This is not the first time I feel grief. I am scared to think this is not the last time I will feel it, either, but I know it is true. The impermanence of life, of everything… is a guarantee of grief. Sometimes I look around me and I think what do I love? How many people do I love? Or animals? Or places? Or things? All of them will go someday, all of them will leave, or die, or change… How many of them will I grieve? How much will I grieve? How will I survive that?
For someone who has never experienced grief, this may sound a bit pessimistic, but when grief strikes it is all too real to write off as pessimistic. So I try, as hard as I can, without spoiling the Now (which often it does), to look around me, especially at the people, places, things, etc. that look the most solid, the most lasting, the most permanent… and I say: This too shall pass. Just like the grief of their passing.
For all my efforts, when the moment comes, there really is not much you can do to prepare yourself for the waves of grief that assail you when something comes to an end, especially if it is something you never expected to end, or at least, something you expected to last longer.
Abrupt grief is one of the most painful, soul-wrenching experiences one can have, and all too common.
This is not a post about what to do in those first moments, those moments of realization and just pure shock. There really is no point because at least I, in those moments, have been beyond help and all I have been able to do is sob, scream, pray, curl up into a ball, breathe, wish it wasn’t true…
But it wouldn’t be so bad if grief ended there. It stays and sometimes it feels like it will stay forever. But it doesn’t… Believe me, it doesn’t… Even if at first, it does seem that way.
So this post is about what to do in the moments after the first huge, awful waves of grief have passed, it might be days after the event, or weeks, or months, or even years. Grief does not have a set date, each soul takes it as it can, sometimes day to day, or breath to breath. And grief is not only caused by the death of someone (though in my experience those are the hardest ones), but also by any heartbreak and loss, it can be the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, a home, a cherished item… anything you deeply love can cause grief. Not necessarily, but if you haven’t mastered the wonder of non-attachment (which I haven’t), it certainly will.
What to do in those moments? I’ve googled this so many times in the midst of a storm and many posts give the same advice: Cry, do exercise, call a friend, start a new hobby, sleep well, etc.
All that is great advice that actually does help… but sometimes grief strikes in just a moment, maybe in between typing your essay, or in the second that it takes to pour tea from the kettle into the cup. What to do in those little moments when you feel the pang of grief in your heart, and you think, Oh God, she is gone, he is gone, they are gone, it is gone…
Sometimes I actually curl up into a ball and bawl but other times I think, Oh no, this again? I don’t have time for this right now. But it is worse to repress your feelings than to express them so I have devised a way to honor and express my feelings without going back to the catatonic state I usually am in after the shock of a heartbreaking event.
- ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT YOU ARE FEELING
When you first feel that pang of grief, just pause what you are doing. Feel that it is there, and see it for what it is. It may not be grief in the form of sadness, you may feel anger instead which is grief unexpressed. You may feel longing, fear, regret, disgust… or just hurt. Anything may trigger it, even things seemingly unrelated may bring memories flooding back. Just pause, breathe, and bring it into your awareness. It is sometimes instinctive to push it back, but what you resist, persists. Instead of pushing against it, bring it into the light of your consciousness.
- MAKE SPACE FOR IT AND BE PRESENT WITH YOUR PAIN
After you acknowledge what you are feeling, make space for it. I know you may be in the middle of something else, but the only way over this is through. So pause for just a moment, and simply contemplate what you feel. Then take your right hand to your heart and breathe. Close your eyes and whisper gently to yourself: I am here. I am right here. I know, I know. It’s okay. I am here.
- HONOR WHAT YOU FEEL AND WHAT YOU ARE MOURNING
With your eyes closed, think of what hurts, maybe you miss someone, someplace or sometime, maybe you just feel alone. Whatever it is, hold it in your awareness and then honor that. For example, if it is a person I miss, whether that person is dead or alive, I think of them and I say (doesn’t have to be aloud): I really miss you so, thank you for all the love, thank you for everything. May the good in you be blessed, wherever you are in the universe right now. Wherever your soul is… I thank you, I love you. Thank you.
Say whatever it is you need to say. Even if someone hurt you, thanking them is the best way to heal the hurt. You don’t need to actually contact that person, just communicate with that part of them that is also you.
If it is a place or a past experience, you can remember it and say: That was so awesome. Thank you so much for that. I miss it, but I am glad it happened. Thank you because that moment will forever exist in my past, in my memory, in my heart, and somewhere in time.
- USE THE HO’OPONOPONO
The Hoʻoponopono is a Hawaiian practice for healing. It bases itself on the belief that we are all one, all part of each other, that by healing oneself we heal others as well because we are all connected.
It consists of four small but powerful sentences: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. I thank you.
Think of what is hurting, of the person, place, situation… Hold it in your mind’s eye and awareness, close your eyes and say: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you and I thank you. As many times as you need, even if you feel like you shouldn’t be the one apologizing or don’t feel like saying I love you to that particular person/situation/thing that is making you hurt. When you are able to say this, you will notice that the ache starts to lessen. We are all connected, so by doing this you are addressing that part of you that is also the problem, the pain, the ache, and that which caused it. Try it, anytime, anywhere. It is simple and it can provide so much comfort and healing.
- JUST… CRY
Often, I stop at step four because it is enough to make me feel better. However, there are times when the pain overpowers me and I have to give in. Then I just let myself cry. Tears are healing. They release oxytocin and endorphins which makes us feel better. Sometimes people swallow their tears because society has made us believe that crying is wrong, that showing emotion is bad, and that tears are a weakness. I know that tears are a sign of strength and allowing yourself to feel is a great act of self-love and self-kindness. I lost the fear of tears a long time ago, and when they come I welcome them for I know they are here to help, to express, to release, and to ease my pain.
IF THE GRIEF IS TOO GREAT… it is always best to reach out to someone you love. I am always afraid to be a burden to others and sometimes I use that as an excuse not to reach out but I know that if my loved ones were hurting and didn’t reach out to me I would be really sad. Little by little, I am learning to reach out more and to ask for help. That is also a sign of strength. Sometimes it is easy to think that we are alone, but the truth is that more often than not, we are the ones who isolate ourselves. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your own company but the truth is that by reaching out we are giving the people we love an opportunity to be loving and to feel loved. When someone reaches out to me I feel loved too because I know they trust me and it always warms my heart when I am able to be there if only to listen or hold my loved ones. It is also an act of love to let others be there for us as well.
Do not be afraid of your grief, it is the greatest statement of your love. The more you allow it to be, the more you are present with it, the more it will heal.
“Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”Rossiter Worthington Raymond