A death, loss of a job, loss of health, a break up/divorce, affair, a miscarriage, a traumatic event leading to loss of time, a natural disaster…
No one tells us how to feel overwhelming feelings. Of course there are many religious texts that provide comfort, but rarely is there clear advice on how to navigate the actual, real-life human experience that is grief.
We are given the same old platitudes when something devastating happens⏤that never help, so anyone reading can just stop saying them now btw, they are passé.
- They are in a better place.
- You only get what you can handle.
- Karma will take care of everything. OR God has a plan.
- There’s a silver lining in everything.
- Be grateful for what you have, don’t focus on the loss.
Most of these sayings are simply what people say to fill awkward silence. Or naive attempts to soothe the discomfort in the air when someone is anything other than “fine.” People can’t seem to help themselves from trying to make uncomfortable feelings go away, because they themselves do not know how to handle them.
Sitting with someone while they are feeling what they are feeling without trying to fix or change them is one of the most healing gifts someone can bestow on another person. Holding a state of presence and not requiring the person in grief to do or be anything other than how they are moment to moment is priceless.
I was lucky to have a friend like this after I heard my Dad had just committed suicide.
I was in New York for the American Thanksgiving. I had just completed my Ontological Coach training which was an entire year of 10-15 hours a week of deep, transformational self-work and education. I had just enrolled 6 new clients with ease, I had found my calling. I was in good physical shape, dating interesting men, growing a career I loved, and travelling to interesting places meeting amazing people. I woke up that morning feeling on top of the world.
Then, I was told the news. My phone was off due to the Canada to US international cell phone fees (which were insane back in 2011), so no one was able to get a hold of me.
My friend Christopher, who also was one of the Coach Trainers, was the one to tell me because my mom got through to him on Facebook.
I could not have had a more equipped human to BE for me while I had no idea how to digest what was happening.
The only info I had found out so far was that there was blood everywhere and yellow crime scene tape around my Dad’s house.
I just started crying, and was also in denial and shock at the same time. I am the type of person who kinda likes to look like I have it all together and am composed, but the grief was overwhelming. It took out my walls and boundaries like a tidal wave. There was no controlling this.
It was only til later when I gathered the courage to call the detective to get the details, since I was next of kin.
Before doing so, I wanted to leave, I wanted out from being in a box (the house), I needed air and movement.
We went for breakfast.
At the restaurant I must have changed seats 2 times and changed my order too. I didn’t know what I wanted, but was not equipped to feel any disappointment. I needed to control what I could and claim the comforts I could. Christopher completely understood this.
I would prance around happily and make jokes, and suddenly go silent. He didn’t poke or prod, he didn’t need me to be anyway other than how I was in the moment.
I shopped at some stores, and bought a vintage Mr. Rogers T-shirt that said “You are Special.”
I got extremely tired and was only capable of lying down and watching movies the rest of the day. I was equally picky about the movie of course.
Once I called the detective, I was told the details of my Dad’s suicide. He sliced his left wrist with an x-acto knife, he died slowly based on the scene.
No one will ever be able to prepare us for these moments. The only thing I could trust was staying in the moment. Even after extensive training in shamanism, psychotherapy, and transformational techniques, I was still just a human. Feeling feelings no book or program or saying would help with.
Why am I sharing this?
Because I understand grief, in my own way.
I believe each of us should be given the luxury of exploring how we need to grieve. But I am going to share the general advice I can to help anyone feeling lost about their loss.
- You cannot control your emotions, only manage them. Leave space and time to feel without trying to understand or fix them, let sadness be sadness, anger be anger, despair be despair. Cry and cry and cry if you can. Go for a fast walk if you are antsy and feeling helpless. Have a nice shower to simply feel the comfort of the water.
What I mean by managing the emotions, is to make deals with yourself. If you start crying at work or in the grocery store you can entrust yourself to feel at a different time. This is not the same as dismissing the emotions! Say to yourself “at 8pm I will have a bath and cry as much as I need to.” or “I will go in my car in 30min and cry this out.” Just make sure to keep your commitment. This way you can manage real life obligations while also healing.
- Drink water and get enough sleep. If anything, plan for more sleep so your body and mind and heart can rest and heal. The body heals emotions just as it heals physical injury. What slows the healing process is pushing down or repressing too much without any real permission to feel feelings to completion.
- The big emotions will feel like they will swallow you whole, an abyss you will never get out of. Many people report fearing they will go crazy or be unable to cope with their daily work or tasks which will render them useless or lacking in value. Don’t worry, by trusting your body’s intelligence and being present you will be more capable than you think. Stay present. I recommend avoiding too many plans, or making future decisions while in a state of emotional healing, especially grief.
- Your mind will get very scared at how big the emotions are. Trust your body. You WILL feel through and the emotions will move. It is the nature of emotions. Replaying things in your head over and over and reacting to those thoughts is different however, that will not help. Try to feel the authentic feeling by putting a hand on your chest or belly and truly bring your full attention to the sensations and feelings in your body. Do not try to understand them, just feel.
- Sometimes, grief blasts all past hurts, sadness, and pain wide open. If we avoid the grieving process, at some point we will have to move through all the emotions. It is less overwhelming when we let ourselves feel each event fully. It’s like having a moldy basement and just avoiding cleaning it, but then it grows and takes over and takes a lot more to clear than if it were dealt with in the beginning stages. Don’t kid yourself that you can push the feelings down for long.
- Unhealed grief can manifest in our bodies to get our attention. I myself had chronic shoulder pain that would not release until I felt the sadness and anger I shoved down form my past.
- The one saying I do like is “This too, shall pass.” It will. You will probably never be the same, however. Grief cracks us open. We become deeper humans, with bigger hearts. Some people are broken by grief, but this does not have to be the case. We can be broken open into bigger versions of ourselves with more capacity to love and empathy to connect with others.
There is an intelligence in our bodies and in emotions that our cognitive mind will never be able to understand. It is this intelligence that also breathes for us, and beats our hearts. It is this intelligence that will work overtime with you and for you when your heart is broken, bruised, and bleeding.
My belief is that we are also thrown into a state of non-ordinary reality that opens us up to our Spirit or God in profound ways. This relationship with Spirit for me was profoundly healing, but for each individual they need to honour their own truth and belief system.
Honour your own process.