Grief- how do you journey through loss and bereavement

What happens in your body when you read the word “grief”?  Do your shoulders tense? Does your abdomen clench?  What happens to your breathing?  Do you want to stop reading and walk away?  Or are you intrigued?  Is there resistance or acceptance?  How well do you know the journey of grief?  Does it scare you?  Or does it release you?  When a work colleague, friend or family member has experienced a bereavement, or a loss of any kind, grieving is the natural process they go through to come to terms with their loss.  If you have had a personal experience of grief, it is the same for you.

No Road Map to Grief

Grief is a challenging process. Not least because there are often painful feelings to work through.  These sensations, feelings and emotions can range from anger, resentment, remorse, emptiness and loss to relief, hope and peace.  There is no road map for grief.  People grieve in their own way.

Grief does not have to be highly emotional expression.  Though of course it can be.  There can be periods of stillness and silence, as well as times to voice your emotions and take action.  There are also the subtler expressions of grieving such as the person coming to mind during the day and recognising that they are no longer in your life to phone, hug, listen to, hold hands with, confide in or laugh with.  That little stab of pain, or heart wrenching convulsion, are both grieving.  Grief is the letting go of someone or something in your life and finding a way to create a new life without their physical presence.

People say “time will heal”.  In my experience that is just not true.  Because the grief I feel is a measure of the love I had for the person I am grieving.  I don’t want that love to decrease.  I want it to go on, nurturing, nourishing, growing, allowing me to feel alive and continue to experience the love that flows through my heart.  So, in your grieving, you might find you want to bear the grief to hold the love in place.

Grief and Coaching

In the process of coaching clients over a period of months, grieving does come up.  The death of loved ones, the loss of pets, the end of careers or job roles, moving house and relocating, changes in relationships and health issues.  Grief even shows up in failure, rejection and the end of large projects.  And what people seem to appreciate most is the opportunity to share how they feel about their loss with someone who will listen without judgement.  A coach can hold the client tenderly, allowing the grieving process to be a growth and empowering experience.

One of the things grieving people do is repeat the same things over and over again to friends.  The things they used to do that made you laugh or irritate you.  Stories about holidays and trips that you love to remember.  The fact that you miss them.  Often, you end up feeling like you are being a nuisance to your friends, because you keep going over the same ground.  But, you must have that freedom to express those feelings.  There does come a time when there is no longer a need to repeat these things, as you feel a sense of freedom about your relationship with the person you are grieving.

I am not psychologically trained, but my belief is that when grief comes up in the course of a coaching relationship, the skills of listening, empathy, curiosity, tenderness and love from the coach, can powerfully help the client’s healing.  As a Co-Active coach, I am focused on coaching the whole person- head, heart and soul.  If grief is present, the heart is in pain.  It often makes it very difficult to focus on anything else for a time.  The head may say “I have to get on with my work” or “How will my clients get on without me?”  But the heart needs the time to find peace with the loss.

Sharing the Grief

One of the tenets of the Co-Active model is that people are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.  Coaching clients are responsible for their own lives and actions.  They are capable of navigating through the grief process, but that does not mean they have to do it alone.  Sharing thoughts and feelings with people close to you can be hard for many reasons.

Not least because those closest to you are grieving as well.  When my brother died in 1983, the whole family was in shock.  No one had the capacity to talk to each other about how they felt.  We all struggled in isolation.  My only outlet was writing.  I wrote a short lament, typed onto thin green paper with a clunky type-writer.  My grieving took about 35 years to complete.  It did not have to be that long.  But I had a lot of conditioning to overcome about feeling my pain, expressing my feelings and letting go to give way to peace.

Grief and the Body

I can only tell you the effect my grief had on me.  So, I will share my experience with you.  Every person’s experience of grief is different.  Though we might share common experiences, I can only speak from my perspective.

I had learned to disconnect from my body when I experienced intense emotion like grief.  I did not know how to work with it and so my strategy to cope was to withdraw.  Therefore, I became distant, head-driven rather than heart-led and tense in my body.  That tension led to stress, anxiety, and many physical problems.  And these symptoms have become worse over the years.  By re-engaging with my body and the grief process, I have found ways to heal.  And this engagement with my body is a life-long commitment that will deepen over time.

On that long journey, I have learned a lot about grief.  I am no expert and can only go on my personal experience and humbly reflect the journeys some of my clients have taken around grief, with me by their side.  There is so much you can do to help yourself through the grieving process.  And like so many of these challenging periods in our lives, we have to find the way that works best for us and that is often an intuitive path.

Recent Grief

I recently lost my Mum. I applied so many of the tools I have learned about self-care, stress management and resilience to my grieving process. They have made the pain more manageable. And they have helped me stay in that accepting place so that I do not resist the pain of loss. Resistance turns pain into suffering. I learned that when my brother died, and I found the pain impossible to be with. Holding it at arms-length was a strategy to help me cope. I threw myself into work. It didn’t help that there wasn’t really anyone around to talk to about it. No one around me knew how to grieve, so we were just doing the best we could. At the same time the distancing made it harder for me to process and heal the grief. An irony that can befall people when they experience loss.

A Grieving Process

And so, as I grieve my Mum’s passing, I am adamant to stay with the grieving process and forgive myself the suffering I might otherwise endure. Through my years of mindfulness, embodiment and other awareness practices, I do my best to stay connected to my process.

Here is a short list of what is helping me through the grieving process.  I am still grieving.

  1. Self-Care- grief is an emotionally draining process. It takes a lot of energy and so you will want to keep topping up that energy as you go.  Do anything that rejuvenates you that is natural, wholesome and healthy:
    1. Massage- on yourself or by someone else is especially lovely
    2. Exercise in general is great- but you might want something a little less physically challenging like walks or gentle cycles that can be more mindful. Alternatively, you might prefer the harder, more intense workouts to give you some time and space away from your grief
    3. Time in nature- the calm of nature soothes the nervous system
    4. Movies- take your pick on what movies work best for you.
    5. Friends- sometimes company can be the balm you need. So, choose well the friends you spend time with.  And know you might want time alone as well
    6. Fire-gazing- let your mind wander. Often in that daydream state, you mind is processing stuff below the surface.  Allow yourself time for that if you can
    7. Sleep- you might find you want to sleep more. That too can be processing.  You might find you sleep less.  If so, just watch out for feeling depleted and give yourself the chance to snooze during the day if you can.
  2. It probably takes longer than you think– the head makes up convenient time scales and then tries to hold you to them. If you can, give yourself the time you need.  And if you can’t, please give yourself the compassion about not operating at your best.  Grieving cannot be held to a timetable.
  3. Reach out and talk- you know when you’re really frustrated about something and you are just itching to tell someone about it? Until you do, it’s all you can think about.  Once you do, you can feel the frustration ebb away, can’t you?  The feelings that come with grief may be all-consuming sometimes.  Which makes it hard to focus on anything else.  If you can find someone to speak to (a friend, family member, the Samaritans, a stranger, a coach, therapist, Cruse Bereavement Care) who will listen, it gives you a chance to clear the air for yourself.  After that, you might find it easier to focus on other things.
  4. Take time to be alone- company can be good, but you might find that some alone time is longed for. Give it to yourself if you can.  However that works best for you….. bathes, exercise, drives, a spa day, going on retreat, time away.
  5. You will need to be there for others- you might find that in the time of your grief, other people will want to speak to you about their grief. If you can look after yourself enough, it leaves you with more capacity to be there for others if you want, or need, to be.  This was what was lacking when my family grieved my brother’s death.  As a family, we were much better able to be there for each other when Mum died. Whatever your loss, there will be those that grieve with you.  Support them as best you can without detriment to your own well-being.  And if you can’t, be kind, tell them lovingly and perhaps support them in finding someone else to reach out to.
  6. Say what you need/ want to say- I think one of the clearest distinctions between Mum’s death and my brother’s, was that I had taken the time to say what needed to be said with Mum. There was much unsaid with my brother.  That leaves lots of questions unanswered that I had to find an answer to.  But with Mum, most of the ghosts had been laid to rest.  What was unresolved was her work.  All that had to be said, had been said, and there is a peace in that.
  7. There are so many happy memories- it helps to focus on those. The love you feel does not stop when this person dies.  Recounting happy events and moments keeps that love flowing and find a peaceful way to be with the love you feel.
  8. People leave a space in your life when they die. So too do pets.  Even when things like relationships, careers, projects and periods in your life come to a close, they leave a gap.  It is an energetic space that helped shape you. And now that space is no longer there.  It gives freedom for you to find a new shape.  Loss creates the chance for growth.  An end is a new beginning.  It will take time to find your new shape.  By holding it as part of your emerging future, your grief can become a catalyst, or one of the catalysts, to your growth and transformation.

Over to You

How are you with loss?  Do you give yourself the time to grieve fully?  What do you do to care for yourself through grief?   As a result of the information here, what might you do differently?  Does it help to see events like relationship break ups, redundancy and other changes in life circumstances as grief?  If so, how does it change the way you navigate through these transitions?

Pass it on

I hope you have found this blog useful.  What one piece of information will you take away with you?  Can you think of a friend, colleague or family member who might appreciate that same nugget of wisdom?  If so, please forward the blog to them and share the love.

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Ready to find out more?

Coaching can be a powerful medium to find your way through loss.  It is not always appropriate and there are many other people and methods who might be more suitable.  If you think coaching might be a way forward for you, let’s have a conversation and discover together what might be best.