It’s the ride that nobody wants to take. It can be wildly unpredictable and disorienting. It can be full of ups, downs, free-falls, twists, rough tracks and smooth ones. Just when one thinks the ride is over, the wheels start moving yet again. This is grief. Grief is automatic, normal, inevitable and universal. Simply put, grief is our response to the experience of loss. Loss is part of life. While the idea of grief is typically associated with the death of a loved one, it goes beyond that scope because loss does. Any loss can start a grief response. This includes, but is not limited to the following:
Relationship changes or break ups
Moving to a new home or region
Loss of a pet
Life stage transitions
Loss of health
Losing a sense of safety and security
Sometimes we can experience a deep sense of loss over something we actually never had. This often occurs within the parent/child relationship. All children need to have a healthy bond with both of their parents. This bond gives them the safety, guidance, nurturing and love they need to mature into healthy adults. When the bond with either parent is missing, weak, or mixed with significant dysfunction and/or abuse, the child feels that as a loss–even though there never was a healthy bond. This creates a very profound and pervasive sense of loss that can affect every aspect of the child’s life. Growing into adulthood does not take that need or sense of loss away. These basic emotional needs must be met-one way or the other. Sadly, most people try to meet these deep soul needs in ways that do not work or are destructive. The good news is that those needs can be fulfilled in ways that bring healing, and it starts with grieving our original losses. Another common example of experiencing loss over something that never was attained, is the pain of unrealized hopes and dreams. This one is particularly difficult to reconcile. However, it is often in the grieving of old hopes that new and better ones are birthed and even realized. Ironically, sometimes it is in the letting go of one dream that we can receive something that ends up being even better.
Grief is not well understood by our culture. Most of us know very little about it. For the most part we aren’t taught how to identify, navigate or support the grieving process in a way that is helpful. People often quote or cite the idea that grief happens in 5 stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. While this may be true for some of the grieving, it is certainly not true for the vast majority. These stages come from psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her work with the terminally ill. While her findings were groundbreaking in understanding the emotional process of those who are dying, they were never meant to be applied to those who were left behind, or to any other type of significant loss. In fact, right before her death in 2004, Kubler-Ross stated that these stages “were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives”. The idea that grief should play out in a particular way and that it is a linear progression from stage to stage is inaccurate and can be harmful. It has caused much confusion and self-doubt for those who believe they should be in a different place than where they are at in their own grief journey. It is not necessary to experience all (or any) of the emotional states described in those stages in order to move through one’s grief.
Grief is as individual, complicated, nuanced and layered as the human soul itself. It encompasses every possible emotional state. It can involve feelings of shock, anger, guilt, shame, emptiness, sadness, disorientation, fear, doubt-and the list goes on. Some will only feel a few types of feelings, while others may experience an array. One can also experience many (seemingly) conflicting emotions-even at the same time. For instance, a recently divorced man may yearn to be connected again to his ex-wife while also feeling resentment towards her. Since this is a process of the heart, the intellect is unqualified to help. In other words, trying to apply any logic to the grieving process is not only futile,it actually shuts the healing process down.
Compounding Grief and RSM
Unprocessed grief compounds upon itself and stacks up so that a current loss triggers previous ones. For example, a recently widowed woman might be dealing with more than her spouse's death. In this particular case, the client’s mother died while she was a young girl. After which, her father, drowning in his own sorrow, turned to alcohol to avoid feeling the pain of his loss. This rendered him emotionally unavailable to his grieving daughter. Both losses emotionally imprinted upon her as abandonment. Decades later, when her husband died, she had a lifetime of abandonment triggered and was completely overwhelmed by it. Suffering the loss of a spouse in itself is very painful without the added weight of previous losses. Had she the support and tools available to process her previous loss, she would not have to dig out from underneath a lifetime of multiple losses in the midst of mourning her mate. That is where RSM (Retracing Sequence Method) comes in. RSM, the neuro-emotional therapeutic tool I use in my practice, is very effective and efficient at identifying original losses, wounds, traumas and then resolving them. Once prior losses are processed through, current and future ones, although painful in themselves, are much less overwhelming. This unburdening enables people to move much more smoothly through their grief than they would if they hadn’t resolved the pain of the past.
While there is not a “right” or “wrong” way to grieve, there are helpful and unhelpful ways to approach it. Grief cannot be ignored. It doesn’t go away. It will wait for us and be there in all its fullness until it is processed. Grief honors no calendar or schedule. It takes its own time and cannot be rushed. What may involve months of intense emotions for one person, may play out in years for another. Neither is better or healthier than the other. However, the one thing that will always extend the suffering of loss is to disengage in the grieving process. The only way out of the pain is through it. In fact, we end up creating more pain when we try to avoid feeling it. Moving through grief in a way that brings healing comes down to processing the feelings through. But how do we do that? How do we help someone else who is in the grips of the pain of loss? Here are some basic and simple tips on how to practically work through painful and uncomfortable emotions as they surface. The most healing response to painful feelings is non-judgmental awareness. That means being emotionally and mentally present to the one who is in pain–including yourself. There is no agenda to fix the feelings but rather a curious witnessing of what is being experienced. The first step is to simply notice what is being felt. For example, if you are wanting to process a difficult feeling, ask yourself, What is it that I am feeling right now? Can I name the feeling? Once noticing and naming the feeling, move into an attitude of openness and active witnessing by asking yourself where you are sensing the feeling in your body? Is it in your chest, belly, neck, head, hands, feet or another area? Our emotions are just as physical as our bodies and usually strong emotions can be felt in specific areas. Then continue to witness if that feeling has a shape, color or texture. Is it big or is it small? See if it moves and if so, is it fast or slow? Has it moved into a different area of your body? Continue to be as curious as possible about every aspect of the feeling and how it manifests. Active, curious and non-judgmental witnessing allows our emotions to process through. Often in a few minutes the feeling starts to dissipate. After it does, ask yourself what you are needing at that moment. What would help you stay in that place of greater peace?
When we are hurting, we want comfort. God refers to Himself as “the God of all comfort”* We can ask for God to comfort us as we traverse the emotions of grief. Those who have been comforted in their grief are then able to comfort others who are hurting. This gives purpose to suffering-which in itself can be very healing. Sometimes we need to have alone time, and sometimes we need to be supported by safe people. Reach out to a supportive person or even a healthy group. Many communities offer support groups for a variety of life’s challenges through churches, medical/hospice services, and general community resource centers. It is also vital to take breaks from the process. It might be the last thing that sounds appealing but getting outside of the daily norm and doing something that is restorative to your soul is necessary to continue the hard work of grief. Going outside in nature can be especially rejuvenating. Walking, gardening, bicycling or just soaking up some sun rays are all simple ways to do this. Watching a movie or documentary on a subject that is unrelated to the loss can be a helpful way to take a break. The need for self-care while grieving is huge.
Lastly, because grief is a process, there is no clear beginning or end. One might feel like they have fully grieved their loss, only to later be hit with a completely unexpected reminder of it. This is especially true during certain dates like birthdays, anniversaries and the holidays. This doesn’t negate the healing that has already happened. It is just one more wave of emotion that will come and go. The healthiest thing to do is to simply let it move through without analyzing or judging. Remember, grief is a part of life but so are joy, purpose, and peace.
If you are interested in learning more about RSM, or interested in the other life coaching services I provide, don’t hesitate to email me at joeleneLife@gmail.com. I can’t wait to connect with you and help you discover lasting physical and emotional transformation.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
–2 Corinthians 1:3-4