Grief seems to have a life and timetable all its own. What I mean is that we can’t decide when we’re done grieving and we can’t predict when we will be hit by a wave of grief. It’s like grief is a living entity that takes up space in our head, heart and life and sometimes it feels like it’s running the show. Those of you who are grieving right now or who have grieved in the past, understand what I’m talking about. We hurt every day – sometimes more and sometimes less. We can feel like we’re on a runaway train unable to change direction or speed.
So, what can we do? Grief seems to take over when it’s least convenient – when we’re sitting at our desk trying to get work done, when we are at the movies, or when we are trying to show up for someone else and celebrate something happy for them, etc. Part of the grieving process that can be tricky is realizing that we can’t control it. And we all want to control things! So the fear that comes with a lack of control coupled with the pain of the grief itself can feel overwhelming! There is one approach that I have found helpful. That is to fully live in the moment. So when a wave of grief begins to swell up and wash over you, allow it. Be present in that moment. Feel the pain of the loss and recognize how your life is different and then take a break. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:
1. Name your feelings: “I feel overwhelmed by sadness and pain right now because I know I can’t go back in time before my loss”, “I am so lonely and my heart feels like it weighs a thousand pounds”, “This pain feels like it’s engulfing me right now”, “My heart is broken and I don’t know if it will ever feel ok again”. Naming your emotions (not judging them) helps you put words on feelings and gives you power. It helps you gently move from feeling helpless to finding ways to move through the feelings.
2. Breathe. Take deep belly breaths that start at your diaphragm and fill your lungs all the way up. You can combine this with pressing your feet into the floor and your hips back into your chair as you inhale then relax as you exhale.
3. Blow out your breath when you’re crying; pretend you’re blowing out a candle when you exhale. Oftentimes we hold our breath when we cry and that leads to an increase in stress on an unconscious level. If you have a tendency to cry till you are doing that hiccupy kind of crying, it probably means you’re holding your breath. So, blow it out. It will help you self-sooth and you won’t typically cry as long or as hard.
4. Seek the company of a support person or furry friend. Some people are really good at sitting with us while we cry or feel deeply sad. If you don’t have someone like that in your life, find support from a pet. I remember one particularly low moment in my grief process. I was lying in bed crying and my Australian Shepard got on the bed and laid down on top of me the length of my body with his head snuggled against my cheek. He just laid there till I was ready to get up and keep going. Our pets are sensitive to our physical reactions to grief and they show up for us in different ways, but ultimately their message is often, “love me so that you know that I love you”.
5. Take breaks. Force yourself if you have to, but find ways to distract. Watch a funny movie, get outside and move your body, get a massage, etc. You may do these things half-heartedly, but do them. Your grief will be there waiting for you when you’re done. You need a break so you can keep moving forward.
6. I realize there are times when following these steps isn’t really possible – at work, for example. So if you have to escape to the bathroom for a few minutes, shed a few tears, and tuck the pain away so you can get back to work, that is understandable. When you get home take some time to honor the feelings that were crashing around you, feel them and acknowledge how much courage it takes to grieve.
We can’t control what when we will experience a loss, but we can choose what we will do to cope once it has occurred. In this exact moment, you can take control by choosing to feel your grief. Embracing your feelings will help the sadness, grief and loss flow over and through you rather than getting stuck. It will be difficult and it might be scary to be vulnerable, but remember there is no way to out run or escape your grief. The only way is to move through it. Be kind to yourself and trust that even though you hurt right now, you won’t always feel like this.