GRIEF IS as much a part of life as all other emotions. The opposite of joy, grief is a particular kind of sorrow; it’s an emotional anguish so deep that it can seem bottomless. And when you’re in the middle of that bottomless despair, it can feel like there is no way out.
There are many types of grief, all born from loss, including:
- The breaking apart of an intact family through divorce
- The death of a loved one
- The loss of job or income
- The loss of an important close relationship
- The loss of a life dream
- The loss of your home
- The loss of health or mobility
In my own life, I have experienced many of these losses and the grief that came with them.
Just as there are endless ways to experience loss, there are endless ways to find yourself in the middle of grief. You may go into shock and not feel the full effects of your grief for days or weeks or even months as you concentrate on surviving. And this effect may intensify or be magnified when you experience multiple losses at once.
And then one day it hits, and you find that you can’t stop crying. Or you can’t focus. You lose track of what you are doing and can’t complete simple tasks. On the other hand, you might feel unusually detached, numb, and emotionless. You begin to isolate yourself from others. You may experience physical symptoms, such as unusual irritability, headaches, chest pain, or fatigue.The first and most important part of handling grief is to be compassionate and to give yourself emotional space to be who you need to be in that moment. Click To Tweet
As painful as the deep feelings of despair and all of these outward symptoms are, they are normal.
Let me say that again.
All of these emotions and symptoms are a normal part of grieving. And no two people will go through the grieving process in the same way.
There is no way to run away from grief, and — it’s true — the only way out is through.
So the first and most important part of handling grief — whether that grief is your own or someone else’s — is to be compassionate and to give yourself (or them) lots and lots of emotional space to be who you (they) need to be in that moment. In addition, it’s important to acknowledge that you are grieving and take advantage of tools that can help you move through it and come out the other side a stronger and more empathetic person.
Tools for helping to move through grief include:
- Taking care of your health — eat healthy foods, exercise, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
- Finding ways to laugh — watch comedies, get together with friends and family and tell funny stories about the person you lost, go to an amusement park and ride a roller coaster. Laughter may seem irreverent, but it’s not; laughter is an important part of the healing process.
- Meditating — meditation can help calm and center you. It can help you let go and give your grief more space to express itself in your life without resistance.
- Keeping yourself busy doing something you love to do — a hobby, such as knitting, sports, cooking, gardening, or art.
- Avoiding self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance. In addition to the danger of becoming addicted, self-medicating will only dull and delay the grieving process. You will have to face your grief at some point; it’s best to be fully conscious through the process.
- Finding a support group, where you can connect to other people who have gone through what you are going through. While you may want to isolate yourself at times, connecting with supportive people can be one of the most powerful ways to help yourself during this time.
- Getting counseling or other professional help. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. Grief is a powerful force, and no one gets through it alone. A person who is trained and has experience dealing with grief in its many forms and facets can provide support and guidance you might not find elsewhere.
- And finally — the reason for this series — journaling. Recording and processing your thoughts and feelings through journal writing has been confirmed by decades of studies to help the healing process. Your journal can be the one place where you can give voice to your grief without feeling inhibited by social norms. You can express your inner darkness, rage, denial, sadness — whatever — without anyone else knowing about it. It’s a completely private and safe space.
Perhaps more importantly, journaling can help you make meaning of your grief. And when we can find meaning in our life events, we can find healing and a way to make that grief into a ladder to hope.
If you don’t currently keep a journal, go out and buy yourself an inexpensive notebook and a comfortable pen.
If you normally write on a computer as I do, I recommend journaling by hand when you are processing deep or intense emotions. There is something about handwriting that slows you down and allows you to become more reflective.
At least one or two days this week, write for at least ten minutes. You can write about whatever you want. Here are two prompts that can help you get started:
- The best way to describe how I’m feeling right now is . . .
- The hardest part of losing _________________ is . . .
And if it feels too painful to write about your loss right now, read my article on what to do when writing makes you feel worse for techniques to journal through the difficult times.
In each of the next articles in this monthly series on grief, I will offer a journaling prompt or technique that may help you or a loved one through the grieving process. I recognize that not every prompt will appeal to or work for every person. For this reason, I will present different options and ways to write about your emotions and experiences.
It is my intention to provide helpful suggestions for focused writing that will lead to healthier processing and return to a sense of wholeness for those who are suffering from grief.
Important note: I am not a therapist or licensed professional. I write from my own experience and from knowledge gained through reading and speaking with others. It’s important to trust and take care of yourself. If you are having persistent thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or prolonged grieving without relief, please reach out to a medical professional for help.