When you are stuck in complicated grief, you feel like you are in the middle of the ocean, drowning. You are desperate to keep your head above water, but it is hard, your arms and legs feel like concrete.
You are so tired of struggling.
You wonder if it would just be easier to relinquish to the waves and allow yourself to go under. But, there is some primal instinct in you that demands that your lungs receive the oxygen that will keep you alive. There is also a part of you which knows that your lost loved one does not want you to give up.
So, you continue on.
People who love and support you are nearby in boats, but they are unsure of whether you need help, and if so, how to help. You don’t understand why the people in the boats can’t see that you need someone to pull you out of the water. Your supporters never fully comprehend the depth of your struggle, or that they were witnessing the near drowning of someone they love.
You eventually understand that there is no lifeline waiting to be thrown to you from the well-meaning, but unaware, supporters in the boats.
You are on your own.
Exhausted, you force yourself to keep your head up and continue treading…every movement and breath feeling like it may be your last.
As you make the decision to surrender, you stop struggling and turn yourself onto your back.
You make the incredible discovery that your body is buoyant.
Some part of you knows how to stay afloat.
You gently float on the surface of the water, your face turned towards the sky. Looking up, you notice for the first time since your grief began, that the sky is full of brilliantly, luminous stars. Suddenly you realize you are not alone in your struggle, and that the stars are symbolic of a greater ‘Cosmic Source” that is there to guide and encourage you.
You also understand that your lost loved one is there in the stars as well.
You were never alone.
You continue floating, keeping your eyes on the majestic beauty of the stars, until you’ve regained the strength and clarity to figure out how to get yourself to shore.
You don’t have a soul. You are a soul.
You have a body. ~ C.S. Lewis
There are practical tools that can be used to heal complicated grief, but, in my experience, the ultimate healer is spiritual evolution.
Your soul intrinsically knows what you need to heal your heart.
No one wants to experience complicated grief. I was drowning in it for many years before I figured out how to pull myself out and onto shore. It’s not easy. Complicated grief is not for the weak of heart. But, if there is a solution to easing your pain, don’t you want to find it?
My grief journey started in 2006 when my husband died in an airplane accident leaving me a widowed mother of four children, the youngest was two-years-old. Two years later my son, who’d had two kidney transplants during his childhood, died of kidney failure. I also personally dealt with three separate life-threatening medical illnesses during this time.
I was drowning and could not catch my breath.
I discovered that although it didn’t feel like I had a choice in the matter (at the time I believed that I was a victim of circumstance; life sucked), what eventually occurred to me was that I did have a choice to make
- I could stay stuck in pain, treading water, indefinitely
- Or, I could commit to doing the work required to get me safely back to the shore
Ultimately, the tools for healing are within your grasp, but the choice of whether to reach for them is solely yours to make. You may not be emotionally ready to commit, but, you can start thinking about what it takes to get you through this.
- Be mindful of the energy you allow around you. Grief puts you in a very fragile state and you absorb any negativity that may be around you. Surround yourself with people who can be empathetic to the pain you’re experiencing. If someone says something insensitive once, assume that it was unintentional and make yourself let it go. However, if someone shows you that they are consistently insensitive or hurtful, do not be around them. You have to make your well-being a priority. Hurtful words and negative energy turn into toxicity that will only pull your further down. Protect yourself. Imagine an protective energy field surrounding your body when you are around others.
- Understand that it is ok to ask for help. When you are dealing with grief, you will find that the every day activities that you used to accomplish with ease, now feel like you are setting out to conquer Mt. Everest. Find those few people you know you can count on and let them know you are struggling. Maybe you ask for help getting your kids to after-school activities, or help temporarily paying your bills. We all need help sometimes. Most people trying to support the griever don’t know how to support you. You have hands that are reaching out to help you. Give them a specific task that can help you feel less overwhelmed.
- Surround yourself with a community of people who are experiencing similar pain. Being part of a support group, and knowing that there are others going through the same pain as you, can help relieve the loneliness of the grief journey. Modern day access to the internet has made it easier than ever to find support. Something as simple as googling ‘grief’ can bring a treasure trove of resources to directly to you, no matter where you are. There are interactive support groups on facebook and other social media sites. Use these resources.
- Find activities that bring you comfort. What is it that brings you some modicum of happiness? For me, I discovered that watching HGTV and then repainting some of the rooms in my house was very therapeutic. While painting I listened to self-help and spiritual audiobooks on my ipod. The repetitive motions involved in painting, along with the audiobooks inspiring me to make change in my life, brought me a lot of comfort. Figure out what is helpful for you. Maybe it’s working in the garden, or volunteering. Find what brings you some joy and make yourself do it. * Beware of harmful activities that bring you a false sense of happiness. Doing things like shopping in excess, drinking alcohol in excess, jumping right into another relationship, etc… may bring you an initial sense of relief but will hinder your healing.
- If it has been more than a year since the loss of your loved one, do your best to control the amount of daily time that you spend actively mired in the pain of grief. I look back now and see that I lost years of my life because I didn’t believe that I had any control over my thoughts and feelings. Basically, my thoughts and feelings controlled me. Give yourself a period of time during the day to allow yourself to feel the pain. During this time, try to make yourself remember not only the loss, but the wonderful experiences that you shared with your loved one. When we are in complicated grief, usually our default memories about our lost loved one, are painful memories surrounding the loss. Change that default picture! Remember the love. And then remember that love cannot be lost. There are times when the grief will hit us out of nowhere. We are fine one moment and the next moment, we are on our knees. Use the same guidelines as above. Give yourself time to feel that pain that is demanding to be felt. But, add the positive memories into the painful emotions. Eventually you will get to a point where you can smile while you shed tears.
- When you are in pain, write down your feelings. You will be surprised at how therapeutic journaling your experience can be. The pen can become a tool that allows the expression of the pain as an outlet for the grief to flow out of you and onto the paper.
- Complicated Grief May Require Professional Help
- If it has been more than a year since your loss and you are still in as much pain as you were the first month, and you are struggling to find meaning in your life, you may need more help to get through your grief. Start with your family practice physician and they will be able to refer you to local resources to help you deal with your grief. The Center for Complicated Grief has been studying and treating complicated grief for two decades and has been very successful in helping those suffering from complicated grief move on an lead meaningful lives after loss. You can find out more information on complicated grief at http://www.centerforcomplicatedgrief.org.
- Find your Spiritual Path
- You may be asking yourself what a spiritual path has to do with healing grief. In my experience, unless you have an established spiritual foundation that you are confident in, it is essential that you at least consider the possibility that there is a spiritual path that is out there waiting for you to discover it. Your personal spiritual path can be used as a light to help guide you through the dark days of grief and eventually assist in bringing you out on the other side.
- What do you believe? Do your beliefs help you through the experience of losing someone you love, or do they cause more pain and confusion for you? If your beliefs do not help you deal with the loss of your loved one, you may not be on the right spiritual path. Your personal spiritual path may be out there waiting for you to find it.
- I want to note that if you are happy with your spiritual or religious path and teachings, you are right where you need to be. There is no reason to read on. The following information is for those who have unanswered questions or who do not find comfort and resonance in the current path they are on.
- How do you find your spiritual path?
- What questions do you have about death, life and God? You will find that the questions about what happens after death lead to deeper and deeper questions about the meaning of life, and why we’re here. These questions will help you as you start your search for your spiritual path.
- Read. Research. Whether it be Eastern philosophy, New Age theories, near-death-experiences, or one of the world’s major religions; find what resonates with you. Use one, or many spiritual teachers/paths that resonate with you as stepping stones to help you develop your spiritual path. Maybe one specific religion or path is what is right for you. But, it is possible that there are several teachers that can be utilized to make a foundation for your personal spiritual path.
- Spiritual teachers and teachings that helped me develop my spiritual beliefs and led me through grief:
- Mystics of all religions
- Core teachings of major religions; Christianity; Judaism and Buddhism- A great book that describes the common root at the core of the major religions is ‘The Wisdom Tree’ by Gary D. Guthrie.
- Modern-day spiritual teachers and authors that ignited my spiritual evolution:
- Eckhart Tolle – A New Earth
- Marianne Williamson – A Return to Love
- Pema Chodron- Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change
- Wayne Dyer – Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life
- Don Miguel Ruiz – The Four Agreements
- Byron Katie – Loving What Is
- Neale Donald Walsch – The Storm Before the Calm
- Michael Singer – The Untethered Soul
- A Course in Miracles
- Brian Weiss – Many Lives, Many Masters
- Edgar Cayce – Story of the Soul
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross – On Life After Death
- Viktor E. Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning
- Dr. Penny Sartori – The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences
- James Bryan Smith – Room of Marvels
I am sharing my personal spiritual path with you not as an endorsement of what I believe your path should be, but as an example of the process I went through to find my spiritual path, and the tools I used to help eventually heal my own complicated grief. We each have our own path to find, but I hope that some of the suggestions that I’ve shared will resonate with you and that you can use them to help you on your journey.
Getting through complicated grief is not easy, but you can do it. I promise that you can be happy again. Different, but happy. Just keep moving forward–and remember, the wind cannot break a tree that has learned to bend. And, although we might each appear as individual trees, standing on our own, through our shared roots we are all connected and strengthened.