Loss looks different for everyone and grieving a loss is as unique as our DNA. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Here in 2020, we are all collectively grieving so much– a sense of normalcy, routine, vacations, income, lives taken by COVID-19 and police brutality. For couples, their hopes and dreams of getting married this year have been taken away. For teens and young adults, they have lost their graduation ceremonies, proms and expectations for what college was supposed to look like. For others, they are dealing with their own personal losses on top of what is going on in the world: death of a pet or loved one, divorce, miscarriage, and cancelled IVF cycles.
When there is already so much loss and grief in the world, it is easy to compare your own grief to that of others. To feel like your grief is not as big or important. But grief and loss are not a competition. Your grief is just as valid as someone else’s. So how do we embark on this journey to healing when the world is such a dark and heavy place?
It is important to note that I say journey because there is not an end goal or destination when it comes to grief. Most often, individuals learn how to carry their grief with them every day. It does not simply go away. Loss is something you learn to live with. As Glennon Doyle says in her book Untamed, “Grief is a cocoon from which we emerge new.” Therefore the healing journey must be one that helps you not only pick up the pieces, but accept that they will look completely different than they did before.
Support and Communication– Having a support system and communicating with them is key when grieving– because trust me, it is easy to feel like you are all alone on grief island. You really cannot have support without communication when it comes to grief. While your loved ones may want to be there for you, they might not know how. They are not mind-readers nor should you expect them to be. It is up to you to communicate your needs to them so they understand how to be of support. Because grief changes you, be prepared for relationships and friendships to also be forever changed after a loss. Some days you may need your space and some days you may want to talk for hours. Both are okay, but important times when you need to set boundaries and express your needs. You may also need a higher level of support than your friends and family can give you. In that case, find a local or online support group to connect with others who are grieving a similar loss or reach out to a therapist.
Reading– Books, articles, blogs and even others’ social media posts can help normalize what you are going through. If reading is not your thing, try listening to a podcast instead (I highly recommend Brené Brown’s podcast with David Kessler on Grief and Finding Meaning). Not only will you feel empowered from learning new information, but you will also feel less alone and isolated. Reading and listening to others’ stories may give you some practical tools for healing. It might even help you see that life will not stay this dark forever, even though it feels like it will.
Journaling– I do not mean your 5th grade diary kind of journaling. Sometimes journaling means writing in all caps how angry at the world you are. Sometimes it means writing down every adjective and emotion you are feeling. Sometimes it is writing a letter to the loved one you lost to feel more connected to them. No matter how you choose to journal, the important thing is that you get your feelings out. By writing out how you feel on paper, you can better process your thoughts and emotions. You may even feel less consumed by them.
Physical activity– Stress, grief, trauma and emotions all manifest in different parts of our bodies. Whether it is our neck, lower back, shoulders, hips, chest or abdomen, our body is always trying to tell us something about how we feel physically and emotionally. That is why it is so important to incorporate some form of physical movement into your day– to move around the stagnant energy in your body. I get it, when we are grieving we often do not feel like leaving the bed all day. Sometimes doing a few gentle stretches can make all the difference in the word. While I always recommend yoga, I know grief can make it almost impossible to want to connect with our body. This is especially true if the grief is related to a trauma or pregnancy loss. Take it slow, be gentle with yourself and do not set too high of expectations. If one day, you are not in the mood for yoga and you feel anger pulsing through your veins, go for a run instead. Get out the physical tension and energy building up in your body however feels right for you in the moment.
Feel your feelings– I saw an Instagram post recently that put this perfectly, “you can’t heal what you do not let yourself feel”. Maybe it is journaling, maybe it is screaming into a pillow or letting yourself cry. Feelings are for feeling and just like our bodies, they are trying to tell us important information. Don’t get me wrong, it is utterly uncomfortable to sit with emotions like anger, hurt, pain and grief. But without these difficult emotions, there would be no happiness and joy either. And just because you feel pain or grief, does not mean that you can’t also feel joy or peace.
If you find yourself grieving today, I challenge you to sit with your feelings for a few moments. Allow yourself to feel whatever your feeling. Breathe into them. Perhaps even meditate on them. Name the emotion. Acknowledge and accept that is how you are feeling– without judgement. Then show yourself some compassion because you are human. Suffering is a part of being human.
Lastly, remember that you are not alone.
— Amanda Vargo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young adults with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem. She offers individual therapy, virtual therapy and therapeutic yoga through her practice, Empowered Wellness.