We have been through some rough times during the past couple of months. We have lost things that we considered normal a few months ago; freedom of movement, financial safety, psychological safety, purpose, ability to breathe freely, faith in authority, and so on.
Grief is the natural and unavoidable consequence of these losses. Grief is not a single emotion linked only to death, but the sum of often overwhelmingly strong emotions and physical reactions.
Grief is without a doubt messy and painful. Since grief tends to be so powerful and disturbing, we often do everything in our power to avoid grieving. We distract ourselves, bury our heads in the sand, ignore our grief, carry on. However, the unprocessed losses are those that weigh us down, make us feel lost and empty, as well as lack of sense of direction and place. When we don’t acknowledge our losses, they accumulate and remain in our nervous systems. One single event, like the pandemic, can bring them to the surface, and we find ourselves helpless with the overpowering emotions that may sometimes seem to be out of proportion or come from nowhere.
Grief can include emotions like sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, rage, regret, shame, guilt, and it can also create physical responses such as digestive problems, headaches, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, etc.
There is no set path for grieving, we experience it individually, and the paradox is that the only way to heal grief is to allow it. We may grieve, for example, loss of security, hopes, dreams, innocence, independence, freedom, health and mobility, comfort, community, connection, love, intimacy, trust, and faith.
When faced with a loss, we can choose between two alternatives. We can remain stuck in the painful states of despair, disappointment, or even disillusionment over what we have lost, wishing what has changed had never changed.
Or we can, after the initial period, when it is normal to feel sad, angry, etc., choose to engage and begin to have a deeper understanding of our emotions, thoughts, and circumstances. The choice is always with us, no matter what the circumstances.
As we do this, listening to our grief will guide us, and with time, adapt and to the changes and to transform. While loss and grief are a universal part of our experience, we all experience them differently, and there is no set of rules for grieving.
The three indispensable steps in processing our losses
The triple-A formula for overcoming our losses consists of Awareness, Acknowledgement, and Allowing.
Awareness, recognition of our losses is the first step. We must identify our losses so that we can grieve them. What did we lose that is precious to us? Sometimes these things are tangible, sometimes not. When we skip this part and distract ourselves, our unprocessed losses accumulate in our nervous system, and they often come back to haunt us in the form of inexplicable mental health concerns or physical ailments.
When we acknowledge our losses, we permit ourselves to begin to feel the full spectrum of emotions: sorrow, anger, loneliness, despair, terror, etc. This part can be scary because we often don’t allow space for such considerations in our daily lives, and we may have kept some losses at arm’s distance for years. We can be afraid that we will lose it or cannot handle the uglier emotions.
When we begin to allow feelings, all feelings, to fill our essence, they open us to dimensions and depths that we don’t usually experience. A full-hearted response does not shy away from the suffering, the wounding, and the damage. We will emerge stronger and maturer on the other side, we will be rewarded with a new sense of self-awareness and understanding.
Grief doesn’t have an expiry date
Grief doesn’t have an expiry date. Unprocessed grief will inevitably remain stored in our body and psyche until we go through the process of grieving.
We often expect to be back to normal after just a few weeks or months, and others might expect this of us too. Many people are hard on themselves, thinking things like: “I should be over this by now” or “What is wrong with me?”. Grief is individual: there is no set time frame. We need to be patient with ourselves. Listening to our needs and giving ourselves time to grieve by far the best way to heal.
Change always involves some level of loss, and change in and of itself is not a bad thing. Whether we like it or not, change and loss are integral parts of the human experience. They enable us to grow and evolve.
When we learn to accept and embrace all that life has to offer, including loss and suffering, we can start living full lives and tap into our true potential and power.