Five Tips on how to Process our Grief
Grief can take on many forms. When we think about grief, we (at least I do) think about the sadness around losing a loved one. That type of grief is possibly the most profound, but there are many other situations that can occur, or not occur, that can cause us to have feelings of grief and sadness that affect our life’s joy.
Relationships that we cherished that have come to an end, whether we ended it or the other person did, will bring grief into our lives. It doesn’t matter if this was a romantic relationship, a marriage, a friendship, or even a business association, the dissolution of any of these types of relationships can bring on grief. Likewise, losing our jobs, our businesses, our homes, and even our hope for our yet unrealized dreams can and do bring grief into our lives. Many of us carry grief from the emotional, physical, or sexual abuse we experienced in our childhoods, and the most difficult thing we have to process with that experience is that the very ones that we depended on to protect and love us were the ones causing us the most damage. We experience grief in many ways, and no person alive will get out of this life without experiencing grief. Part of the reason we came to this planet in physical form is to experience the lower emotions like grief so that we can have empathy and compassion for others that are having painful experiences themselves.
Why would we do that?? It’s about our own Soul growth…… about being a more Godly soul. We chose to do this before we ever came down here because these experiences teach compassion and unconditional love towards others that are struggling with similar experiences. It also teaches us about eventually forgiving those that caused our suffering, and it gives us the opportunity to truly release the shackles that bind us to the source of our pain. When we acknowledge that those that inflicted our pain are in pain themselves, we experience a type of awakening that shifts our perspective to a more compassionate stance. That’s not to say that what they did was OK. It clearly was not OK, but we drop the victim mentality, and we resolve to be the generation that will end this harmful behavior. It will become one of the strongest moments in our lives.
I am no psychologist, but I do know how to process grief. I’ve experienced profound grief many times in my life. I understand the process of grieving, and I do know that if we stuff or avoid our feelings that we will go into a permanent state of depression. The depression we experience from avoiding our grief is the driving force behind the addictions that we develop as a result of our avoidance. Individuals turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, food and even religion or meditation to numb themselves from the pain and loneliness they feel as a result of their grief. This is why the “Just say No” campaign to drugs many years ago was doomed from the start. That approach was looking only at the “trash floating on top of the water” instead of searching for the source of the pollution and stopping it at the source. Grief, pain, and depression are behind every addiction.
Depending on which version we choose to align with, there are 5 or 7 stages to grieving. The 7 stage version has bookends around the 5 stage version, with numbers 2 through 6 in the 7 stage version being the 5 stage version. I do not want to start a debate on using the 5 or 7 stage version, but in my opinion, shock is not necessarily a part of grief if we know the event is coming; however, depending on the circumstances, shock will be part of the grief event if the event is a bad surprise. Likewise, once we experience grief, we are processing it on some level from day one, whether we are doing it in a healthy way or not, we are still processing it, and I do not see processing grief as a stage of grief, but as grief itself.
SEVEN STAGES OF GRIEF
Depression or sadness
Acceptance and hope
So those two thoughts aside, the 5 middle stages kick in, and they do not take place in any particular order. Grief is a bumpy ride that plays our emotions like a pinball bouncing us around between denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. It takes us a while to work through these four stages of grief before we ever come close to having acceptance and hope. The first time we experience acceptance, it doesn’t stay long as the healing process is 2 steps forward, 1 step back at best. There are times where it will feel like 1 step forward and 3 steps back, but we mustn't let that take us down. Acceptance will come more often once it shows up. Just because it left for awhile does not mean it will not return. Acknowledging and feeling our feelings is a healing process itself. That is progress. It does help us to understand what we are doing as we do it. This is the purpose of this article.
So, once we experience grief, how do we process it in a healthy way so that we won’t remain in grief for the rest of our lives?
STEP 1. Cry. Cry a lot. Cry every time we feel like crying. If we are in a public place and don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, we can go to our car or a park bench or picnic table and cry there. But cry! Crying is the primary means of releasing those helpless feelings we have around the event that brought on our grief. Every time the sadness appears, have a good cry. We will notice that the sadness eventually will lessen and we won’t need to cry as long or as deeply as we did earlier. I equate crying to being a cool summer storm that passes through and clears and freshens the air and leaves everything feeling renewed. We will notice how much better we feel after a good cry. I know nobody wants to cry, but to heal from grief, we must cry…… and that means all of us from the biggest most physical person we know to the so called “weakest”. Crying allows our bodies to physically and emotionally deal with our grief. It may be necessary to cry in most of the grief process until acceptance shows up, but we will notice that the amount of time and the frequency in which we cry will lessen.
STEP 2. Express our anger in a healthy way so that it’s not being directed towards innocent bystanders in our lives. Writing works very well to express our anger. Acknowledging our angry feelings by writing or talking and getting it out of our system is very important to processing grief. It will be necessary to do this every time the anger appears but, we will notice that each time the anger is milder than the time before. Unresolved anger will turn into depression and other physical illnesses……. Read that again…. Unresolved anger will turn into depression and other physical illnesses. Like crying helps us deal with sadness, releasing our anger through journaling or talking to an understanding friend, family member, or counselor releases the pent up pressure of grief based anger. Anger we retain will make us physically ill and manifest into many unwanted maladies.
STEP 3. Connect with the Divine. Pray or meditate or do both. Ask not to have the situation changed to a more desirable outcome, but ask for guidance on what to do now. Not long after I divorced, I met a remarkable woman that was saying the kindest words anyone had ever said to me. No one had ever talked to me with such kindness. After coming out of the emotional desert of my marriage and encountering such kindness, I started entertaining thoughts of marrying this lady only to have her abruptly end our relationship and go to another man. I was devastated, and facing deep grief. Shortly after our breakup, I awoke about 2:00 am one morning only to hear, “We took her from you so you would not marry her”. I responded to them, “I hear you. Thank you. Now please help me through the grief”.
My knowledge that I was being protected from a relationship that might possibly be as painful as the one I left gave me the acceptance of the situation and also the knowledge that I will heal from this event and be OK. Had I not spent time in meditation and prayer, I don’t know that I would have been given that message so clearly. Many times we cannot see why events unfold as they do, but knowing that we are being watched over, and we have the strength we need to persevere, gives us the strength to push on through our grief and pain.
STEP 4. Acceptance. It can also be called Letting Go. I believe that acceptance is almost the final stage of the healing process, and that acceptance will not start appearing until we are past the Denial, Bargaining, and Anger stages. To me, acceptance means that we have come to terms that the event has happened, and we have no control over the outcome, so intellectually, we know we have to let go when we are ready.
Emotionally, We may still have sadness and some anger around it, but the depth of the sadness and anger is becoming lighter because of the knowledge and understanding we gained through the Divine connection and the releasing of most of the anger and sadness in steps 1 and 2. Acceptance is actually a choice made from a healthier perspective. Without acceptance, we will not come out of the anger or sadness stages, and we will remain in the depressed stage. Not being in acceptance is when people start using numbing coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs because their healing progress has come to a standstill and they cannot get past the anger or sadness. Choose to accept the situation as it is. This does not mean that what has occurred is OK. It is merely stating the truth that the event did occur, and we had no control over the outcome. We can’t control its existence, but we can control how we let the event affect us by choosing to deal with it in a healthy way and accepting that it is what it is. If no person is responsible for our grief, and we were a “victim of circumstances”, acceptance is the final stage of our grief.
STEP 5. Forgiveness. The final step in healing from our grief is to forgive the person that caused our grief. Forgiveness of ourselves is especially important if our own actions put us in the grievous state. It is entirely possible that it may take years to reach the stage where we are able to forgive. Fortunately, we can operate at a relatively normal level at the acceptance stage for quite some time without much disruption in our lives. Forgiveness is an action that heals ourselves more than anyone else. Sometimes we can intentionally forgive quickly, and other times forgiveness evolves over time. Once we do forgive, whether it was intentional or an evolutionary process, we will be fully aware that our feelings around that person or event have changed. We no longer feel the need to seek revenge for their actions. We carry no more anger towards the individual which does includes anger towards ourselves if we caused the pain. We recognize that many people are very wounded themselves, and that they live in their own little hell here on Earth. We can actually develop a compassion for them and the misery they have created in their own lives. This is the type of Forgiveness Jesus came here to teach us. We stop judging. We recognize the pain they live with, and we develop compassion for them. This is what we came here to learn, and, the only way we will learn this lesson is by experiencing the pain that becomes our teacher.
We need to remember too, that sometimes our actions have caused grief in others. We may hurt others without being aware we have done so. Though the pain we inflicted may have been accidental, it is still very painful to the one we hurt, and we need to recognize that not all the pain that comes our way was intentionally inflicted upon us. Sometimes our own wounds get in the way of our perception of reality, and we create hurt feelings for ourselves through our own wounded mindset. This happens more often than we know. Working on healing that person we face in the mirror will end the cycle of misinterpreting others’ intentions.
Love Everybody, including Yourself.
Blessings, Peace, and Light.