How to Take Care of Yourself When Grieving
In my article, “The Tragedy of Grief”, I mentioned the value of the experiential process of grieving. It
offers further depth and healing to the experience of engaging in small, intimate groups to talk about your feelings and share your stories. Indeed, these are truly the right and left hands of healthy grief: sharing and experiencing. Highly recommended! Today we’re talking about how to feel better by actually giving expression to our grief. We call this “experiential processing”.
So, what does that mean? Good question. Basically, it means to engage, to work with, to actually DO something with your grief. And oh, the possibilities are wonderful and unlimited!
Many folks turn to the arts: music, sound, dance, drawing, wood and metal work, writing, crafts,
literature, film, weaving, painting, and on and on. When appropriate, add Nature to the experience. This amps it up! You might create a ritual, a tradition, a game, or plant something beautiful.
In this manner you turn your creative abilities loose along the lines of things you love, and you will
“experience” the joy of bringing your love into form. This honors your soul while honoring who and
what you grieve for.
I recently lost a dear friend who had been ill and suffering for several years. For a few days I played with some ideas as to how I could honor her life and find some kind of resolution or completion for myself. I decided to write a name poem for my friend Micki. This is what came forth:
M My precious friend, mentor, model of gracious surrender, a mystery, greatly missed
I Intuitive and inspiring in her deep wisdom
C Caring from the heart, but cautious, careful
K Knowledge was a passion with a purpose
I Insecure in relationships, but inspiring when she felt safe
Every time I read this poem, I can feel the truth of the words and the message of love that it
holds for me. I’ve shared it with a few of our mutual friends who have added their own words
to the poem. On Memorial Day, I privately performed a sweet ritual to release it into
something beyond me and to personally surrender to the cycle of life that took her away from
us. It was very comforting and healing.
Deborah Koff-Chapin is the founder of this beautiful form of art therapy, and the creations that come forth are astonishing. You don’t need any artistic talent at all – believe me, since I have none – so don’t feel intimidated! In 30 minutes, you might create 10-15 drawings or more on simple sheets of tissue paper that you have “touched” with your hands, fingers, knuckles, nails.
If you love movies, it’s really fun to view them through the DABDA paradigm that I spoke of in my article, “The Tragedy of Grief”. You’ll easily be able to distinguish the stages of grief that you’re witnessing outside of yourself. You’ll hear yourself saying, “Oh, yeah, she’s bargaining!” or “Total denial!” How cool it is to view the acceptance piece and know that there is absolutely every possibility that you, too, can get there. It’s do-able! And you may find, as I have, that films are a great resource for dealing with your grief.
One of my sons has a favorite tradition now of watching a particular movie on an anniversary or birthday. It brings comfort, tears, the remembrance of brotherly bonds, shared joys, and a closeness that few other things can. Our dear ones are not forgotten; they’re treasured in our hearts and memories for a lifetime.
Let’s look at some more ways to experience our grief: a great favorite of mine and especially loved by teen girls and boys is weaving! Yes, weaving. Have some fun! Get yourself a weaving kit for kids. It has a loom, a hook, and lots of colored fabric loops. Yes, you get to make potholders! One of my teen boys asked me if this where I keep my pot……………!!!
Honestly, kids will spend hours doing this. Here’s the point of this experience: first you get your loops put on the loom in a horizontal fashion, working with appropriate colors and design of your choice. Each loop signifies a loss, a feeling, a remembrance of who or what has been lost.
Then, as you weave vertically, you’re consciously remembering the gifts, the joys, the smiles and unforgettable times. You wouldn’t believe how quieting this is to nervous system. With some appropriate background music, it’s quite magical. I remember a teen boy who was struggling with the weaving and asked for help. How fabulous is that? Reaching out to other boys and asking for help?! He wisely learned that you can ask for and receive help, but the “work” of grief is your own, and nobody can do it for you. You gotta do your own weaving!
Well, finally, you crochet all the ends together and voila! You have a beautiful and worthy potholder useful for all kinds of things, even to carry your pot in! Best of all, once again, you have honored and healed a deep part of yourself.
Have you had a shattering loss? Then try something like this: I went to Goodwill and bought several cheap, colored vases. Then out in my yard I set up a little table and a cutting board. Gloved and goggled and ready for action, I took a hammer to the vases, shattering them into all kinds of shapes and sizes. Oh, it was a work of art – and fun! Then I layered all these pieces and shards of colored glass into a large, pretty vase and set it in a window where my shattered heart was given expression – and beauty. Yes, there is beauty in grief – a profound and surprising beauty that can only be experienced. And it reminds me daily that some things just can’t be put back together.
Nevertheless, some folks have found ways to bring their shattered object back into wholeness, and I love that. It’s not the same as it once looked, whole and perfect, but then neither are we. We’re fundamentally changed after a shattering loss. In Japanese culture, there's a belief that only imperfect objects, like a cracked teacup, can truly be beautiful. This is called “wabi sabi”. The idea is to let go of the quest for perfection, and instead accept the beauty that lies in all of life's imperfections.
My friend took a whole other route to express her shattering. Where my experience took less than an hour, her process went on for weeks and weeks. Sometimes these things have to percolate, believe me. I witnessed her process which went something like this: she decided to work with clay and Nature was her assistant. She created an ancient form of a woman – and let her sit in the sun. Then she built a fire – and let her sit in the flames and ashes. And the ancient woman looked at her with guileless eyes, sort of daring her to proceed with her process. So, my friend talked to the ancient woman; she cried; she told her story, believing that her grief would shatter the ancient woman. It didn’t. So, she took the ancient woman to a river and left her to her fate. A week or so later, my friend returned to the river to find her gone. And so it was that her many tears were only drops in the river of grief. And the ancient woman became part of that which returns to the sea.
In closing, we ask why: Why is the experiential process of grief so vitally important? Because it’s essential to our well-being; it’s a journey of both contemplation and action; it’s about getting unstuck and expanding our consciousness. It’s about connection to our souls, our bodies, our minds and hearts. It teaches us to forgive and let go of our hope for a different or better past. It’s an invitation to move from suffering and weakness to thriving and strength. It’s the permission to live well and be happy. It’s finding love for yourself.
You’re invited and permitted, with all my heart!