After the recent death of one of my closest friends, I began to think about what it means to lose someone, or something, that means a lot. Grief, loss, and letting go seem to be all around me lately. I just sat next to a woman in the airport who was crying because she had lost her mom that same day. We had a deep and sweet connection as we shared with each other the death of our loved ones and about loss and grief in general. While talking about our grief made us vulnerable, it waspowerful, too.
When Paulina died a few weeks ago at the age of 37 I lost my sister/friend. It seemed so unfair. Her life was so short and mine is to be much longer. Her dreams seemed to be unfulfilled. Those left behind—her husband, parents, brothers, nieces, and friends—are all coping the best we can. We lit candles, told stories, and shared memories, pictures, and movies of her life. Then we scattered her ashes along with roses upon the land of her beloved 20-acre farm in Oregon. I’ve shed many tears and held others while they cried. My heart has felt so heavy at times during this period. But remarkably I have still been able to find expansive feelings of gratitude and even bliss among the grief.
How have I been able to experience joy despite this tragedy? I have some grieving tools that are getting me through and I’d like to share them with you. This is a rich journey and I don’t want to waste it just on myself, when I believe that you can also benefit from what I’m going through.
You may have lost a person you loved, a habit you had to change, a house you sold, a child who grew up and moved out, a job you quit, a food to which you became allergic, a best friend you fired, a divorce, military deployment; or you have experienced the death of a pet, an illness, or a natural disaster. These are just some of the forms that loss can take. You may have had thoughts of suicide or felt emotionally flat or alone. Or you may have begun blaming others for your loss rather than finding the gifts in the transition.
You may have heard the quote “That which we resist persists”. The same is true for grief and sadness.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has written and taught about the stages of grief and she famously identified these five stages:
Having awareness of these stages has helped me recognize when I’m swimming in one, stuck in one, or moving through one. It has helped me to remain compassionate with myself and others as we traverse the path of grief. My denial stage showed up in my keeping quiet for over a week about how emaciated Paulina had become and her need for IV nutrients. Everyone else was denying it so it was easy for me to ignore the signs too. She still had a smile on her face and was functioning. In my heart, I knew she had taken a turn for the worse. But no one was talking about it. I’ve seen this before in my work. And yet I denied it as long as I could. After a week, I finally opened up to my brother/friend about my concerns. It was painful to share with him the gloom and doom reality of the situation. Once I had spoken the truth of it though, once I got it out, I then found I was angry. Mad that no doctor had recommended IV nutrients or any kind of nutrients. It was just as if they let her starve to death for the last 8 months. I felt angry that her family had not put pressure on her to stay alive a little bit longer. It just wasn’t fair. Then I began to bargain. If I could just help a little more, maybe she’d have a few more days or weeks? If I could help alleviate some of her pain, maybe she’d have the strength to keep going? Maybe it was a blessing that those offers were rejected. I had to begin to accept the inevitable. She was dying right before our eyes and there was nothing we could do except love her, love ourselves, love each other, and ride the waves of grief.
Of course, each person will grieve in their unique way. You may move through the stages of grief in a non-linear way. There is no order to which you may experience the stages of grief, and they can reoccur. Here are my tools for dealing with grief:
Letting Go and Grieving Tip #1: Feeling is Healing
The more you honor and allow your feelings to be expressed, the quicker you will feel heightened freedom and expansive surrender. This is feeling with awareness, staying as present as you can to the pain and sorrow. Crying, wailing, yelling and kicking (in a safe place) may be part of your expression. If you notice you’re holding back tears, love that part of yourself, and then invite the tears to flow. Letting the pressure of emotion release can help shift your perspective and allow you to get curious about what gifts may arise out of this loss.
Letting Go and Grieving Tip #2 Self-care is Essential
Take care of the basics—water, food, rest, movement, and speaking your truth (saying yes and no with integrity and honor). Connect with supportive people and practice comfort with awareness. “Comfort with awareness” means that if you choose to numb out for a moment and watch a movie, read a book, or eat ice cream, that’s ok—just do it with the awareness that this is a strategy. The other self-care essentials that are important are to nourish your body and soul so you can process grief more efficiently. Grieving is an act of self-love.
Letting Go and Grieving Tip #3: Seek Support
Bereavement groups, talk therapy, and authentic relating groups are all supportive. Body work like massage, acupuncture, and somato and emotional release work such as reiki is beneficial, as are prayer and meditation groups. You don’t have to grieve alone all of the time. It’s important to come out of your shell for some support. It’s actually a gift you give to others when you allow them to love and support you. If you’re reading this, you’re likely to be the kind of person that would reach out and help someone in need. You know how good it feels to help others. Don’t deny others that same opportunity. Let someone support you.
Death can be scary and yet we are all going to die. I’ve learned that by embracing emotions, diving deeply into them, exploring them and allowing them to completely fill me has helped me release them easier and quicker. Stored and blocked emotions cause disease and imbalances in the body, mind, spirit, and life. Grieving is a powerful healing experience. Honoring each stage as part of your process will bring more peace. As I dance with grief in these coming weeks I’m also celebrating Paulina’s incredible life. I am searching for the gifts and holding immense gratitude for each breath that I take. It’s a potent reminder of each precious moment.
Blessings of Vibrant Health,
Kristin Grayce McGary
Health and Lifestyle Alchemist