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Healing Through Grief

What I learned through my grief


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Photo: Unsplash | Corey Hearne

I was still processing 2 major life-changing transitions, impending job loss and pregnancy, the day I received the call. It was my uncle calling to tell me my aunt wasn’t breathing. Readying myself to walk out the door and make my way to them I asked, “Which hospital are you taking her to?”. Not fully grasping the situation. “No honey, Gachi isn’t breathing, she’s gone.”


I was completely broken.


Experiencing loss is inescapable. But the truth is, no matter how much we know this to be an inevitable part of living, you are never fully prepared when you experience it. Losing my aunt was earth shattering. I had come to rely on her guidance and support anytime I was going through a major life transition. But now, when I needed her the most, she was gone.


The aching void I felt in the first year of grappling with the finality of her absence was disorienting. My initial grief was a complicated rollercoaster of emotions. In an instant I would move through anger, denial, longing, numbness, joy, sadness. Sometimes I’d feel them one at a time, sometimes all at once. The emotion I felt and the intensity at which I felt it was volatile, unpredictable.


Eventually, the intensity of my grief lessened, as did the frequency at which I felt it. The emotions were, ARE still here. I still feel them, but they’ve taken a different form.


It was during these moments of vulnerability that I came to appreciate both the strength of my support system and my intrinsic strength to heal.

Gained insights


The following are 3 important takeaways I learned while grieving through my own experience.


Before I get into it, I want to first acknowledge that grief is a response to loss. Whether you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, as I have, or experienced other types of loss such as a break up, a divorce, moving, losing a job, the process of grieving can be similar.


Grieving is different for everyone.


You can cry uncontrollably or become void of any outward emotion. You can find it hard to engage in any activity, or immerse yourself in your work. Whatever the case is for you, know that there is no right or wrong way to cope with grief. How we grieve is personal and is influenced by a myriad of factors, including cultural considerations, access to support systems, and our personal disposition.


Grief has no time limit


Grief does not have an on/off button. There is no exact length of time to assign to your grief, because the truth is, it never really goes away. It stays with us. Through time, however, the memories of what is lost become less and less debilitating.


I still grieve the loss of my aunt. The emotions are still there. It has taken me some time to learn to live with the pain. After a couple of years, I still have days where I want to cry and at times I do. But this sadness has taken on a different form. I find solace in knowing that these tears are no longer mournful tears, instead they are a reflection of the love I continue to have for my aunt.


It is important to note, while there is no time limit for grief, prolonged grief that remains intense and debilitating can be signs of complicated grief.* If you are experiencing this, please consider seeking the support of a mental health professional to help you through your grieving process.


Vulnerability as a source of strength


Pregnant, soon to be unemployed, and now in mourning, I found myself in the most vulnerable state I had ever been. I was a mess. I knew I needed support. While usually, I’d step in as the pillar of strength and stoic rationale in times of crisis, this time I didn’t have it in me.


Instead, I leaned on the support of my mother and my partner. I helped with making arrangements when I could, but I also gave myself enough grace to allow the intensity of my grief to pass through me. I allowed myself to cry inconsolably, to scream out in pain, allowed myself to feel everything.


Allowing myself to remain vulnerable, to let everyone see that I was NOT ok, signaled to my community that I needed them to step in. They provided the guard rails I needed as I moved through the grief. Allowing me just enough room to navigate through my emotions on my own while still being close enough to step in to pick me up when my knees buckled, literally and figuratively. They were my strength in times when I couldn’t muster it up myself. It was during these moments of vulnerability that I came to appreciate both the strength of my support system and my intrinsic strength to heal.


If you’re the one providing the source of strength for someone grieving, resist the urge to “fix” everything, or provide unsolicited advice. Most times, actively listening and being present is enough. It’s important to be mindful of your own capacities. If you’re finding the grieving person needs more help than you can provide, please consider seeking the support and expertise of a mental health professional.


Grief does not have an on/off button. There is no exact length of time to assign to your grief, because the truth is, it never really goes away. It stays with us. Through time, however, the memories of what is lost become less and less debilitating.

Be kind to yourself


Losses are unique to each person. Remember there is no expiration date for grief. There is no way we can control the intensity of our grief. No way to switch it off and on. Loss is an inevitable part of life. Over time, you can come to terms with accepting the loss. Through time, you learn to adapt to your “new normal” and reconfigure your life so that eventually you’re able to experience a renewed sense of meaning and joy.


If you are experiencing grief and need support facilitating your mourning process, connect with a Lotus Theory therapist today.


 

*Shear, M.K. (2012), GETTING STRAIGHT ABOUT GRIEF. Depression and Anxiety, 29: 461-464. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.21963


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