How to Grieve

If only we as therapists could give a brilliant yet simple answer to this question.  How do you grieve?  Grief is a sort of hallmark for so many of the emotional struggles that might bring someone to therapy.  There is the grief of losing a loved one, a divorce, loss of a job, a disability, coping with emotionally absent parents, or even the loss of one's own fantasies about themselves.  

Grief is hard.  It is messy and painful.  There's no pretty way to go through a grief process.  You're going to be hostile, then desperate, then numb, then sad, and at times all of these things in a one-hour period.  Despite your best efforts and your own good intentions, grief will leave you too exhausted to do those dirty dishes or go to a family gathering; grief will leave you too bitter to spend time with your friends who don't understand; grief will make you snap at the people you love most.  At times, grief will turn you into someone you don't recognize and maybe don't even like.  This is how you'll know you're doing it right.

There are only a few things I can think of that I absolutely know are essential to moving through the grief process.  First, you must practice unconditional compassion and loving care toward yourself.  Grieving is exhausting and requires much of your emotional and mental energy.  You will need to be well-rested, well-fed, and surrounded by kind people where possible.  You will need to extend large measures of compassion and forgiveness toward yourself for who you are during this period or who you fail to be.  Grief behavior and feelings have no value label placed on them; they are neither "good" nor "bad."  They simply are.  Judging yourself for "crying too much" does nothing to support your grief process, rather it blocks your wise self from giving you exactly what you need in that moment.

This leads to the second important part of grieving, which is just show up.  You don't have to do anything to grieve.  Just show up with your sadness.  Invite it inside, sit with it, listen to it.  Give it what it needs.  That might be a nap or a hug from a friend.  Perhaps you just need to cry or you might even need some loving motivation from yourself to get up and clean house.  It doesn't matter what it is that your grief tells you, just show up and listen.  Even when what it says is hard.  Listen.  This process reminds me of labor and giving birth.  Labor is a painful process for a woman, but my body knows how to do it.  I can either try to relax, breath, and trust my body's work or I could panic and fight against it.  I did both when in labor with my children, so I get it!   Your mind, body, and soul know how to grieve.  Just because it's hurting doesn't mean something is wrong with you.  It's just part of the process.  Just as in physical labor, the grief process is producing a valuable work in you.  It requires just as much energy to fight the process, yet the pain of fighting grief produces nothing valuable but more pain.

And the most important thing I believe we can do during the grief process is to find those practices that connect us to a larger source.  The love we will need to give ourselves during this time is an unconditional love that can only be called supernatural.  From a source larger than us.  You will also need some supernatural wisdom, supernatural grace, and supernatural strength.   You're going to need to get connected to a supernatural source.  There as many practices to get you there as there are people in this world.  For me, I am connected when I am running on a sunny day, writing in my journal, in prayer, listening to music or singing.  It's in those moments I can draw from a Higher Power to get what I need for one more day of showing up.  Through engaging in these practices and mindfully participating in them, I am opening myself to the source of limitless love.  I will need all I can get to both endure each moment and hold hope there is relief on the other side.

Most of all, know that heavy, intense grieving does not last forever.  You may not come out of it the same person you were before, but you will come out of it.  Stay engaged in giving yourself what you need and know there is relief waiting down the line.  Returning from grief is a slow process like a sunrise.  You will notice it as a subtle change in your thinking, your energy, your focus.  The peace arrives slowly until one day you recognize, almost in surprise, that the heaviness you carried before no longer pulls you down.  Where once it was dark, there will be a beautiful glimmer of lightness.

"The past is grieved fully only when the present is healed too.  In fact, the energy that had been tied up in past hurts has finally become available to you for reinvestment in new ways of living."  How to Be an Adult-- David Richo