Usually when we think of grief, we think of death. And we tend to think narrowly and consider grief only in cases when a human that we love dies. But grief can be an experience, a process, that happens in a broad range of circumstances. For example, death or loss of a pet, an identity, a job, an idea or a vision are all experiences where grief may surface. When coming into our own identity and following our values, we may experience grief around how our needs were not met in the past. We may even feel the most grief when life is good and we feel loved - grief over what we missed out on before in our lives.
When grief can show up
For women that I work with, some common experiences around grief include:
Connecting to something positive in the present moment and feeling the pain of not having had it in the past.
Loss of a baby through miscarriage or terminated pregnancy.
Not being able to conceive and the feelings of missing out on this expression of creation.
Setting boundaries with family or letting go of dreams about what family should be.
Experiencing limitations from an injury or chronic illness.
Loss of a job that provided meaning and purpose.
Death of an idea or dream one has about oneself.
Death of a pet.
Loss of a partner through divorce or breakup.
Death of an important person in one's life.
And this is not an exhaustive list...
How to Heal GRief
There are many models for thinking about what is "normal" grief and what is "pathological." I think it is more helpful to think in terms of how much your experience of grief is impacting your life and what it can teach you. And how you hold the grief, sit with it, talk to it, and essentially use it in a healing way. Do you think you may be experiencing some grief? Here's some things you can do:
Just be. Yes, I did just say "what you can do" and now I'm telling you to just be. The first step before doing is being. If we don't allow ourselves a moment to slow down, check in, and stay still, we may miss the opportunity that grief provides us. Grief may bring up emotions that are scary and it may be tempting to push grief away entirely and move back into the mode of doing. See if you can catch yourself and sit with your feelings, if even just for 5 minutes at a time.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness is really an extension of just being. How can you pay attention and notice your grief and associated thoughts and feelings without reacting or needing to "do" something. Can you notice the grief, allow it to come and pass, without turning your attention to something else? If sitting with your grief feels like too much to start with, begin by practicing mindfulness of breathing to initiate the process of slowing down and getting off of autopilot.
Acceptance. Another key component, which may not come easily, is allowing for whatever is there to be there. You don't need to start by accepting the loss, but it is helpful to begin by being willing to experience your emotions that stem from it. Remember that acceptance is not resignation. It is you choosing to be true to your experience and to allow for it.
Reflection. Once you've given yourself space to mindfully experience and be with the grief, you may begin to ask "ok, now what do I do?" This is a good time to begin reflecting on what the experience of grief is teaching you. What are some of the lessons that you are learning or have the opportunity to learn? How do you make meaning out of your experience? Is this an opportunity to develop your spirituality?
Values. It all ties back to your values or life compass. How does your experience of grief fit with your values? How can you take steps moving forward in a direction that is meaningful to you? Does your grief give you any insight into what is important to you in life? Are you able to see more clearly the kind of action you would like to take next? For more information on values identification, you can visit a previous post on values.
Key things to keep in mind
Remember that healing from grief is a process that takes as long as it needs to - and one that is usually not linear. You may take some steps towards being with the grief, and then need to take a break and return at a later time. You may also feel that you have reached a resolution point, to later return back to some strong feelings. Do the best you can to have compassion for yourself and your experience on the healing journey.
For further reading, you can check out "Grieving mindfully" by Sameet Kumar. This book is a great resource for more holistic information and exercises that you can do to heal grief.
If you are a woman living in the Chicagoland area and would like more support in person for grief, contact us or book an appointment to discuss your psychotherapy needs.