I would have preferred to detach myself from emotions, put on my armor, and pretend the loss did not affect me. I lived like this for years. Whether the loss was tangible such as the death of a loved one or the loss of relationship or intangible such as the loss of a dream, a hope, or a vision, my tendency was to diminish and dismiss my feelings in order to keep moving forward.
I believe some of this comes from living much of my life in a “less-than” stance: if I believe I don’t matter, then my feelings don’t matter either. It is also self-protective. The prospect of actually allowing myself to have the emotions may seem overwhelming: “what if I get swallowed up by the grief and I never return?”
As a therapist, I often remind my patients that no one has ever died from having a feeling, but many have died attempting to NOT to have a feeling. The self-destructive patterns we get into begin with the endeavor to protect ourselves from feeling pain. However, we know that these unhealthy coping skills lead us into deeper bondage and brokenness.
I recently lost a dear, precious friend to cancer. It came as a shock to us all. The cancer was found on a Saturday, and within 12 days, he was gone. From the day of his diagnosis, I felt a mixture of disbelief, anger, and deep sadness. The anger was prominent. Variations of the following statements repeated in my mind consistently: “He is such a good man; he has touched so many lives for the better; he is caring, compassionate, and wholehearted in everything he does. Why him? No, this isn’t okay. I am so angry.”
In the midst of that anger, I allowed myself to grieve with purpose. I took the tools I have learned about grief, and I allowed the feelings to surface. At first they came like a flood. I was sobbing that loud, gut-wrenching cry with difficulty breathing. Then the feelings came in waves: at times I just felt sad and somber; other times, I wept. The anger would soften into acceptance, then come back as anger. I spoke with friends about my myriad emotions and I also spent a lot of time quietly alone.
When the day came that he breathed his last, the grief changed in some way. The anger that had mostly subsided resurfaced. The sadness and pain took on a different quality. I think this is when my grief turned into mourning.
I am not grateful that my friend passed away. However, I am grateful for the way I allowed myself to process this loss. It felt healthy, nurturing. I honored my feelings instead of disregarding them. I honored the man who has had such an impact on my life. I feel that I have grown through this loss. I have a deeper sense of capacity to be present in my life that was not there before.
As we are right in the middle of the holiday season, I am reminded of how difficult this time can be for those who have lost loved ones, important relationships, or are dealing with any other type of grief. Please be kind to yourself during this time. Allow yourself to have your feelings even if you think you “should” have “gotten over it” by now. There is no “should” in grief. Everyone grieves in their own way at their own pace. And there is no such thing as “getting over” grief. We go through grief, and we have levels of completion and healing, but that person or dream or essence held and continues to hold deep meaning for you. Be gentle with yourself. Be as kind and nurturing to yourself during this holiday season as you would like to be toward a precious grieving loved one. Honor yourself and your loss by allowing space for feelings and reflections.
I highly recommend any readers who have stuffed away their grief or who are currently dealing with grief to consider a workshop that will guide you and support you through the grieving process. In the workshop, participants are able to look at tangible and intangible losses, past and present. They are able to honor their feelings without getting lost in them. Some participants who have attended this workshop in the past have indicated a greater sense of completion in their grief. Some have reported feeling as though they gained the tools they need to begin their grieving process. Some have walked away with a renewed relationship with themselves, as they felt as though they had lost themselves over the years. For details about the grief workshop which is called “Healing Heartache”, please see the workshops page or call The Meadows intake department.