Five Tips for Good Grieving

icicle on beach with sun beam

Five Tips for Good Grieving

Have you ever had someone tell you that anger is a normal feeling to have after a death and it’s okay to feel it?

These are not words we often hear in our everyday conversation, because we live in a culture that runs from anger, sadness, and emotional outbursts associated with grief.  We hide grief away and gloss over all the regrets and emotions we feel.  It’s only when we experience large community tragedies that we reflect on what it means to grieve, and how to move through it in a healthy way.  The expected sort of grief that comes from losing a long time love, or the sudden grief that overwhelms with a tragic loss of someone dear to us is not an everyday conversation piece.

The Process of Grieving

The process we call grief is actually a process of moving through a variety of emotions that we tend to know little about until it hits us.  It can feel very unfamiliar, a great longing for a loved one who’s died, a hole in a place of bewilderment, anger, resentment, regret.  It can come in ebbs and flows like the ocean waves, strong like pounding surf and light like a lapping tide.  Emotional aspects of grief can surface when least expected months and even years after the death or loss occurred.  It can be powerful and affect us so that we can have trouble going about our regular routines.  Grief often stops us in our tracks, leaving us uncertain and looking around for help.

At the best of times, grief can be sadness and regret that fuels us for change, for setting new purpose and plans, for identifying what matters most to us in life.  Grief is a great motivator, making clear what we wish we had done sooner in life.  Grief also shows us clearly what our core values push us toward as we are called to set new priorities and plans.  There is nothing like a loss to show us what’s most important and where we need to cultivate hope for a flourishing future.

In the words of Helen Keller, “What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us”.

Five Tips for Good Grieving

However we experience grief, here are five tips for responding in a healthy way.

  1. Take time to feel what you feel.  Know that your life has been altered with the death of your loved one and you have some readjusting to do.  There is no rush, no matter what the world makes you think and no matter how quickly everyone expects you to get back to work and back to maintaining all that has been your usual routines.  After a death of someone significant to you, you need to settle into a new understanding of moving forward.  You will especially need time if your relationship with the one who died has been complicated in some way.  This may add to your feelings that need to be sorted and worked through.
  2. Plan to do something new to self soothe.  Protect at least 15 minutes each day to be kind to yourself, doing an activity of self care that is comforting and renewing.  This may be as simple as a soak in the bath to ease your body and give you relaxation.  Or reading a few pages of an inspiring book, taking a walk in nature in a park or trail, spending time with a pet, having coffee with a friend or enjoying a quiet tea alone.  These are only a few examples of ways to care for yourself and support your inner turmoil.
  3. Choose a time in the day or week when you will be still with your grief emotions.  After the death of a loved one there are usually many things to see to, such as funeral or memorial arrangements to organize and you can be caught up in all the busyness.  Step away from the busyness when you can, for a few minutes to focus on how you are feeling and what this death means to you.  Taking intentional time for your personal mix of emotions will support your energy over all.
  4. Share stories of your loved ones life with people you trust and who know your loved one.  Share funny and serious stories, even annoying things your loved one used to do.  Look at photos together and talk about what was happening in the photo. As you share you may feel emotion wash over you and it’s helpful to feel it while you also share a laugh in the remembering.  Your loved one had many qualities and experiences that you can hold as memories of all of who they were to you and those who knew them.
  5. Create a ritual, a special activity you can do when significant times of the year bring up the loss once again.  The dates of your loved ones death, their birthday, holiday times, and the like will be significant times that may make your grief seem fresh again.  Doing something special to remember and honor will help you feel connected in a healthy way.  Taking action and planning ahead for such significant dates builds healthy mourning practices.

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The Mind Body Connection

Woman amidst Golden Cat of Nine Tails

 

The Mind Body Connection

Here we go, just as it’s almost time to give the presentation at work, I get that feeling in pit of my stomach.  Here comes the rolling distress.  My chest tightens and a wheeze comes on.  Oh, no, not now…  Anxiety tucks into my body and I’m absorbed into the feelings, wheezing and stressing.  Can you relate?

Intricate Mind Body Connection

The mind body connection is an intricate one.  At times the body speaks clearly of emotional or mental distress.  People with anxiety know well the body brain connection as physical symptoms of anxiety are pretty hard to miss. The increased heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath are all common anxiety symptoms.  For other mental health or emotional conditions, however, the physical symptoms are not so easily noticed.  These are the times when the body uses more of a quiet nudge.

Chinese medicine is known for connecting the body and mind, believing that emotions are connected with the function of the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs.  This understanding of how we humans function integrates all aspects of our experience, body, mind and spirit with what is showing up physically.  Such an understanding can seem a bit ‘woo woo’ for those of us raised in an environment of Western medicine, where emotions are rarely discussed when you seek help for a physical complaint.  Yet, there is wisdom here to be recognized.

Going through Job Change

A while back, when I was going through an unexpected & major restructuring in a job I’d had for a number of years, I found myself with some pain in my forearm.  I hadn’t injured it, and I hadn’t worked out to stress the muscles, so I couldn’t quite explain why the soreness suddenly appeared.  And being the sort raised with a stoic work ethic, I ignored the pain and carried on. Later, working with a Chinese medicine trained acupuncturist, I learned that grief, despair and anxiety are connected to the energy meridian flowing through one’s forearm.  So, woo, woo or not, my forearm seemed to tell the tale of my concern over my job change, giving me a nudge to do some extra emotional self care.

So, whether or not you are someone who supports the teaching of Chinese medicine, I say it is important to recognize how emotional distress shows up physically, beyond just showing up in our mood and our behaviour.  Depression has been known to cause heaviness in our bodies, change sleep patterns, and affect our appetite and libido.  Grief mirrors some of the same physical symptoms. It is important to listen, pay attention to and make room for understanding our intricate and wonderfully made human bodies.  To care for ourselves emotionally means also caring for ourselves physically, and vise versa.  For too long, many of us raised in the last quarter of the 1900s, who are ‘middle aged’ today have ignored our physical and emotional distress signals.  Those of us, who have been felt the traditionalist and baby boomer influenced society, have felt we simply needed to ‘soldier on’.

Retraining Ourselves

We have trained ourselves to ignore physical symptoms that speak of something emotional going on.  We feel like we don’t have the time for emotional self care, it’s too pampering, and we don’t deserve it.  We have too many other commitments that take priority, people are counting on us, tasks at work must get done, there’s no time for self indulgence.  Well, I say it’s time to shift this mentality.

Love it or hate it, we are a complete package, body and brain, and we deserve to experience life fully, taking the time to nurture and care for our emotional selves.  It’s time to listen to our body speaking, and act on what it’s telling us.  Attending to our emotional needs is a priority for living a comprehensively healthy life.  You deserve to feel emotional freedom and peace of mind.  Your whole body will thank you for it.

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