In a culture that doesn’t help us hold our grief, how do we hold it for ourselves? Here are some ideas.
Grief might be a universal experience. Of course, it comes up when we’ve lost a loved one, but we can also feel it when our lives change—even for the better. When we get a new job, get married, or have a baby, there’s often grief for the self we left behind before the change.
This year, loss has been a major theme, not only in terms of the mortality of a long pandemic season but also in terms of our everyday routines and the many things we took for granted before. As the days get shorter and darker, we are moving into the fall and winter seasons, which are natural times to think about grief and loss.
Our culture is particularly bad at managing grief. We are very uncomfortable with most expressions of emotion, except perhaps joy, which incidentally is used to sell things to people who do not feel joyful. Not incidentally, most of us feel joyless at one point or another.
What Grief Wants
For some of us, anger is a little easier to manage. Anger wants us to DO something—to take some sort of action. It gives us energy we can put somewhere. But the recipe for grief is a little different.
Grief doesn’t want us to do anything. In fact, grief wants us to sit down and be still. Where anger gives energy, grief takes it away.
There is some evidence that our bodies actually shut down a little in the face of grief—our digestion and organs slow down, and we can feel physically colder. It’s been shown that widows and widowers are particularly vulnerable to death shortly after the loss of their spouses. We just aren’t as strong when we are experiencing grief.
When Sitting Is Uncomfortable
Grief wants the last thing we want when we’re engulfed in it: to slow down and experience our feelings. It can be so uncomfortable to sit with grief and loss, but if we don’t, those emotions sit unprocessed in our bodies, unwilling to let go until we’ve faced them.
In a culture that doesn’t help us hold our grief, how do we hold it for ourselves? Here are some ideas:
- Take private time for yourself to lie down, close your eyes, and breathe as deeply into your belly as you can.
- Take a yin yoga or restorative yoga class where you are coached to gently be still with your body.
- Try a guided meditation that encourages breath and focus on the body.
- Give yourself permission to be slow right now, to have less energy for things like cooking, cleaning, or exercising. It is the time to curl up on the couch and watch sad movies, and that is okay!
- Spend time with people who you trust and who you can talk to.
- If possible, get hugs, cuddles, and affection, which will help your body stay calm and feel supported through the grief process.
- Act as though you are sick. Drink warm soups and curl up in a blanket. Nap. Take a little time off work if you can.
When you let the grief energy flow, don’t be surprised if it shifts suddenly and often. There are peaks and valleys with grief, and sometimes there are moments of real joy and pleasure. Don’t deny yourself these moments; stay in them as fully as you can. The grief will likely recur here and there but so may the pleasure and joy. Don’t expect the process to be linear. Allow it to flow how it’s going to flow.
Consider 10 ways to practice mindful grieving through actions and words, thoughts, breath, diet, and more.