t looking for someone to solve what was going on for me. I wasn’t walking around the office like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. I was just being me, trying to cope.

Some days I smiled and laughed heartily with my colleagues. Some days were quieter. I was allowing myself to move through my grief journey—even though I did not fully understand at the time what I was doing.

In the Western world, we often avoid or try to ignore death. We even try to protect our children from it—excluding them from conversations about the subject or keeping them at home during funerals or memorial services for loved ones.

We also try to spiritualize death away.

“Well, John is in heaven now. He’s not hurting anymore.”

“My mom died last night, but I already sense her presence. All is well.”

Doing this can offer some comfort, but in many ways this prevents us from really touching death and accepting that it is part of life, especially our life. It keeps us from talking about it.

In the Psychology Today article “Death, American Style,” Lawrence R. Samuel, Ph.D. writes:

“Over the past century, death and sex battled it out to be the number one unmentionable in America; these two topics were most reflective of our shame and embarrassment when it comes to all corporeal matters. But death has surged way ahead of sex on a ‘forbidden quotient,’ I think most would agree; the former is now firmly ensconced as this country’s leading source of uneasiness, discomfort, and apprehension. The notion of one day disappearing is contrary to many of our defining cultural values, with death and dying viewed as profoundly ‘un-American’ experiences.”

He goes on to say:

“Grief is naturally a big part of death; that it is not just a powerful emotion but can be expressed in an infinite number of ways is typically evident when someone we know dies.”

Yet, not only are many of us afraid to look at or talk about death, but we are also afraid to look at or talk about grief.

What if we do as Samuel suggests and humanize the grief process? We are humans, after all. What if we make it safe for ourselves and one another to fully experience grief?

I’ve learned, and continue to learn, so much from my grief journey.

First, it was important for me to allow myself to be human. I did not judge what I was experiencing or require myself to “just be okay.” I did not put a timeline on myself or my grief. I offered myself grace and let myself feel and experience all of it.

Second, I recognized that there isn’t a straight path, and that I may experience various phases of grief, again and again and again. They came like waves, and when I allowed myself to move with them, instead of resisting them, I stopped feeling like they were trying to take me out.

Third, by honoring my grief and letting it just be, I was able to avoid burying it inside me. This gave me a deeper understanding of what it takes to heal.

Lastly, I learned that it was truly safe for me to embrace my grief.

When we allow ourselves to just be, we move through our experiences with grace. When we allow others to just be, we subconsciously give them permission to move through their experiences with grace.

Running from what is messy or uncomfortable can feel like the best strategy at the time, but in the long-term it can prevent us from truly moving through the process in a more balanced way. Let us not diminish the experiences we face. Let us not try to force ourselves to be okay.

And let us not force others to be okay.

As much as we want to ignore it or spiritualize it away, grief (and death) will still be there. They are still a part of us. They make us human.

The truth is, we never fully move on from grief. We are never the same, and that is okay. Why would we be?

I still have moments of grief for Steven’s death, as well as my marriage. And whenever I face another death or loss of any kind, I often feel the residue of my previous grief encounters. But by honoring it all, I have become a better surfer of the waves.

So, I encourage every one of us to honor all of who we are.

Let us honor our humanness.

Let us recognize there is no straight path in the grief journey.

Let us not push down our grief. Let us allow ourselves to really heal.

Let us look at the experiences in our lives and recognize that it is safe and serving to be in our grief.

And may we walk with one another on our journeys.

~

“But if we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship, one that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.” ~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

 

author: Sophia Luna

Image: @walkthetalkshow/Instagram

Image: YouTube

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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Kim Roberts Feb 19, 2019 8:14pm

Thank you for your honesty and courage

Mélanie Moncrieff Feb 9, 2019 1:22am

Sophia, it is with such gratitude ? that I read your beautifully written article – the closing words I will share & repeat before meditating – which resonated with me on so many levels. In the Spring of 2016, I experienced a traumatic late miscarriage shortly after my husband & I separated. The baby girl we lost was conceived through IVF which our crumbling marriage just could not endure. It was essentially my last chance at having another child which made it even more difficult to accept. My 5 year old son, who was also trying to cope with our separation, was desperate to have a little sister which made it even more tragic. In the midst of all the invasive procedures, my doctor discovered pre-cancerous cells on my cervix which were removed a year later. Of course friends & family (who live an ocean away) were sympathetic particularly when I was in hospital & the week after I was released. But the expectation was that I would move on, bounce back & revert to my previous self within weeks. I was expected to be social & not talk about the three huge life events that had hit me almost simultaneously & shook me to my core. So within months the women I thought were friends distanced themselves, I suppose because they weren’t true friends. Three years later, I have an intimate circle of compassionate friends who accept that that I still struggle with waves of grief & suffering. I practise yoga & meditation & have returned to therapy – which surprised my family – as I’m now going through an acrimonious divorce & I know that there’s a great deal of healing to be done. Divorce, miscarriage & cancer are these uncomfortable subjects so one is expected to suffer in silence which can be so isolating. Thank you for shining the light on our perceptions of grief.

emusquirrely Feb 8, 2019 8:52am

Sophia…
I too experienced a horrible loss in 2014, January 23rd to be exact. My husband, my soulmate, my Moon (his nickname) died. He was only 44 years old. Our son was only 13 years old at the time. Our whole world changed in an instant. My son and I have struggled with his loss ever since. It has been a terrible and frustrating journey that we have been forced to go on. I want to thank you for your so well expressed and well written article. I have read so many but your article really has touched me and I am so very grateful.
Tammy M. Emus
Ps. Wow what a synchronicity! I just noticed your last name!

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Sophia Luna

Sophia Luna is a Soul Coach, End of Life Doula, Grief/Bereavement Coach, Pregnancy/Infant Loss Coach, Writer, and Speaker. After 18 years in the finance industry, she decided to leave the corporate world to pursue her passion for helping individuals and families navigate life’s transitional moments with a special focus on dying, death, and bereavement.

Sophia completed the New York Open Center’s Certificate in the Art of Dying: Integrative Thanatology Program, Death Education, Death, Dying, and Bereavement, and is currently pursuing an interfaith seminary program with One Spirit Learning Alliance in New York City.

In her spare time, she can be found hiking in nature, making random trips to the beach, or chilling with a good book and her cat Charlie.

You can connect with Sophia on Instagram, Facebook, or her website.