From July 2009 onwards, I know I typed ‘How to Survive Grief and Loss’ into my search engine, numerous times. I had a countless number of people volunteering their answer to that question, despite the fact that I hadn’t asked it aloud.
You see my husband died of suicide that summer and part of me was desperate for a structure on how to survive my grief and loss. Like you, I turned to the internet for the answer because Google isn’t and wasn’t directly or emotionally affected by the loss I had experienced.
I wanted impartial advice.
I would have embraced a checklist of things to do and not do.
I would have loved a template or flowchart for managing expectations for that of myself, my children and everyone else in my life.
I would have taken projected timelines or duration ranges as the gospel truth, because I wanted to know that there was a finish line of some description for feeling the way it all felt.
In my searching for a how to survive grief and loss I wanted to validate that I was doing it-something-anything right and wanted to know that I was doing it-something-anything right for my girls. If not, then how do I fix that!
Navigating grief often means trying to keep your head above water while being flooded by the impact of a major change. It often means having more questions than answers.
“What do I do now?”
“What does this mean?”
“How do I do this?”
The words grief and loss are loaded with heavy emotions. Picture me moving around a party and stopping to chat with a group of people. After introductions, the next round of questions generally is, “So, what do you do?” to which I respond, “I am a Life and Grief Coach.”
You can practically hear the sound of tires screeching, metal crunching and feel people receding from you at the mention of the word grief.
Why? Because it generates discomfort without elaboration. Grief is a word that can suck the positive vibes out of a room faster than yelling “FIRE!”. The challenge of being a coach whose focus is to help someone resolve their grief, can feel and seem paradoxical. When you mention grief and loss, there is that grey area of wondering if this is “coaching” or “counselling”.
Many common attitudes in our world have shifted to opposite perspectives that only recently would have seemed or felt impossible. Our world and the people who make it up, have challenged the norms and have consciously created new normals. Yet, what has steadfastly remained the same, dated and stigmatized is our experience, perception and response to grief and loss.
We have endless teaching points on how to ‘be, do, get and have’ things, yet when we lose something the conversation is generic, limited or averted all together.
If you are grieving a loss you know, see and feel how it is affecting your life, and some ways are more evident than in others. It can be an omnipresent multi faceted experience, or it can roll into without notice, like the black clouds that gather before a summer storm. Other times it can be triggered by a comment, hearing, seeing or tasting something familiar.
Traditionally you may find yourself seeking a therapist or counsellor. The debate about coaching versus therapy is universal; when you want to make a change in your life, to feel lighter, different and feel supported in moving forward, coaching is an effective choice.
“Classic therapy is an archaeological dig that looks backward to help you understand how you got to this moment. Coaching is an architectural blueprint that looks to the future to help you create something new.” ~Jill Smolowe
Grief and loss can come from a multitude of life experiences. A common denominator is that “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behaviour.”
When you think of grief, most likely death is first and foremost in your mind because it is the most obvious and definitive loss experience equated to grief. Divorce may be the second life event that you think of yet, there are a multitude of other experiences that get overlooked. (I wrote this incomplete list of experiences and events that you can read.)
No one is immune to grief, and the prompts above can serve as a means to show you that grief and loss is broader and more diverse than what you may have known or considered. It is not a one time or one off experience, as there could be combinations and connections to multiple events and on more than one occasion in your life.
All of the above are either relationships to someone or to something. I don’t have to tell you that when your relationship to someone or to something changes dramatically or ends, grief is a normal and natural response, because the world as you knew it is no longer the same.
So how do you survive grief and loss?
I attribute my maintaining a semblance of sanity that July because my friend came and gave me the greatest gift of all – a safe place for me to: express my feelings, express my thoughts, to say nothing at all and to blurt everything out all at the same time.
Not everything that you are thinking or feeling is safe for public consumption. Not everything thing you are thinking or feeling makes sense. I’m not advocating hiding your feelings, but I am inviting you to advocate for yourself to be able to speak and feel without fear of judgment or retribution from others.
Grief and loss has a way of making one feel disjointed, disconnected or like everything is going too fast or even too slow. Focusing on your breath, even for a minute, can help reduce stress, lower your heart rate, clear your head and bring you back to the present.
Deeply inhale to the count of three or five feeling your lungs inflate and chest expand, pause for a beat, then steadily exhale to the count of three or greater, feeling the air flow. Repeat the process as often as you need to reconnect to yourself and feel more grounded.
I completely get that right now nothing could be further from the truth, however adopting a mantra can have similar effects as the breath work, and may even be used in conjunction. All is well, is one that even though in this moment may feels far fetched, can feel soothing, prayer-like and help to alleviate heavy energy.
Choose a phrase, quote, or prayer, either your own or another’s, that resonates with you. Repeat it in your head which allows you to shift focus, which will help you interrupt the tidal wave of thoughts and feelings you may currently have going through your mind.
All will be well
I will be well
I am loved
There is an old adage about ‘keeping busy’ and it’s true that may serve as a distraction temporarily but the antidote to busy-ness is asking for help from others. More than likely there are those around you who are eager to do something, to be helpful and take on tasks or errands that will alleviate your stressors. Allowing others to manage tasks that you do not have the energy for or possibly the present cognition that these things need doing means not adding more to your potentially overwhelmed mind.
Depending on the loss you are experiencing and who comes to support you, some may feel compelled to volunteer their advice and opinions, in addition to their love and support, (both in person and on social media.) You are going through a life experience that others may have experienced in their life, however not everything that people share with you will be applicable to you nor helpful.
It can be yet another challenge to be able to consume all that is being shared with you, so rather than adding even more for you to process, I invite you to simply say “Thank You”.
Thanking someone acknowledges that you heard them and if what they said strikes a wrong chord rather than debate the merits of their opinion you can let it go.
At a time where you may feel overwhelmed I urge you to remember that not everything that is offered to you is something you have to keep.
There are countless ways that we can learn or are taught about how to acquire things, but very little time is spent teaching how to lose something. Whatever your loss is please know that grief is a normal and natural response to loss, even if as you read this it couldn’t feel anymore abnormal and unnatural. It doesn’t matter what your loss is, grief is normal.
Your world is no longer the same as it was, and in today’s world we may have imposed (by yourself or others) expectations to flow through the experience without a blip. Surviving grief and loss is as personal and individual as you are; as is the unique and significant relationship to whomever or whatever you have lost.
Grief is an extension of all the other feelings you have ever had. Right now it may be dominating all of the others, but it won’t always be like that. It is possible to move beyond your grief.
It is possible.
I know that to be true.