Grief has many facets, and it shows up in our lives in various circumstances, many of them unexpected. Grief is a feeling that we all experience at some point in a life well lived. We may encounter it due to job loss, loss of a loved one, a treasured pet or loss of property, to cite a few examples. While there are tools professionals can offer us, each person’s grief journey is unique. It’s a bit like happiness because learning to grieve is as important as learning to be happy. They’re different sides of the same coin and both are powerful components of the human experience.
“Grieving doesn’t make you imperfect, it makes you human.” – Sarah Dessen
In North American society we aren’t encouraged to grieve for long; rather we are prompted to pause briefly and get on with life. Other societies create space for people to grieve and to help them heal in community. There’s no one way to be in this mystery of grief and sometimes we need professionals to help us navigate. Say you lost a job you loved. That situation requires grieving because you loved your job and it’s gone. There’s no shame in mourning the loss and feeling all the feelings that come with it. When we pretend that we’re just fine, we’re ignoring an opportunity to heal something and that pain, if not acknowledged properly, will stick around longer than it would if it was addressed.
“Grief is love not wanting to let go” – Earl A. Grollman
When we lose someone close to us, the void is so painful that we ask ourselves how we can go on living without them? Initially it feels as though the world stops and in a way your world does stop, so that you can acknowledge your true feelings and accept the loss. It’s unrealistic to think that we move on from grief, rather we get used to new circumstances. I love how American singer songwriter Andy Grammer honours his late mother. When he goes out for breakfast and sees women his Mum’s age in the restaurant, he offers to pay their bill and shares with them how it’s his way of keeping his Mum’s generous spirit alive. Isn’t that the most beautiful way to live with grief? We know that kindness is a powerful force that not only enriches the recipient of our acts of kindness, but we benefit as does anyone who witnesses it or anyone we tell about it. Honouring our loved ones to keep their spirit alive will look different for each of us. Think of the person you want to honour, think of their best qualities, and find some way to share those qualities with others through you.
The one thing we must acknowledge about grief is that it’s real, whatever we’re feeling is real and feelings don’t have an expiry date. Sometimes we hold on to grief because we’re afraid of who we will be without it or we’re afraid of experiencing more loss. But once we begin to slowly move back into life, we can take the spirit of our loved ones with us and keep them close by honouring them in our own special way.
“Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone” – Unknown
Let’s talk about the loss of freedom and independence as something we all grieve for. Even school children grieve at the end of summer before they get into the excitement of a new adventure once they get back to school. Similarly, as our children grow up and move out on their own, we call it “empty nest” but it’s really grief we’re feeling and it’s very real. We grieve when we give up certain things like having a big home to move into a lifestyle without as many responsibilities and with more time to enjoy ourselves. On the surface, especially to those in the foundation building years of life, this can look like living the dream but in truth we are surrendering a part of ourselves that we felt defined us as guardians of the family home, and we may not know who we are without that identity. While it’s important to acknowledge that this transition is challenging and that what we’re feeling is legitimate and perfectly normal, it’s also important to carefully merge into a new lane on this amazing road trip of life.
“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.” – Helen Keller
What we can’t see because fear is blocking our view is that we are granting ourselves an opportunity for a new identity. We have more bandwidth in our mind for creative pursuits instead of worrying about eaves troughs and snow removal bills. I’m joking a little but there is so much potential to embrace in the third act of our lives. If our choice is to move into a community like Wellings, we’ll have a ready-made social life where we can make new friends, we’ll have the freedom to do what we want when we want. Because we’re not focused on all the chores we had as a homeowner, we can enjoy trying new hobbies and experiences for the fun of it. We’re free to create a new identity for ourselves, one that incorporates all our previous experiences with a hefty dose of courage because we’re embracing the unknown. It’s there, on the other side of fear, that our new freedom waits for us.
Here are a few parting thoughts to consider as we move through grief:
- Have compassion for yourself. Whatever you’re feeling is real, so be gentle.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Nobody can accurately predict the future and as much as we would love to control it, we can’t. Accepting discomfort creates space for us to make mistakes and learn as we go. See tip #1.
- Stay connected with people you love and who are willing to be good listeners. Sharing what’s on your heart with someone you trust helps with healing.
- Move your beautiful body. We know that sitting for too long can be detrimental to our health, especially when we’re feeling down. Take a walk preferably in nature to elevate your spirits.
- Laughter, like kindness, is good medicine. Watch funny movies or television shows that make you feel good, read a lighthearted book, or spend time with someone who loves to laugh.