It’s a refrain I often hear from grievers: I thought I was supposed to just get over it.
They come to me in my death doula practice, hoping that, over time, their grief will become a memory; something they can tidily resolve, and then move on with the rest of their lives.
But grief doesn’t work that way. It becomes a part of us as a measure of the love we carry when someone dear to us dies and as an invitation to stay connected to them and honor the relationship we shared. Yet carrying our grief with us doesn’t mean it has to consume or capsize us with its weight.
Building a Relationship With Grief
We can learn to be in relationship with our grief so that, instead of becoming rigid and closed off to life, we soften and begin to trust in life’s goodness again. Instead of beating ourselves up for not getting over it or moving on fast enough, we can offer ourselves compassion and grace while acknowledging our limits and boundaries as we do the hard, beautiful work of grieving. And instead of turning outward, seeking an easy fix or numbing distraction, we can look to our grief to guide us, tending it with patience and care so that healing and wisdom emerge.
This means nourishing ourselves with the basics: rest, movement, hydration, time in nature, and sleep. But our grief needs even more from us for a steady framework of support.
6 Ways to Support Our Grief
Grieving can be a lonely experience. Others can offer compassion and empathy, but everyone’s grief is unique to them. And we don’t all have spaces where we feel comfortable sharing our journey. Yet solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is the intentional carving out of time to listen to our grief and honor what it’s asking of us. Maybe we need a good, long cry or angry howl. Maybe we need to walk near a body of water. Maybe what our grief wants is that nourishing dish from a recipe that’s been in our family for years or to curl up on the sofa with a beloved tearjerker. Solitude invites us to slow down and make space to care for and intuitively express our grief.
It may seem like the last thing that would make a difference to the grieving. But beauty—whether it be a flower, a painting, a sunset—not only renews our senses; it drops us into our hearts and into the present moment. As we tune into awe and appreciation, our grief softens. The rigid bracing of our bodies begins to melt. And we are reminded of our ability to marvel, find delight, and still be in love with the world.
Just like beauty, cultivating joy may seem counterintuitive to the grieving process. But grief is more than the emotion of sadness. It is an experience spanning many emotions, from bitterness and anguish to emptiness and relief—with joy included in that wide range. When we allow ourselves moments of pleasure while grieving, we enter into a more expansive state, deepening our capacity to be with the hard and challenging. Joy also teaches us about our own resilience, as the more we allow ourselves to feel our grief, the more we’re also able to fully embody our joy.
We often approach grief with fear, dread, disdain, denial, shame … anything but the warm and generous attention it deserves. We’ve been conditioned to view grieving as a negative state to be avoided and bypassed, when grief is one of the most enlivening forces we can encounter. To approach it with reverence, humble curiosity, and respect for its mystery invites grief into our lives as a teacher and guide, with its own medicine to offer. (As Rabbi Earl Grollman, renowned bereavement counselor said, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.”) When we surrender our desire for control and stay close to our breaking hearts, we come to trust that there is something here for us on this journey—not a blessing, reason, or silver lining, but something waiting to give new shape to our lives, to call us into alignment with what truly matters to us.
One of the reasons grief can be so heavy to carry is that we don’t give it anywhere to go; a place for it to be moved or set down, even if temporarily. Having a practice or practices to express our grief is essential. Many find writing and journaling helpful. For others, it’s yoga, dance, or some other kind of movement. Singing, wailing, making art, planting a garden, tending an altar, and creating rituals are all practices we can turn to for ballast and to allow grief a place to be tended and metabolized at our own pace as we go about our daily lives.
Grief was always intended to be a communal experience. In many Indigenous cultures, it is up to the community, or the village, to help the sorrowing grieve—lest all that dense, chaotic energy go unmetabolized, resulting in many of the individual, cultural, and social ills plaguing us today. In Western culture, grief has become a private affair. But to grieve collectively is to be validated and affirmed in this very normal human experience; to see that we are not alone in the pain we carry. Collective grieving restores us to a sense of belonging, calling us back, in an individualistic world, to connect to ourselves and each other … to the village where our health, wholeness, and wellbeing have always been bound together.
Explore more ways to deal with grief holistically.