How I Learned New Concepts for Navigating My Grief
Recover from grief? To me, the term recovery was associated with the possibility of regaining something lost, returning to health from sickness, restoration to a former state or a better state. How could this term possibly be applied to grief? I would never regain my lost husband, and I couldn’t imagine feeling better, especially in the condition I was in during my first year of grief. I wish I had my grief recovery tools in the beginning, but I didn’t find my grief counselor, nor attend my grief group, until 9 months after my husband died. I’ll admit it, that first year was agonizingly difficult. I wouldn’t have cared if I got hit by a truck. I prayed every day to join my husband wherever he was. We communicated a lot back then through the ethers, but eventually, he had to move on, and so did I.
I learned a lot about recovery. I learned that we CAN recover from deep, painful grief, and then form a special place in our hearts for our beloveds. But, hey, it’s a process! This doesn’t happen overnight. Allowing the process, taking the time to heal, gives us the ability to move forward, i.e., recover.
So, grief is a state, is it not? There are physical, emotional, energetic, and spiritual components to the grief process. These all need to be addressed to recover. This is not to say that we “forget” our loved ones who have transitioned, or quickly replace them with a new partner, job, family, or whatever distraction fills the space. Rather, we hold their sweet memory, and then create a newly reinvented life for ourselves.
Using “tools” for grief was also a new concept for me. I was feeling like I wanted to die. What tools could possibly help me out of the deep, sorrowful trench I was in?
I have been very open about my experiences as a widow. I didn’t find the tools right away, so I ended up in my doctor’s office in crisis. Western medicine came to my rescue with a prescription for Prozac, which helped raise my depleted serotonin levels from the constant stress I was under during years of caregiving. I’ve described these early days in previous blog posts. I encourage reading these so you can understand better my situation at the time.
Even though it was awful, this breakdown led me to my grief group, my grief counselor and the grief recovery “tools” available to me. The first and most important tool I learned was to be able to just sit with my feelings instead of avoiding them. Oh, what a blessing. It was an extremely painful time, but as I’ve always said, grief cracked my heart open and made me more loving and compassionate, so there is light at the end of the dark tunnel.
Here are the links to tools for healing grief Parts 1 and 2:
There are many terms used in psychology that I did not know before I became a widow. One of them is the term “trigger”. Obviously, I knew the traditional definition as the trigger of a gun. As in “someone has their finger on the trigger”. I’ll be honest, as aware as I thought I was, I’d never heard this term applied to mental health issues. I’m glad I became educated about triggers because they play a huge part in grief recovery.
A trigger is anything that happens that elicits a grief response. The list is endless and very personal. It can be a sound, a smell, a person, a memory, a taste, a place – you get the point. It can be anything. Once I was able to understand what my grief triggers were, I was much better able to navigate them.
For example: since my husband’s death took a long time and was traumatic, I had many triggers around my home, especially the room where he died. As you have read in my previous blog posts, I even put my house on the market right after he died for three days, because I couldn’t escape the emotional intensity – what I now know are triggers.
Triggers can be tricky. You may suddenly feel deep sorrow for no apparent reason and need to sob your guts out. This happened to me after a visit with a friend who talked about happy memories shared with my husband. Sometimes I am triggered when I must make a difficult life decision that I would have normally made with my husband. I realize he isn’t there to help me, and I may become angry and scream at his etheric self.
Triggers can be mysterious. For example, I may have a dream about my husband where it seems like he’s trying to send me a message. I wake up feeling out of sorts and sad – triggered. Or, I might be sitting in nature, having mindful moments, feeling peaceful and suddenly I am sad. Is it that I simply miss sharing these moments with him? Is it that a breeze blows through, and I feel his energy?
It doesn’t really matter where the trigger comes from or what it is. The important thing is that I recognize it. I have learned to say to myself, “Ah, okay. This is a trigger. Now, what can I do with this?” Then, I follow the grief recovery tools I have learned. I sit with my feelings, one hand on heart, one hand on third chakra (solar plexus), and I breathe deeply. Depending on what stage of grief you are in, the deep sadness of the moment will pass.
A turning point for me was when I began to look at my grief recovery as a journey I was on, rather than something I had to hurdle, achieve, accomplish, fix, finish, understand, or explain. It was a literal shift in consciousness when I embraced the fact that my grief, and its transformation, was a healing experience. Whenever I’ve made huge transitions in my life, it usually required an awareness of what I was experiencing, and the tools to move forward. Grief is no different.
Once I saw myself on this journey to reinvent myself, I was able to let go and relax into it. Okay, well, maybe not completely relax at first, but at least I had the realization that I couldn’t fix or rearrange my circumstances. I realized I was going for a long trip where I would learn a lot about myself through feeling my sorrow. I found ways to soothe my aching soul and most importantly, I took my time, no matter what. I never let myself feel pressure to move too quickly through the grief recovery process, and I avoid circumstances where I might feel uncomfortable.
Accepting that we are on a long journey of recovery that may last for the rest of our lives is a very helpful mental state to approach grief. And, along the way, other beloveds may make their transitions, but we become much better at navigating these deaths. When my mother passed, three years to the day after my husband, it was another blow, but I was able to lean into it, instead of trying to run away from it. Dealing with death becomes part of the journey.
SITTING WITH FEELINGS
This concept seems simple enough. Not a lot to explain, right?
Take a seat right now and ask yourself, “What do I do when I feel sad?” Put one hand on your heart and one on your solar plexus and wait for the answer. Breathe deeply, eyes closed. Do this for two minutes. Let whatever comes to you filter throughout your body. Really feel the answer.
I believe the body goes into a receptive mode when we sit and place our hands on heart and third chakra. It’s like we’re creating an antennae to our Higher Self, God, Great Spirit, or whatever you want to call it. It’s an instant connection to our inner knowing. If we run away from feeling our feelings, we will never heal. And the most interesting thing is, once we start taking the time out to sit with our feelings, we discover that we begin to slowly feel better and better.
After losing a beloved, connection with the divine is of utmost importance. I know from personal experience that there is more to us than this physical body. I believe that sitting with our feelings is one way to connect to the divine and a huge part of the recovery journey.
As I’ve said many times, moving forward is different than moving on. Understanding the concept of moving forward helps me on my grief recovery journey. It’s like getting in a canoe and pushing off into the river, then moving forward with the current. To me, moving on implies moving beyond something, and trying to do it as quickly as possible. It’s like grabbing the canoe and flinging it to the other side, without actually traveling anywhere.
It may seem so much easier to embrace the concept of moving on, and many well-meaning friends and loved ones encourage us to do so. Could it be that watching us take our time to grieve makes them feel uncomfortable? Trying to make others feel comfortable while grieving is a huge energy drain, and as we know, grieving takes massive amounts of energy.
I had to explain what moving forward meant to me many times to friends and loved ones. It’s not their fault. We have no training in our culture for how to deal with death, and most people run away from it. Many other cultures create space for mourning and don’t expect people to “get over” the deaths of their loved ones. I feel that moving forward means healing, day-by-day, and integrating the loss of our beloved into our new life.
LOSS TAKES MANY FORMS
One of the first lessons I learned in grief recovery was that we cannot compare grief experiences. Someone mentioned in grief group that the loss of a treasured stuffed animal to a toddler can be as devastating as the loss of a loved one to an adult. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around this at first. I even felt indignant, “how can that be?”, but as time went on, and I heard many grievers stories, I began to see how loss is loss, and sitting with the feelings of sorrow helps us to move forward.
Loss can take many forms. It can be the loss of a dream, loss of a job, loss of a home, loss of a pet, loss of a relationship, as well as the loss of a loved one. This was a new concept for me to embrace. Prior to the death of my husband and my heart cracking open, I didn’t acknowledge all the losses in my life. I learned to cope with loss by being in denial and remaining stoic. Unfortunately, this is the accepted way in most western cultures. Also, letting sadness in may have started a cascade of mourning that I didn’t want to face. When my husband died, I became so vulnerable, there was no place to go but into the deep sorrow. Running away was impossible.
We are all living with some form of grief all the time. Grief is a natural part of living a full life. Sadness is a natural emotion that needs feeling. Here are two definitions of grief from The Grief Recovery Method, https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/:
“Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.”
“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of beha
The American Psychology Association says that grief is distinguished from bereavement and mourning. Not all bereavement results in a strong grief response. They add that grief may also take the form of regret for something lost, remorse for something done, or sorrow for a mishap to oneself. The takeaway for me is that grief is unavoidable. If we are to be fully alive, we must accept all the forms of grief that come and go, like waves in the ocean. There will be small ripples and there will be tsunamis. Learning how to surf the waves is the key to recovery and healing. And yes, it is a skill that will benefit us lifelong.