Written by Nancy Loeffler, the founder of Being With Grief.
We spend a great deal of our lives in preparation. We prepare for a job interview, we prepare for retirement, we prepare for a party, or social engagement. We prepare for meals, for tests, for the holidays; our lives are full of preparation. One thing we are never prepared for is grief. Grief is the natural response to any loss:
- The death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship or job
- A change in our health or when we start a new chapter in our lives
- Even the loss of a dream
Anytime our lives don’t turn out the way we expected or the way that we wanted them to, we experience grief. We often don’t name it as grief though because grief is one of those things we don’t like to talk about. Grief is not comfortable. It’s difficult and it’s painful. We think that if we don’t talk about it, avoid it, or lock it away in a closet long enough, grief will go away and we won’t have to feel it. We’ve never been taught how to prepare for the feelings that arise with grief.
I’m not suggesting that it is possible to prepare for a loss before it occurs. For example, how can we exactly know how we will feel when our grandmother dies? I do think it is possible to get better at feeling our difficult and painful feelings and to get better at being vulnerable. Brene Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure; to be human is to be vulnerable. That definition can also apply to grief.
We don’t like to feel our uncomfortable feelings for many reasons. We hear a lot about thinking positive and being happy. If we try to be happy without giving our difficult feelings a voice, they will clamor for attention until they become so loud they come out in a way we didn’t intend for them to come out. When we try to be happy at the expense of keeping our painful feelings under wraps, it is like immersing ourselves in constant stress.We all know how stress can affect our health.
What would it be like to allow our feelings to be felt, whatever they are, whenever they arise, to give all of our feelings a voice? That may sound scary at first. All of our feelings want to be met as they are, and when we allow our uncomfortable feelings to be felt, they calm down; they don’t have to be so loud to get our attention.
What are some ways to get better at feeling?
Slow Down – We lead busy lives. We rush around, trying to get everything done before we give ourselves permission to relax. Only relaxation never happens; there are always more things to do. Our society encourages our busyness, suggesting that we are failures if we don’t accomplish everything on our list before we allow ourselves to take time for ourselves. All the while we are doing that, our feelings are insistent, and we feel more and more stress. When we slow down we allow our feelings space to be heard.
Self-Care – Slowing down is one form of self-care and can help you to discover what nourishes you. Self-care helps you to relax, reduce stress, and develop a greater capacity feel your feelings. Self-care is the fuel for your tank. You can’t drive anywhere if your car is out of gas. The same is true for you. When your energy reserves are depleted, you don’t feel like doing anything. Self-care brings abundance back into your life so you can be your own best self. We often don’t feel like we deserve to take care of ourselves because that might mean we are being selfish. When you feel that way start with the basics. This is true whether you are grieving or just discovering the importance of self-care for the first time. Self-care gives you a greater capacity to cope with your feelings. When you have greater coping skills, your willingness to feel continues to grow. Discover what nourishes your soul or fills your tank.
Feel All Your Feelings – This may seem difficult, or even impossible if you’ve been suppressing your uncomfortable feeling for a while. A feeling is neither good or bad. It is energy. Think of it like a cloud; it eventually passes. Even a storm cloud that is dark and foreboding moves
by after it has rained. Painful feelings are like that dark cloud. They may hold tears, but allowing them to fall helps the feeling to move through. We think our difficult feelings will take up residence and be stuck in our life if we let them in. The opposite is true, they move through when they allowed to be felt.
Be Grateful – Gratitude is a game changer. Even when things feel difficult, there are still things in our life that we can be grateful for. Cultivating a practice of gratitude can impact many areas of our lives including sleep, immunity, and energy. All of those give us a greater capacity to feel the feelings we want to push away. Start your gratitude practice today; write down three things that you are grateful for each night before you go to bed. As your list grows, notice how it is affecting your daily life.
Connections – Grief can be isolating. You may not feel like talking to anyone, or you may feel like you are the only one who feels the way you do. You may feel as if you no longer have anything in common with other people, or that you have lost yourself. Finding a safe place to connect with others who have also experienced grief; a safe place to process and share your feelings can assist you to process your grief. Connecting with friends who accept you as you are during the course of your life will not only enrich your life along the way, it will also ensure that you have someone to turn to when grief enters your life.
We would all like to go through our lives without ever having to encounter grief. The fact of the matter is that at some point in our lives we will encounter grief and all the feelings that come with it. If we are able to learn how to get better at feeling before grief enters our life, we will be better prepared to navigate that unknown territory. Being prepared means understanding the possibilities of what could happen and placing yourself in a position where you have the tools or skills to weather the inevitable consequences of living.
Nancy Loeffler is the founder of Being With Grief and the Author of The Alchemy of Grief: Your Journey to Wholeness, and its companion journal. As a mother who lost her 17-year old daughter Leah in a car accident in November of 2000, she fully understands the territory of grief. Her daughter’s death provided a doorway to her transformation that she never expected. It broke open her heart and showed her a way to break free from limiting beliefs about what was possible in her life. She walks with her clients on their own grief journeys so that they, too, can again find meaning, purpose, and even joy after a devastating loss. She speaks often about her journey and is passionate about changing the conversation around grief. www.beingwithgrief.com