Grief is our response to the pain of a loss and despite the fact that loss is inevitable; grief is one of the most challenging processes for us humans to endure. Loss reminds us of the impermanence of life and the lack of control we actually have over it. It breaks us, bends us and makes us vulnerable before the fragility of life. We are surrounded by loss but unfortunately we still have a hard time accepting its presence. Loss can come in several forms: the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the bankruptcy of our business but the most devastating is without a doubt the loss that comes from the death of our loved ones.
The biggest form of loss that I have suffered was the death of my mother at the age of 25. She had been suffering for almost three years from stage-four pancreatic cancer and when she was first diagnosed the reality of death hit us like a hurricane. We were all unprepared to deal with it. Despite the fact that we are all going to die, we bury this thought deep down in our mind because it creates anxiety. Even when loss hits us, we have the tendency to run away from grief. Worst yet, those who surround us don’t know how to deal with our grief, leaving us feeling completely lost and alone with our pain. We find ourselves stripped of our defences, support system and coping tools whenever loss strikes. And, eventually, it will. We are a grief-illiterate nation but only grief has the power to truly heal.
As Elizabeth Kübler-Ross put it: “Grief is an emotional, spiritual, and psychological journey to healing.” She was a famous psychiatrist, pioneer in near-death studies and was the first to discuss the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She dedicated her life to help people deal with loss. She was the one who started the conversation about death and grieving and as a result she gave us permission to grieve. It was thanks to her detailed and dedicated work that we became more honest about how we truly feel and understood we are not alone in the devastating wake of feelings that comes with the departure of a loved one.
Therefore, here are a few strategies that I learned from grieving my mother and that I would recommend to anyone going through the same:
Decide you want to grieve
The loss of a loved one can be wrecking. There are constant reminders that the one we love is no longer there and the memories that were once good can become daunting. The loss can tear us apart in a way we have never felt before. Nevertheless, only we have the power to transform our suffering and only we can decide to start the journey to healing. Time on its own doesn’t heal us unless we put our heart into it. Therefore, chose to grieve. Chose to feel every feeling, heal every memory, and accept every pain so deeply that once you have grieved you will not be the same person you were before. You will have become a stronger; more authentic, and more whole individual then ever before and as a result you will be able to better honor and connect to your departed loved one.
As Louise Bergeron beautifully said: “To choose to heal your wound is to choose the path of love: the love for the one who is no longer here, the love for those who remain and the love for oneself and for the life that keeps on going.”
Get acquainted with grief
In order to grieve I found it helpful to understand more about the process itself. Understanding grief and its stages allowed me to detach at times from emotional reactions that I would have from being in a “fragile” emotional state. Instead of letting myself go further down in the spiral it allowed me to have an outsider view over my emotional turmoil and not give in to feelings of despair, rage, blame or guilt which are common in grieving. Therefore, I believe becoming conscious of how we feel and being knowledgeable/aware about what it means to grieve will set us on a more evolutionary direction.
At the time, I explored deeply the topic of grief with a psychologist and read Elizabeth Kübler-Ross book “On Grief and Grieving”. It describes wonderfully each of the stages of grief and shares many testimonials along the way. Not only did the testimonials make me feel less weird about my emotional rollercoaster but it also connected me with hundreds of other people through feelings of love and compassion for their own losses. You see, the beauty about feeling compassion for other’s grief is that in turn it helps us feel love and compassion for our own loss. It opens the path of love and healing.
This takes me to the next strategy, which is practice radical self-care and compassion for our own process.
Practice radical self care
In a society that represses the expression of lower negative feelings such as anger or sadness there is little room for one to express its grief authentically. As a result, we not only refrain from talking with others about how we truly feel but we go as far as criticising ourselves from feeling that way. I know I have made this mistake and for the first few months after my mother died I would find myself crying or feeling angry and only making it worse by rejecting these feelings. By thinking I shouldn’t feel like that… By telling myself that I had to be better, that I had to be stronger. Only later did I realise being stronger is being authentic and vulnerable. Only later was I able to give myself the credit for all that I had been going through. And once I did, it was so liberating. I had to acknowledge it, embrace it and thank myself for being where I was in the process in order to move forward.
Tell your story
Once we have come clean with ourselves, we have to continue unravelling the power of grief by opening up with those around us who care for us. Telling our loss story is an important part of the assimilation process and talking about our loss gives us the possibility to relive the person we loved in another way. It helps us feel connected to them. As we share our pain, our memories and hence our love for that person, that boundless love connection is reignited deep in our soul and allows us to feel closer to our loved one. Because love doesn’t die, it is just transformed. You just have to find ways to connect to that person and maintain this connection.
Having faith in something bigger
This is an important step in the path to healing, if not the most important. There comes a point in our suffering in which we feel stuck in a loop, in which the “whys” and the “what ifs” don’t seem to come to an end and are keeping us from progressing. Just know, that at this point we have to let go of control and have faith in something bigger, something that not matter how deep we dig we will not be able to understand. This brings us to acceptance: accepting that we did the best we could and that the one we loved did too. We have to let go of our need to control and trust that everything happens, as it should. Trust that “God writes straight with crooked lines” and that death is an integral part of life.
Give a new & more positive meaning to our loss
I find that one thing that helped me a lot through my grieving was my spirituality. Believing that although our physical bodies die we are still on this universe connected to everyone and everything, allows you to feel that somehow the departed person is still out there connected to you, only in another dimension.
Furthermore, there is still many ways in which that person continues to live in our physical world. If we look closely, the closest people to the departed one usually adopt roles that the person used to have as well as share the same passions, traits and sometimes looks. Inheritance is much more than the material legacy of the person only it is up to us to uncover what exactly this legacy is. In which ways does the departed person continue to live in our physical world? What way of life, skill or philosophy did that person teach us that we apply today and that hence has immortalized the departed person? Remember, “Nothing is lost only transformed”.
Giving a meaning to the death of our loved one can bring ultimate solace for those who stayed. At the time of death, finding a reason as to why that person needed to die seems absurd. But if we grieve well and go on with our lives we notice that death made us who we are and got us to where we are today. For example, although I have always been passionate about self development, I might have never been a health coach and go on to actually helping people live a more balanced and healthy life if it wasn’t for the death of my mother and for me wanting to give a meaning to her death. As Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement speech: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Therefore giving a meaning to the person’s death is about connecting these dots in a positive way that pays tribute to the departed one.
Acting upon the possessions of our departed loved one
Last but not least, dealing with the possessions of the loved person that died can create a lot of internal conflict as it can bring harmful memories, raise feelings of guilt or anger. Nevertheless, going through these possessions is a necessary step in the grieving process that can bring liberation and peace. Despite these new responsibilities feeling like a burden, working through them puts you on the path to healing by taking an active role in your transformation.
I noticed that some of the most beautiful and inspiring individuals I met up until today have lost someone dear but have decided to use grief as the biggest self-development tool they have ever received. They went deep into the process, healed old memories and past “skeletons” that were unresolved and came out of that journey more whole then when they actually started. Because to grieve means to step into the pain of loss, really get to know it so we learn to deal with it. It is about opening up our hearts to a more positive future and to the exquisite pain of absence. “It is the moment when we stop trying to move on or change how much it hurts, and just let it out.” From that place, we will stand reborn as a more authentic, hopeful and connected individual never forgetting the person we lost, instead carrying their legacy in a lively and inspiring way.