I recently interviewed an author on my podcast who just published a book about the loss of her husband.
Having lost a child of my own, I understood her need to write and speak about such loss. Grief is a process. One thing is certain. There’s no playbook. Each of us must find our own way.
After the interview, this woman shared that it was becoming increasingly difficult to relive the moments surrounding her husband’s death. The interviews were taking a toll.
My mind flashed to a similar level of emotional exhaustion that I’d experienced on many speaking engagements after the loss of my son Michael.
This stranger, suddenly a comrade in grief.
In closing, the woman offered a passionate statement: “I think I simply need to divorce him. Let go so that I can move on with the rest of my life.”
I took a silent deep breath because here’s what I know about loss:
Grief cannot be denied or shut away like an old coat neatly stored in some closet of your mind. It must be acknowledged and honored as part of your family system or it will only get louder, resurface, and cause additional pain.
Does that mean you have to grieve forever?
The longing in your heart is there. Yes, forever. You are a different person than you were before the loss. To pretend otherwise is to act as though your loved one never existed at all.
But, yes, we can grow beyond grief.
Here are some personal insights from the road less traveled:
Early Stage: The Mind
This is the stage where we begin to cognitively process the loss.
Whatever happened in your particular situation was undoubtedly messy. Our complex brains are designed to process and make meaning from the circumstances of life. When we learn to recognize and acknowledge the thoughts and emotions associated with loss, we can make meaning from them. We then create space for developmental growth.
But, here’s the tricky part.
How we make meaning is a choice. This is what separates us from reptiles. The guest on my show chose to process the event by courageously writing a book.
We all process grief differently.
In the early stages of grief, there is a need, for some of us (not all) to describe or talk about our experience. This is how we step into the reality of what’s happened.
However, if we process too often over a prolonged period of time, we can get stuck in the memory of the trauma.
By the same token, it is equally unhealthy to deny the process of grief as this, too, can result in a “holding on” in ways that may cause future psychological or emotional distress and even disease.
Depending on the nature of the experience and how traumatic it was to your system, you may need some psychological or emotional support to move through this stage.
Second Stage: The Body
In this stage, we may cognitively accept the loss even though our bodies may still hold grief. This is where somatic awareness comes into the process.
Maybe you’ve settled into new routines and a more optimistic perspective. All’s well until you wake up one morning and realize that you have no joy in your life and you want to kick the dog sideways. You’re exhausted all the time and what’s the point of it all anyway?
Whatever the scenario, these are the moments where the body screams, Help. There is still work to do.
Few of us are aware of the subtle energies of the body. We must become attune to these energies because the body will alert you to the triggers associated with grief.
You can then make different choices.
One of those choices might include exploring the value of somatic release.
Third Stage: The Heart
If we deny the cognitive and somatic elements of grief, we begin to shut down. This shutting down usually begins with the heart. We harden or protect our heart so as to avoid the pain, and in doing so, we shut down our potential for a fully robust life.
When the heart shuts down, we may experience frustration, cynicism, hopelessness, anger, fear, anxiety, and even depression—all of which undermine our potential for growth and expansion.
Only then are we positioned to integrate all that we’ve witnessed, learned, and experienced on behalf of our loved ones. In doing so, we expand our capacity to live and love more fully.
When we support the mind and body through the process of grief, our heart expands and the spirit thrives.
Integration and expansion allow for deeper self-awareness and greater empathy and compassion that includes not only what once was—but all that is possible moving forward.
This is the legacy of grief: loving well.
We do this on their behalf.
But, there are no shortcuts.
One can only walk through the fire and hope to come out on the other side, more precious than purified gold—a light unto the world.