Most of us don’t know how to deal with grief. It’s raw and ragged ‘round the edges. It involves tears and snot and deep wells of pain and we don’t quite know what to do with it. So we push it down. Try and bottle it up until we “feel better.” We put on our best “brave face” mask because it’s scary and uncomfortable to let our grief show, especially in a society that doesn’t allow time and space for grieving.
Let’s take a journey together into how to honour grief. But first, let’s talk about the many different shapes of grief.
There Are Many Ways Our Hearts Can Break
Grief takes many forms, not just death. We feel it when we lose something that matters deeply to us – and that doesn’t apply only to the people we love.
We might experience grief after losing a job, pet, or friendship, after a miscarriage, or even after losing our health. Our hearts can be broken by the loss of ourselves, especially when a traumatic event steals away our self-esteem. Sometimes we grieve people before they die, such as a parent with Alzheimer’s who changes beyond recognition. Grief can blindside us if we move to a new location and lose the supportive community we’ve built up.
Grief Cries Out To Be Seen And Honoured
The world around us doesn’t leave a lot of space, and definitely does NOT have time, for grief. Death in the family? You can take a couple of days off. Getting divorced? Meh, you and 50% of the population right?! Suck it up and move on. There’s a subtle pressure to “be over it by now” and not to bother others with our messy, complicated feelings.
I’m calling bullshit on that. Feeling grief after loss is a natural part of being alive, just like being born, growing, moving, laughing or hoping. It’s a reminder of how much love and connection you felt. No need for apologies or putting up a brave front to put others at ease, instead give it space to breathe and be recognized as only then can the healing begin.
How To Honour Grief
When you feel grief knocking on your door, don’t push it away, invite it in. Sit with it. Express it. If you need to cry, turn on that faucet and let the tears flow – there’s no shame in crying, and it’s not a sign of weakness. Give yourself permission to weep if you need to, tears are healing.
One of my favourite tools is grabbing my journal and writing out my feelings, and I strongly recommend you do the same. Grief comes with a multitude of emotions that need recognition. So, name the feelings you’re experiencing and get to know them intimately. The hand is the connection between the head and the heart, which makes writing a powerful aid to processing our emotions. Earth medicine educator Pixie Lighthorse eloquently refers to the time after loss as moving “through the anxiety of vacancy where love once held us.” Writing helps us move through that space.
Don’t hide your grief away like a shameful secret. Reach out to a trusted friend, therapist, or your doctor for help. Letting your loved ones see your vulnerability strengthens the trust between you, and can even encourage others to share their own vulnerable moments instead of struggling alone.
Most important of all, don’t rush grief. It’s not a class you take with a set schedule and finish date. I know it’s scary to walk into those dark places with no clear idea what you’ll find or when you’ll come out, but trust your own heart. Trust your ability to feel your grief and sit with it. Think of yourself like a seed that needs time in the quiet darkness before it can rise and bloom.
Grieving isn’t a linear process that you “get through” and that’s the end. It’s more like a spiral. Sometimes you’ll walk side by side with it and its shadow will seem long. Other times you’ll get further away and you won’t even see it, until it comes back around. When it does, welcome it – it needs to be heard.
To explore grief and how to handle it with warmth and compassion, join Psychotherapist & Grief Counsellor Colleen Mousseau and I for the Healing After Heartbreak workshop on Sunday March 18th, 3 – 5 pm, at Two Penny Café, Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St, Toronto. All tickets $30. Places are limited so book in advance to reserve your spot by clicking here.