Grief Care—For Any Day, And Especially For The Holiday Season
“Sometimes we know that a certain location or time will trigger grief, and we can plan for it. Often it catches us by surprise. We might experience it as a gentle washing over. Other times it is powerful enough to entirely knock us off our feet—literally.”
Yesterday, I woke up in a grief wave. After I found my own center and committed to offering myself care while riding through it—if you’re reading this with grief or care about someone who is experiencing it—I thought of you too. I notice that in all the coming, going and doing in our lives and lifetimes, there is little healthy and helpful talk about the ominous clouds that roll in on occasion. I also notice in our society that this heaviness floats over with particular pervasiveness around the later part of the calendar year—fall and winter during shorter days and longer nights, the holiday season (as I personally know it best) in America, but really anytime after we experience loss (great or small) or disappointment (great or small).
Folks often associate grief with the passing of a loved one. “Mourning” may be an even more familiar word and concept to grasp, with images immediately coming to mind of funeral-goers dressed in black or perhaps a widow with her face covered in dark lace: profound sadness. Truly, physical death is but one reason, and solemn black clothing and sadness are only two ways that grief might show up. Grief is so much more.
Every being living inevitably experiences grief at some point if not at various points in their journeying. Yet, its process (and I see it as a sacred one) is generally so misunderstood and uncomfortable that it is ignored, covered up and often entirely avoided at all cost. Subsequently, it is mishandled and trampled over. I want to do what I can to help counter that.
The unpleasant and sometimes vague sensations in the body; the fogginess of mind; the heaviness in heart, soul and spirit might all be indicators of the grief cycling that one might be initiated into after losing a job, a home, a highly anticipated meeting or opportunity, losing a child, a parent, a sibling, a marriage, a lover, a body part (like a womb, one or both breasts, a limb, a finger, teeth, hair) or body type (like generally healthy, able, young, pre-pregnancy, pre-weight loss or pre-weight gain, pre-surgery, pre-injury, pre-assault), losing time from work or passions due to illness or other incapacitation, leaving a prominent life season (like childhood, parenthood, steady work, living single or happiness in romance), losing a cherished friendship, hope for a certain lifestyle, or perhaps transitioning from a community that offered safety and security. Any or all of these may prompt a period of grieving.
I personally experienced an added layer of grief (on top of the more major grief I was already experiencing) in a small but acute way later in the evening yesterday after my first attempt at typing up this very blog post. I was inspired. The muse was clear. I was in my flow and near completion of the entry while also trying to cook dinner for my family and care for the immediate needs of my young children—all at once. After cutting up the 3rd apple for someone with loose teeth and sensitive gums, coming to save the bread rolls from burning in the oven and welcoming my parents into my home who’d just arrived to share dinner and company with us for the evening, I came back to finish and found that I’d lost everything I’d written. I was working on my iPad and didn’t save things. That was my mistake. Still, for a bit, I felt the resentment I sometimes struggle with, being a creative professional and an active parent—trying to balance both. A lot can get lost and forgotten. I was bummed for a little bit and probably took an express ride through all the grief stages.
Sometimes we know that a certain location or time will trigger grief, and we can plan for it. Often it catches us by surprise. We might experience it as a gentle washing over. Other times it is powerful enough to entirely knock us off our feet—literally. Have you ever experienced this? Do you notice anyone in your life who is in this kind of journey place?
Shock. Anger. Confusion. Denial. Sadness. Depression. Loneliness. Panic. Distress. Resentment.
If grief is with you right now, I want to affirm that what you’re feeling (or witnessing) is real and it is ok. Let it be. Breathe into it. Loss and disappointment impact us on many levels and often in more ways than we know or can fully appreciate. Journeying through it and recovering can sometimes take time.
Change is constant, which means, yes, “this too shall pass.” And, in the mean time, be gentle and compassionate with yourself (or with the someone you care about). Grief is a part of our life experience. It will come and it will go, and the same grief may come again and again—at high tide or low tide—until it doesn’t come in the same way anymore, if it comes again at all. Along each of our paths, no one can journey through our grief for us, only alongside us and offering support as needed and received.
Here are some tips and reminders to your consciousness as you offer yourself or others grief care. (Note: None of these are intended to make it go away. Rather, they are meant to nourish and support through what can sometimes be a long, painful, challenging and exhausting process.) :
Slow down. | It’s ok to let yourself feel. Notice. Breathe into it all. This is part of your soul’s journeying. It is sacred and can be a powerful opportunity for your being. Don’t be afraid of it. Take care of yourself and ask for help when you feel you need it. “We come out of our grief experience at a slightly higher level of maturity than before, …as deeper persons because we know we have been down in the depths of despair and know what it is like. We come out of it stronger, for we have had to learn how to use our spiritual muscles to climb the rugged mountain trails. We come out of it better able to help others. We have walked through… we can understand.” Granger E. Westberg, Good Grief
Take a shower. | If you have access to running water as a provision, take advantage of the magic in the water’s being and movement (vs. its stillness). Think of warmth, gentle comfort and tender care as you cleanse and rinse your entire body at least twice—layer by layer, all things becoming new.
Shampoo your hair. | There’s an energy center at the top of your head (your crown chakra). Run water there, use an herbal shampoo and loving hands to cleanse away dirt, debris and sweat and to offer a refreshing and multi-dimensional reset.
Sip Water. | Water is life. Give thanks if you have it as a provision. Fill up a glass, a jar or a water bottle with room temperature water and sip on it throughout the day if you don’t find yourself able to outrightly drink it—especially first thing in morning. Imagine it flowing to all your parts, refreshing and nourishing your physical body, inwardly. Add mint, cucumber, lavender or melon to infuse if you’d like. Otherwise, keep it simple.
Wash your hands with lavender or citrus scented soap. | How often do you notice and give thanks for your hands? Don’t have time for a shower or shampoo? Take 5 minutes to slowly wash your hands in a soap with a comforting scent like lavender or an energizing scent like grapefruit. Take your time and really offer care and attention to yourself. Steady your breathing or just notice it. Notice the moments. Notice what your hands look like. Notice what the water feels like. Notice the aroma of the soap. Just be there for a short time. Give thanks.
Soak and wash your feet. | If you have a basin or a fancy machine that’s already devoted to this, pull it out. If you don’t, use a large soup pot. Fill it up with hot water and add a drop or two of chamomile, eucalyptus, tea tree, and/or lavender oil. Sprinkle in some sea salt or epsom salt and maybe add some fresh flower petals (if you can get your hands on any). Herbs like mint, sage, and thyme are also good. Set up a comfy seat and slip your feet in to enjoy. Be warmed and comforted. Feel care and be in the time set aside for you.
Straighten up around yourself. | What’s the space like immediately surrounding you? Can oxygen and energy move freely? Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and straighten up. Purge trash into the bin. Put away dirty dishes. Freshen up any bedding. Wipe down surfaces. Open a window. Even if the air is cold, let it in for just a few. Then lay right back down, if that’s what feels best right now.
Find sunlight (or moonlight). | Go outside or find a window. Turn your face toward the light of the sun (or the cool bright light of the moon). Close your eyes, sense the warmth and power or the cool and calm. Stay there for a bit. Receive.
Write, make art or be around art. | It’s powerful. Turn off your inner editor and just write down whatever words come into your head. Forgot sentence structure, grammar or spelling rules. Just release onto the page. Create something with your hands or find art someone else has made. Be with it. Linger for a bit. Notice what you feel.
Light a candle. | In remembrance or as a gesture of love and thoughtfulness for yourself, light a white candle or two or three. Hold what you’re missing in your imagination and give thanks for it.
Have a cup of hot tea. | I have personally come to love loose leaf teas and preparing them for myself and for my loved ones as a ritual act of care and mindfulness. Brea Buffaloe of MusaMoon has a lovely Peace Tea blend that I drink with honey and warm my hands around to end my day lately. (This is not an add, just love. If you order some, do tell her I sent you.)
Do a “release breathing” exercise. | Inhale for a moderate count of 4. Exhale for a moderate count of 6. Inhale for a moderate count of 4. Exhale for a moderate count of 8. Inhale for 4. Exhale for 10. Inhale for 4. Exhale for 12. Inhale 4; exhale 16. Inhale 4; exhale 20. Inhale 4; exhale 24. Keep inhaling for 4 and exhaling for longer and longer. Imagine letting go. Explore the space at the end of each exhale. Notice what it feels like. Let your emotions be what they are. Release a sigh or tears or laughter. Whatever comes.
Listen to music that feeds your soul. | What raises your vibration? Gospel? Jazz? Classical? Soul? Any particular artist or genre? Turn whatever it is up in your speakers (or better yet, find a way to attend a live show). Create an atmosphere for yourself—for your soul.
Go for a walk, run or jog. | Adjust your movement to your body’s needs and to your personal taste. Breathe in some fresh air. Get your heart rate up. Feel the blood flowing through and energizing your body. Don’t forget to cool down and hydrate.
Do some yin yoga. | The opposite to yang or power yoga is restorative yin yoga. For some, power yoga is preferred, even when there is need for “care.” For others, slowing things way down and offering attention to deep stretching, twisting and releasing is just the thing. There are some great videos here. Clear some floor space and enjoy for free.
Cry. | Tears offer release and deep healing. Let them flow freely.
Find your joy. | What are the things you did as a child that you’d do for fun and for free and that someone would have to call you away from because you’d get lost in them? Coloring? Jumping rope? Swimming? Painting? Building things with Play Doh or toothpicks? Dancing? Arranging the spices? Make a list of the things are bring you joy and refer to it often—especially when you could use a dose of strength. (Joy = strength)
Pray. | To and in whatever power you hold to be true. Connect to Source for guidance and strength, even if there is no comfort to immediately be found.
Utilize crystals. | Stones like clear quartz promote clarity of mind and flow. Stones like black onyx absorb negativity and offer sturdiness and strength. Rose quartz is associated with the heart chakra. It is soothing and supports openness of the heart to love, release of negativity and pain. Wear any or all of these stones, put them in your window sill to be amplified by the sun’s energy, on your personal altar, under your pillow, on your dresser, hold them in your hand, carry them in your pocket or wherever it resounds with you and offers health and quality.
Smudge. | Sage yourself, your space and/or your home and entryways. Hum, sing, pray or speak words of gratitude. This can be done anytime, but after the showering and cleaning steps mentioned above adds another layers of purification and re-calibrating.
Take a nap. | Sleep is so undervalued, especially in western culture and adulthood. Sleep offers your heart, brain, blood vessels and organs an important opportunity to heal and recover from waking activities and external stimuli. Balance in all things should be our goal. Sleep can be wonderfully restorative. If you’re having trouble with it, try a warm bath, melatonin, reading, meditation, yoga, an orgasm or consult a physician.
Accept what is—little by little, as you feel able. | Buddhist dharma suggests suffering and misery comes from holding on to what cannot be changed. Still, acceptance of what is takes time and happens in phases. Allow it to process. Little by little, as you feel yourself able, surrender.
Release bitterness. | Release. Release. Release. It’s enough to process loss. Holding on to bitterness only further complicates things. Scan inwardly for places where malice or ill-will might reside. Acknowledge it. Honor it. Let it go if you can. It doesn’t serve your health. In fact, it hinders flow. Release as you find you are able—it may need to happen in bits and pieces, phases.
Connect with a good friend. | Who can you call that will hold space for you to be yourself as well as call you to your higher self? Who raises your vibration? Who offers nourishment to you soul? Notice. Connect with that individual or those individuals. Share some tea! Skype. FaceTime. Text. Chat on the phone. Meet in the park. Go for a walk. Thank them for being.
Invest in professional counseling or psychotherapy. | If you find the grief waves are coming frequently and, when they do, taking you entirely out of your life, you may need some more specialized help. Don’t let someone on a different path than you, deter you from what you know you need for yours. Call for help if you need it. Well done if you already have. Thank you for showing up for yourself in this way.
A special note if you’re caring for someone who is grieving:
Don’t look for something comforting to say. | More than half the time, people say all the wrong things to someone who is experiencing grief: “it’s for the best,” “you’re better off anyway,” “God needed them more than you,” “it’s not so bad” “get on with your life” and so on. Release the idea that you have to say anything at all. Simply saying “I’m here” might be plenty.
Ask simply, “what feels helpful right now?” | Grief processing can change by the day, by the week, the month, the minute and the year. There is no clean sequence or order. Acknowledging that a significant loss or disappointment has taken place and asking how someone is today might be uncomfortable but it may also offer empowerment and the feeling of being seen and cared for to a person who is experiencing grief—which is invaluable.
Don’t try to rush your loved one through their process. | As has been said all throughout this piece, grief is a complicated phenomenon that can take a good bit of time to recover from. Also, no one can walk through it to the other side but the person who is experiencing it. Honor their journey by simply coming alongside—when, where and in the practical ways that you can while also taking good care of you.
Just be there. | Hold the space. Don’t push. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t rush the process. Your silent presence is sometimes just the thing to make your loved one know they’re supported and not alone.