With living, comes loss. The longer you live, the more loss you will see. Much to our chagrin, we cannot avoid it.
It pains my heart to think of children who have to learn early on how to sort out grief. For me personally, it seems as though after my oldest brother passed away at the young age of 33, with myself being just 25 at the time, the loss ball just kept rolling. Shortly after my first real experience of losing a loved one so close, I would experience the life and death of my mentor and dear soul brother, my family dog of 14 years, my boss, and prominent father-brother-male-figure (and dear friend) to me, and finally (and most recently), my beloved cat Chacha of over 10 years. True love is true love, and true loss is true loss. I felt this with all of these dear ones who have moved on from this existence. An existence we once shared together; I did not just dream them up. They surely can feel like amazing dreams every time I wake up and face what the new reality is. It’s never easy. No matter how prepared you are that someone or something’s time is nearly up, rarely can you escape grief once they’re physically gone.
I have come to know grief as wild, and raw, and natural, and as spontaneous as the wind; it sometimes brings goosebumps to your skin when you least expect it.
Here are 7 things to remember when grieving that I have gathered from my own personal experience, that may be of help to you:
- Talk about it. There will be times when talking about it may include deep sobs in which the sentences sound like they are coming from underwater, but talking about your loved ones with people you trust and feel comfortable with can also take its turns in which you find yourself laughing about something funny you shared with the loved one you are grieving over. You may even find a quiet sense of closure by sharing, even the stories that may not be as comfortable or funny. Or better yet, you may even find that your fellow human shares a pain like yours and can listen from a place of understanding and tenderness that is healing in itself and can restore your faith in life in general. It can be extremely hard but I am a firm believer that going through it is what gets you out of it, and sometimes raw expression can move you along what feels like miles through the grief tunnel.
- Seek professional help when necessary. So, talking about it is healthy, and even though this may be a fine line, take heed to social cues that you could be going overboard with expressing yourself to those who may not always have the tools to know how to handle your grieving process. Are the years passing and that friend that was once a great listener on this very same subject keeping their distance? Are you keeping yours now? If you are finding yourself unable to work, eat, are coping in ways that are harming you, or starting to alienate yourself because you feel misunderstood, it may be time to seek professional help. This could mean therapy, or bereavement groups. If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to seek professional help remember that there are a ton of books to guide and educate you in the process.
- Remember everyone will express their grief differently. I do not claim to be an expert but being one of seven siblings really gave me a good idea of just how different people will grieve the same person or pet. It also gave me a great glimpse into just why and how parents who lose a child often end up divorcing. One person may want to cry, one person may want to overwork, one person could withdrawal or choose silence, while another may just get high. I’m not here to judge what is the right way, but all are doing one thing: grieving. Patience and compassion will be keys in having understanding towards your loved ones who are grieving as well, and probably very differently. There are 5 stages of grieving:denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s important to remember there is sometimes no order to these steps, regardless of if you are cut from the same cloth, or if you have been someones partner for many years.
- Be in nature. Take a walk, take a trip to nature. Listen to the sounds. Feel alive. Sit on the earth. Look at birth, growth and death all in one place; watch the cycle. There were times I felt that only the ocean could understand how raw, out of control, and indescribable my grief felt. Sometimes simply watching and forming a bond between plants and wild animals can provide the peace you need. To quote Mother Nature Network ,“Nature plays a supportive role in nurturing our overall well-being and health, a key factor in helping somebody move on from grief and avoid the risks of prolonged depression.” Ain’t that the truth.
- Breathe. One thing that grieving can easily do is take you out of the present. It can leave you in a constant state of remembrance of the past, and/or in worry about what the future will look and feel like. It can even leave you in a stand-still place of imagining what could’ve been. While I do think it is important (and beautiful) to have your memories to be able to go in and out of as you please, there is no time like the present. Breathing exercises can help ease stress and tension, two things that can easily arise when grieving. These overwhelming periods can make you hold your breath or cause your breathing to become shallow. Not only will taking a moment (or a few minutes) to focus on your breathing help you to relax and give you a sense of livening control, it will help your body to function in the most practical sense. You need to breathe to keep your organs and bodily functions healthy, strong, and oxygenated during this time when your cells may need it most. If you think you don’t have time, even a few moments while waiting at a stoplight will be helpful.
- Choose healthy distractions. Take some time out to live without the grief and/or sadness being at the forefront of everything. When I was going through my own personal bout(s) of grief, I almost felt like if I didn’t spend all of my days grieving, it meant I didn’t love who I were grieving over as much; it almost caused a sort of guilt. I was almost afraid of what other people would think. As time went by, however, I found this wasn’t so, and guess what? No one judged me for trying to continue to enjoy life. And maybe those that do shouldn’t be part of the “everyone” that you consider your imaginary critics of the life that is yours to live. Volunteering your time for a good cause, adult coloring books, leisure walks, hikes, reading, catching a movie, gardening, following a recipe out of a cookbook, visiting friends, attending local events in your community, taking a class, are all what I mean by healthy distractions. Live while you can. If this post is resonating with you, maybe you have come to realize that tomorrow is not promised. There is still so much to experience, love, and enjoy in this world. Go out and do it while you can.
- Know this: You will be stronger. Notice in #1 I wrote “going through it is what gets you out of it”…? I must tread lightly here because there are some things that you truly never “get over,” and this is not what I mean by “getting out of it.” The truth is, you can’t get out of this one, BUT you learn how to live in a new way; you learn how to tread in unchartered waters for yourself in a life you can sometimes feel you cannot live without that which you have lost, but one thing I’ve learned is: you do, and you can. And I’m sorry to add but, you must. There is a season for grieving that can eventually lead you to a season of celebration for the life in which you will, at some point, feel true gratitude that you were able to share.
Remember that grieving takes time. Grieving is a process. Some of the “cheesiest” expressions are the most truthful, and I really do feel that time does heal all wounds. And if not completely, the wounds will certainly not hurt as severely. Be loving, gentle, and forgiving with yourself (and others) in the process. When you lose a loved one or pet, you join a community of people who know loss and grief. Please know that our hearts are with yours if you are new (or old) to this club as you read this. We understand. One day you may even be able to be there for someone who is new to it as well. You’ll remember a friends gentle silence, the way a warm hand felt on your back as you hung your head down, the ones who fed you, and the ones who simply came and showed up for you, and you’ll know what to do.