Grief is something most people really try to avoid. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by grief, it can be natural to hold it within, feeling that sharing this with others is a burden to them. And if you’re supporting someone living through grief, it can be hard to understand and relate to what they’re feeling. Many times, when grief comes up, there is a general sense of wanting to change the subject, as quickly as possible. While being in grief is discomforting, there is also incredible growth that happens, and you learn how to better care for yourself and others. The most important thing with grief is to recognize that it changes you, it becomes part of you, and will always be there, in different forms on different days. For anyone who touts ‘just get over it,’ they likely have not experienced deep, soulful loss. The reality is that there’s no getting over grief, or even getting through it. It’s rather about learning how to live with grief, to understand how it influences your daily life, and to recognize that grief becomes part of how you experience life. Deep loss DOES change you. Missing the person who passed DOES change you. You will always wonder how your loved one would feel about a situation, what they might say, how they might react, and that’s normal.
What can help through grief is first shedding the thought that you ‘need’ to be acting, feeling, or behaving in any ‘expected’ way. There is no manual on grief, just as there is no manual on life. How grief impacts each person is very personal, completely individualized, and will only happen on the timeline meant for the person who sustained the loss. For many, there becomes a belief they should be ‘over’ the loss by a certain time, or that after so many months or years, it gets easier. This, again, is fallacy and ignores the fundamental shift that happens within someone when they lose a loved one. Brain chemistry changes in grief. Physical sensations and the way you relate with the world changes in grief. How you love and feel loved changes in grief. Everything you thought you understood about life and the world around you changes in grief. Your DNA becomes encoded with grief. This makes grief a part of who you are, like it’s woven into the fabric of your being. Moving forward becomes about understanding how grief influences how you show up, because you are now different.
There are no words which can convey how one feels after loss. Time seems to stand still. Life somehow goes on around you, and you may question if you’re still part of the living, or if you in fact died. In many ways, there is a piece of you that dies when you lose someone close to you. The part of you that came alive, that felt love, that rejoiced with that person, the part that framed your understanding of life because of your relationship with them is an energetic bond between you and the one who passed away. That part of you will always be intertwined with the other. When someone so embedded in your imprint dies, there is that connected part of you that also (essentially) dies and goes with them. This becomes a second loss, a loss of a piece of yourself. Many people try to fill that void with work, commitments, sleep, substances, shopping or any number of things. However, rather than try to fill the void, you can learn to lean into it, to find ways to relate and connect with the deceased, even without their physical presence.
The song that plays on the radio, the numbers on a clock, a unique bird or animal that crosses your path are all instances of a stronger energetic connection that surpasses space and time. The coincidences and signs are resonances of the person who died, an echoing of this tie between you two, and are there to remind you that while gone from the physical world, your loved one is always with you, and always will be. Some correlate this as the deceased living on in your heart. Whether in your heart, on your mind, in your periphery through signs or repeated images, when someone dies, they continue on through this new relationship. The transition of moving through grief to living with grief can be tied to nurturing this relationship, this very special and different relationship that endures, even in the absence of the physical form, and keeps your loved one with you. You start to discover that you can still feel their presence, hear their words in your head, and be reassured that you can continue to relate with them, albeit in a different way. This can help shift you out of pain and loss and into a deeper relationship with yourself, your intuition, and the larger energetic world surrounding you.
It takes time to get to this place of acceptance and embracing grief as an intrinsic part of you. There are the many stages of grief one will experience, and it’s completely natural to go through each one. Remember there is no timeline for when you should be past any particular stage. Your journey to reconcile your feelings, your mind and your heart with the loss will only be set by you. Some people spend years moving through the stages of grief, because that is their unique timing and the pace at which they feel comfortable processing their loss. With any loss, there will be second-guessing, there will be doubt, there will be anger, there will be sadness, there will be regret. Yet beneath all of that, remember there is love. Loss and grief wouldn’t hurt as much as they do without love. The heart aches for what it cannot have. Over time, the heart shifts its understanding of what it wants from the material and into the immaterial, and this is where comfort and connection begin to arise. No one will never cheat death, it is a certainty, and for every day you are here to enjoy life, may you love those around you wholly, be sure they know how you feel, and may you be brave to share your soul to remain connected beyond the physical realm.
As the author of this article, I have a close relationship with grief. I lost my Dad almost 3 years ago. It was unexpected and very difficult to accept that he died. What I will share next are some of the things I’ve done to make my relationship with his death become true, honest and uniquely my own. I needed to process, and I needed to understand a life without my Dad. I still have those days, I call them ‘Dad days,’ when I miss him terribly, when my heart aches and I wish for just one more minute, one more hour, one more week, one more anything, just time to spend with him again. Yet, he’s not here, and as I’ve shifted through my grief, I’ve come to learn how to live with this, to not avoid it, not escape from it. When I need to, I embrace those moments when all I can do is cry and mourn. Many days, though, I feel him with me as a dragonfly floats by or the time on the clock has repeating numbers. My relationship with my Dad is different, but it is still strong, and I know he is with me.
~ First, you have to talk about it. This is not something to try to work through on your own. Bottling up any feelings about your loss only intensifies it.
~ Second, find the totems or tokens which help you. Carry a memento of the person, or if you see a bird, animal or anything which lets you know they’re with you, carry a reminder of this. Moving your fingers over the object becomes a way to connect with your loved one into the physical world, if even for just a moment.
~ Third, honor your loved one. Remembering what they enjoyed, or how they were, and taking time to do those activities or listen to their song, or make their favorite meal are all ways to keep your loved one alive in spirit. So often, people want to avoid these things, push them away or forget about it. Never eating lasagna again will not bring back your loved one. Instead, when you DO eat lasagna, maybe you can remember how much they enjoyed it, and in that moment, their life becomes part of yours again, rather than a pushed away memory. This can be painful, it can evoke strong emotion, though it also helps you remain connected with that person.
~ Fourth, be sure to take care of yourself. Your loved one wouldn’t want to see you waste away or get wasted, risking your health. Aside from getting sleep and eating well, take time to be quiet with yourself, to be gentle, and to give yourself space to feel those ‘Dad days.’ In accepting and giving truth to your feelings, you remain in a place of living and not of death or denial.
~ Fifth, if there are others who also miss your loved one, find some common ground and share a conversation or time with them. Give them a space to reminisce, to share how they’re doing. Everyone is impacted by a loss, and everyone goes through grief, whether it looks like your grief or otherwise. When you can share grief and not be isolated, then you feel better supported and feel less alone in your heart and mind.
**Within this one, if you are feeling alone in your processing, let others help you. You don’t need to work through this on your own. It’s not okay for someone to force their help on you, but you don’t need to feel like you must carry this burden by yourself. Others want to help you, and it’s not weak to accept their help. It might actually make you feel loved and cared for, which is often what you’re missing in loss.
~ Sixth, remember that each day has its own outcome. Just because you were sad (or strong) yesterday, doesn’t mean you will be sad (or strong) today. Allow whatever is happening and whatever is coming up to be there, to acknowledge it, give it life, give it a name, and give yourself grace to be a human and to feel any and all emotions without judgment. Rather than be critical of your actions or feelings, this can be a beautiful time to develop a more loving and nurturing relationship with yourself.
~ Last, find the things that remind you that YOU are alive. Find the healthy practices or habits, such as moving your body, laughing, crying, watching sunsets or sunrises, feeling rain on your skin, getting out and letting the sun shine on your face. The more often you remember to live, the more often your lost loved one will be with you. When someone dies, they continue to live on in all the ways you keep living and holding their memory close to your heart.
If you are feeling challenged to live and find ways to move forward, I encourage you to work with a trained professional. Therapists, grief group programs, doctors, religious leaders, psychologists are all equipped to support you through this major transition in your life. Learning how to move forward after a major loss takes time, and with good support, you will eventually shift your own relationship with this loss and define for yourself what living looks like. I have worked with several different therapists since my Dad died, and each one has encouraged me to take new perspectives on what his death has meant for me. I continue to work with a therapist, and as I’ve mentioned, grief becomes part of who you are, so having the support to work through any life challenges comes back to recognizing that you’re a different person and forever will be, after loss.
By Jennifer Rizza, Founder of Newtown Wellness Collective, Reiki Master, Yoga Teacher, Wellness & Healthy Living Coach