This is a broad definition encompassing all sorts of loss, not just the physical death of a loved one. Although, the death (or transition from this world) of people and pets is what we most commonly associate with grief. Grief comes with so much baggage. Judgement, criticism, mystery, fear, resistance. We don’t want to talk about it or we think we shouldn’t talk about it. We’re afraid we won’t be able to control our emotions if we start to talk about it. Sadly, we were taught to hide our emotions.
Grief and Change
Grief is often attached to change, even when the change is celebrated and associated with a sense of excitement or accomplishment. We’re leaving something that was familiar behind, something to which we once had an attachment. Changes in relationships, jobs and careers, our health and financial status, our identity and reputation, geographical relocations, life transitions such as menopause and marriage, changing roles within our family and our community, changes to our lifestyle. We need to grieve the loss of expectations and dreams, of potentials and opportunities, the loss of familiarity, comfort, of connection and our sense of belonging, the loss of our youth and how we see ourselves, loss of independence. Many changes, many losses. Each needing to be mourned.
Although grief is universally experienced as a response to loss, it is such a personal, private and unique experience, we feel so alone in our suffering. We feel no one else knows our pain. And that’s true. No other person has had the same life experiences or the same relationship to what we’ve lost.
When we lose a loved one, pain floods our body and our mind. We are overwhelmed with the intensity of pain. We can’t understand it. Our mind tries to figure it out. It can’t. It shuts down to protect itself from being overwhelmed. We can’t think logically. We can’t make decisions. The pain shuts down our body and our feelings. We feel numb. Disconnected.
The super computer that is our mind, searches its files for a solution. It finds memories of previous experiences and observations of others who were grieving. A memory from when we were five and our mother telling us to not cry. A vision of our friends laughing at how our cousin reacted when her beloved pet turtle, Jasper, died. A memory of a conversation between our parents about how Aunty Ruby needed to get on with her life after the death of her husband. How our mother would never talk about Uncle James or how he died, which we later discovered was through suicide.
There is so much judgement about how we grieve. Expectations of how long a reasonable time frame is to mourn, when it’s acceptable to remarry, how we need to ‘move on’ with our lives and not dwell in the past. We unknowingly absorbed many of these judgements through observations and learning from our parents when we were young. Our minds are like sponges for the first several years of our life. We absorb energies from those we’re around. We observe, hear and /or sense the energies, behaviours and reactions of others and we mimic these behaviours. That’s how we learn.
We learn to not talk about death because we’re accused of being morbid or we’re shut down by others when we raise the topic in conversation. We learn to not express our feelings, and to not trust our feelings. When we hurt ourselves as a child, we were told: “Don’t cry. It’s okay. It’s just a little scratch.” We were told to ‘be nice’ to Uncle Keith even though we sensed there was something about him we didn’t like.
We judge our tears as a sign of weakness. We tell ourselves we need to toughen up and get over it. We learn how to act by comparing ourselves to others. We learn to minimise our pain because there’s always someone else who is worse off. We learn to suppress and hide our feelings. Perhaps we were told: “Go to your room and don’t come out until you’re happy.” Or “Go to your room, no one wants to see you crying.” It became unacceptable to express our emotions. We judged our natural feelings as wrong, inappropriate or even shameful, something we shouldn’t feel and something we definitely shouldn’t express in public. We believe we need to deal with our feelings by ourselves in private, yet no one explains what it means to deal with them. Do they magically disappear when no one else is around?
During the last four years of my primary school education, I had a wonderful teacher, Keith Furness, who was known as being ‘old fashioned’ in his approach to teaching. We always started the day with ‘manners’ which was a different adage each day which we had to write in our ‘manners book.’ The one saying that stands out in my memory is: “I had no shoes and complained until I met a man who had no feet.” It’s only now as I write this, that I realise why that is the only ‘manners’ saying I recall. It was exactly what I needed to take on board, to not complain about my life situation just because I was orphaned. There’s always someone else worse off than you.
Drop the Judgement!
Without role models for how to express grief in healthy ways, coupled with our own judgement of how appropriate it is to feel and express our emotions, we make our grieving journey even harder for ourselves. We need to give ourselves permission to grieve. Permission to feel whatever we’re feeling, whenever we feel it and to express it and not try to stuff it down or hoard it for later. Allow yourself to feel your pain. Cry, scream, punch your pillow or a boxing bag, smash something (without harming anyone), do whatever you need to do. Allow the feelings to come, allow them to move through your body. No resisting, no judging, no criticising, no fear, no expectation, no analysing, no labelling or trying to figure out what’s happening. Just allow. Give yourself permission to feel it all. Don’t be afraid of getting stuck there, that’s impossible. When you allow yourself to feel it fully, when you allow each emotion to have its full expression, when you allow the energy of the emotion to move through you, it moves through you.
There’s layers and layers to our grief and a hotchpotch, jumbled up mixture of emotions. The unravelling and expression of what we’re feeling doesn’t occur in one sitting. Not usually anyway, although it could. We need to allow the feelings to have their say and to move through us whenever they arise. The more we allow this, without resistance and without judgement, and with total unconditional acceptance, the deeper the healing we receive. This allows us to transmute our pain into love. When we can remember our loved ones with love rather than pain, we heal. This is the gift we find in our grief. It doesn’t mean we don’t miss them, we always will. We’ll still have times when we find ourselves crying and really missing them, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. It means we’re honouring ourselves and the love we have for them.
Give yourself permission to grieve and to transform your pain into love.
With my deepest love to you in your grief.