A grief guide offers seven techniques for honoring the many endings in our lives—death, divorce, big moves, and more.
Whether grieving an important relationship, a community, or a phase of life, experiencing an ending can be painful. It’s probably no surprise that scrolling social media doesn’t help ease the ache.
That’s because today’s social media culture makes it easier than ever to celebrate the joy of beginnings. Simply scroll through your feeds to find images of engagements, weddings, gender reveals, births, and business launches. But the sorrow of breakups, divorces, miscarriages, downsizing, closed businesses, and deaths—not so much.
Honoring a significant loss is an important part of healing, so until the telling of our endings is normalized on social media, consider other ways to honor yours. If you aren’t sure how, here are seven tender practices to try.
Acknowledge your ending and what (or whom) is involved by writing a thank-you letter. Whether you are addressing it to someone (e.g., your ex), someplace (e.g., the town from which you’re moving), or something (e.g., your marriage), write from your heart and without judgment.
Summarize your experience, share your feelings, and include what lessons you may have learned while paying attention to the ways you’ve grown and what you’ve discovered about yourself. In doing so, you are connecting your heart and head through creative expression and actively honoring your ending in loving gratitude. Once finished, what you do with the letter is your choice: Save it, share it, or burn it. It doesn’t need to be physically received by the addressee in order for you to receive the benefits.
Create Your Own Ceremony
Because grief often begins at an ending, ceremonies are terrific tools for tender hearts—especially when witnessed with compassion. It need not be a costly or complicated event: Select a location, share your feelings, and invite your witness(es) to share, too. Light a candle, say a prayer, offer a reading (a gratitude letter, perhaps?), and play a special song. For those honoring an ending marked by physical death, consider doing something special on your loved one’s birthday. For those honoring an ambiguous ending, holding a “faux-uneral” ceremony may help.
Check Your Hope
The experience of hope is the belief that things will get better. But, when hope is misdirected, it can be as dangerous as it is helpful. This is because how we hope is just as important as why we hope.
When feeling stuck, it’s important to check in on your hope. Are you hoping that your ending will somehow be rewritten? For example, that your loved one returns asking to rekindle your romance or that your boss realizes their mistake and begs you to return. Such “external hope” keeps us looping back in a longing of what was, thus making it harder to let go.
So, when you catch yourself hoping for something you can’t control, make note and redirect your thoughts to “internal hope.” This hope is directed to yourself, the present moment, and the life ahead of you. The best part: Internal hope is 100 percent in your control.
Mind Your Mind
Thinking about your ending can be helpful, but when unchecked, it can also be hurtful. That’s because too much time pondering “what was” keeps us from integrating “what is.” Paying attention to how and how often you are consumed with distressing thoughts about your ending is key. Whether you are ruminating about what you did or didn’t say or do or finding yourself down the rabbit hole of unhealthy reflection, overthinking your ending is rarely helpful. When you recognize these behaviors, gently redirect your energy to the present moment and engage in a loving awareness meditation or breathwork practice to send love to yourself, calm your nervous system, and re-center.
Revisit Your Routine
Whether you chose your ending or it was chosen for you, you’re not only grieving a person or place but the innumerable nuances of your relationship and its routine. For example, it may be too painful to visit your son’s favorite park, your ex’s beloved date-night diner, or your former colleagues’ after-work hangout spot. Conversely, such places may give you comfort and help you feel connected to your loved one. But are you choosing to do so, or are you on autopilot?
Intentionally examining your routine can pinpoint what helps and what hurts, empowering you to make choices that best serve you in the present. When you’re ready, give yourself permission to create something new. Try a new restaurant or join a social club. Enroll in a class or venture into a new coffee shop. It could be the beginning of something beautiful. At the very least, you’re creating space for experiences that are new to you.
Move Your Energy
Endings are difficult for many because they often involve intense feelings. Whether grieving a sibling’s death, an estranged friendship, or the end of a marriage, the pain we feel in someone's absence is often internalized as the last little bit of the relationship we have left. But, like a rope wrapped around your wrist for too long, holding on can cause its own painful burn and eventually create new problems. For help in releasing the metaphorical rope, find ways to healthfully release your emotions. There are many modalities to choose from, some of which include talking to a therapist or trusted friend, expressive journal writing, singing, or body movement exercises like dancing, running, yoga, or qi gong. Though less gentle, private pillow-punching and scream-crying are also effective.
Adopt a Mantra
Like learning to swim or ride a bike, healthfully grieving our endings requires patience and practice. That’s because it doesn’t happen all at once but little by little, in countless moments both big and small. When such moments arise, reciting a mantra can be a soothing touchstone that ,when repeated, brings thought into speech and speech into action.
For example, “Love them, bless them, let them go” or “I wish them peace, I wish them joy. I wish me peace, I wish me joy” are two to recite as you let go (again and again). As you do, know that in each act you aren’t just honoring your ending, but your love—and yourself as well.