Are You Grieving Yet?
We End of Life Doulas are no strangers to grief. We consider grief to be the tool that metabolizes loss. Our job is to help clients touch that grief, gently at first and later without fear, to spiral along its healing path, across the sadness, anger, confusion and overwhelm that mark any period of bereavement. Typically, we talk about this spiral in terms of the death of a loved one but we also know that grief is everywhere, it’s the through-line of the human experience, along with love.
These days we’re all grieving. We grieve the loss of our lives before COVID-19, we grieve for the black lives that have been criminally taken from this world, we grieve systemic racism and the lack of wise, mature leadership from our government. We grieve for loved ones and we grieve for a thoughtlessly ravaged planet earth.
Grief is a process that unfolds in the wake of transition. This unfolding helps us work through the intense feelings that change illicits. There’s lots to grieve right now and this brings the work of a grief doula into clearer focus. Recently, after a couple of months of pandemic lockdown, the world has come together and erupted in righteous protest. The rage being expressed is an important aspect of grief. We are organizing, speaking out and holding space for immense sadness. It's important and necessary work, and it can get exhausting.
There are various parts to grief and most of us feel more comfortable with some than with others. In my opinion, the expression of grief we feel most comfortable with in the west, is rage. Rage feels powerful to us. We don’t need to be made vulnerable to express it. While rage is important, it doesn’t tell the whole story. After a long day of protest in the streets, what do you do with your feelings once the adrenaline has worn off? Many of us simply turn on the television and veg out. And sure, there’s a lot of quality television available, but I wonder what we can do to honor the more tender, fragile feelings we have at this time. If protests are rituals that mark our rage, what are the rituals that mark the other aspects of our grief?
Grief is a bit like a vaccination series. You have to do all the shots in the series for the vaccination to work properly. If you just do the first one, you take all the risk of injecting a foreign substance into your body, but you don’t get any of the protection a vaccination series offers when administered properly. So with grief, you can tend to your rage till your voice is hoarse from yelling, but if you don’t also tend to the other parts of your emotional experience, you won’t get the full benefit that working through the whole grief process offers.
Taking care of ourselves in this out-of-balance world is essential if we are to carry on, do good work and make the changes we need. In order to bring positive change to this planet and the creatures who inhabit it, we must find our own balance, so that our strength and compassion can be nurtured. So after the raging, can you sit with the feelings that arise? Can you tend to the other aspects of your grief? There’s a part of you that feels angry, and another part that feels sad, yet another that’s too overwhelmed and confused to act, etc. And beyond all these aspects of the self, there is your true self, who is infinitely compassionate and knowing. This is what the Hindus call the Atman, the Quakers call the still, small voice, it’s what Ram Dass called loving awareness and what Internal Family Systems therapy calls the Self with a capital S. When we take time to check in with all our parts, we can begin to see what they need to feel safe and cared for. The Self knows how to tend to all these parts and when we commit to turning our attention to all the aspects of our grief, real healing can take place.
There are lots of tools to help this process along- meditation, yoga, journaling, being in nature, singing and knitting are my go-tos. When we drop in to these activities with intention and curiosity, we start to connect with our own inner peace and wisdom, which is the super power that can sustain us through just about anything.
Please join me and Emma Stern for a special grief workshop where we’ll explore ways we can take care of ourselves and one another during this pivotal time that holds so much potential for healing and growth. Find out more on my workshop page. Thanks for reading!