There are many articles out there on things that help with grief.
Many of them are quite excellent but few of them are written by someone who is actually going through grief and who has tried just about everything under the sun to help ease it. So I thought there was space here for my suggestions on what has helped me in dealing with grief brought about by the loss of my marriage, my father, my grandparents and most of all, my brother.
I also want to talk about complex and chronic grief.
What this means is that with enough grief strung, bead by bead, upon the necklace of your soul, you can end up with Depression that can wring you and throw you over to it’s friend, Mental Illness. Because, yes: chronic grief and complex grief can lead to mental illness.
I will write about the standard 5 stages of grief briefly here, but will move on to my own theory of how grief may be processed, and what can really help with grief.
The 5 Stages of Grief
The 5 Stages of Grief were developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The 5 stages of grief are well known, being:
- denial – you don’t believe or accept that it is happening or has happened
- anger – expressing anger at the person you lost or someone or something else, but feeling anger in general
- bargaining – the ‘what if’ statements, like, “what if I devote the rest of my life to helping people? Will you bring her back?”
- depression – when you realize it’s not going to happen
- acceptance – when we begin to live again – not when we are okay; we may never be okay again; it’s just when we begin to live again
This is more like it:
Grief is messy.
It’s not some consistent process that you can pinpoint what and where exactly you can deal with grief, or when or how you cope with grief, what the exact stages are, how you know what to do or what’s coming next.
Grief is not easy, and there is no way around the fact that if you want to move through it at all, you need to put in the work.
My Own Theory About Grief
Grief is hard work. It is a hard process that one must fully engage in .
I am quite certain at this point in time that grief is a process that will never be complete. To fully engage in it means that it becomes a part of the fabric of your life. It changes the design you weave, lends it’s light and sorrow to the threads that wrap you in your reality.
Perhaps for some, it is also a catalyst for spiritual growth, propelling you to where you want to be on that level.
I think that there are core areas that needs to be addressed within grief to be able to cope and move forward. Those core areas are:
- The Past: I think you need to spend some time processing the past with the your loved one
- The Present: paying attention to your body, your physical world (- your house, job, life, friends, family)
- The Future: develop a framework for your time, space, spiritual beliefs and practices as they relate to death and life
- The Connection: knit a design that works for you that encompasses the past, present and future
Boundaries with the Past
“Don’t look back; you’re not going that way” is all over my house. I believe in it and I love it and I have become a much stronger, happier person for adhering to this.
However, in the case of grief, I have had to look back and mentally touch memories in order to move forward. The past affects my life today in how I choose it to affect it. Like, do I really want to focus on every heartbreaking and miserable thing that has happened to me, or do I want to focus on the things that bring me joy or that I feel have a piece in the story that I am currently writing of my life?
It’s mine to choose.
And so I choose the aspects of the past that call me, and I put the rest away.
Aspects that call me are ones that I can see a connection to my present. They are times when I made choices, or times when those I loved made choices that resulted in something that I want to learn from, or that affect who I want to become in my future.
I use the Course in Miracles as my North Star in this, my guiding light. The Course is not a religion or a practice; it’s a philosophy that helps provide understanding and framework. The thing about it is that it’s based on the reality of love – which is the absence of fear – and it is essentially a deep call to return to love.
So I use the Course in Miracles in reaching for the aspects of the past that are relevant in dealing with grief. It provides me with a platform that I can stand upon as I sift through the memories and it helps guide me towards love, away from fear, and it empowers me to forgive.
I don’t think it matters what you use so long as you use it.
You could use your religious faith, your non-faith, your star guidance, your music, art, whatever works for you.
I believe that having a tether that will hold you to your now-space as you work through the past-space and look at/resolve the memories that apply to your future-space is important. I also think it should be something that helps you to forgive, helps you to not stay in the past-space too long, and that can help you understand the memories that you truly need to, which will help with grief.
In our present reality, we have our body, our mind, our surroundings (our dwelling, work, physical possessions), family, friends and so forth.
In dealing with grief, all aspects of our Present matter.
My body likes to walk and it likes to dance.
Dancing and walking both help me to survive all the grief. When my Grandma died, I blasted music in our yurt and danced until my legs couldn’t hold me up anymore.
I walked through the blinding, stupefying grief of my brother being gone (I still do – I walked 5 miles yesterday, with him gone over 2 years now and I am still crying).
I walk and dance through them all. Yoga helps me too, as it’s literally physical meditation.
These things help me but the point is, find what helps you.
Make it physical. No matter what your physical capacity, find something that helps you with grief as you move your physical body: swimming, running, cycling, climbing, yoga, t’ai chi, taiko, martial arts, sports – whatever it is, make it a part of your life.
This is the stuff of our life and connecting with it can move us through all things.
The beauty of modern technology is that there are tools that can help us with these deeply primal pieces. Like breathing.
The breathe app: I remember one day not long after my brother died and I was teaching a class and I saw a raven outside. I connected that bird to my brother being no longer in this world. An intense, sudden grief flooded my being and I thought I would pass out from it. At that very moment, my apple watch started tapping my wrist with the reminder to breathe.
Breathe. Breathe. Breeeeeeaaaathe.
Meditation is breath connected with spirit; yoga is meditation in movement, both are completely and intimately connected with breath.
These are powerful tools to keep us grounded and help with grief when otherwise, profound depression and despair would set in. Find a tool that connects with your breath and use it. Be it an app, a reminder, yoga, meditation, kundalini, chanting: find something that reminds you to breathe and connects you with your own breath. It’s that simple and it’s that important.
Connecting with Others
This is so hard when you are in grieving.
It might be impossible to physically be around other people, but having a check-in with via an email or through therapy, a friend, family can really make a difference.
The grief emails. This came from the Mortuary that helped us when my grandparents and my brother all died within 9 months of each other.
These are truly wonderful, and free (and not a hook to get you to sign up for something, then pester you with other stuff – they really do only send you the grief emails). They vary daily from ideas and tips to quotes, nuggets of wisdom. Daily Email Affirmations (click on the link and enter your email address in the bottom right corner to subscribe to their emails).
Don’t visit a therapist just because everyone says you should.
I’ve been to many (many, many, many) therapists and I can honestly say that some of them will make a situation worse if you are not careful.
But the right one can also make a situation infinitely better.
You have to investigate your therapist and the tools she uses, her philosophy and how she approaches healing and grief. Make sure it all resonates with you.
Because few people are in the right space or frame of mind or heart to investigate a therapist when in the agonies of grief, my advice is to do some preventative work ahead of time if at all possible – get your therapist and your relationship with a quality therapist established before you really need one.
If you can’t, that is, if your grief is already with you, then my advice is to ask your close friends or family to conduct that search and find you a therapist that they think you would like.
I can’t really be around people that much now.
The strong energy that comes off of most adults is often too much for me to handle. While I want to connect with others, I need to feel grounded, so I have had to learn to say things like, “I need to be alone now” – which I’ve never been able to clearly articulate before.
When we are grieving, we need different things. Some of us need space, and that may entail creating boundaries with others in our community. Getting what you need to help with your grief is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself.
These are elements that help knit your past, present and future.
Fundamental in the knitting is God (Source, the Universe, whatever you want to call it: the Energy that is behind the world and that created us), and prayer is the backbone of everything else that I write about. So much so, that I realized that in the first draft of this post, I didn’t even mention it because it’s that fundamental; like, it goes without saying for me. Pray. Whatever your beliefs are or what your religion is, simply go deeper into and connect with Source.
The senses are involved in this connection: smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight. And empathy, feeling.
Focused activation of a particular sense with an intent to heal can do more than help with grief; it can transform it into a powerful energy that will change you and your life.
Essential Oils and Grief
Essential oils help with grief as they are highly therapeutic and there is something about invoking the essence of a flower in the healing of your grief that is effective. I know how weird that sounds, but it works.
Essential oils are becoming popular and widely available which is great, but you do need to make sure that you buy 100% pure oil from a trusted source. doTerra and Young Living are great brands; there are others, just do your research to make sure you are buying a quality product because if you don’t, they just give you headaches and make you feel lousy instead of healing.
I use a lot of Young Living’s “Abundance“, “Inner Child”, and “Pan Away“, personally, but like I keep saying in this post, what I use isn’t important; the important thing is to find what works for YOU.
Candles and Healing
Perhaps it is the way they light, the flame against the air, the feeling of connection with the elements and spirit? I don’t know, but I have found candles to be highly conducive to my own healing.
Coventry Candles come with affirmations wrapped around them, and are long-burning, made of essential oils. They smell divine, and the affirmations are comforting.
I think any natural candles are wonderful – I think it’s important to remember “natural” – if you use candles with chemicals in them or synthetic fragrance, they are liable to give you a headache, so just choose something that is natural (and it does not need to be expensive – I often buy the plain unscented candles over at Target or on Amazon).
Music and Healing
Music a ladder to heaven.
It’s the easiest way to shift your feeling and consciousness, and can be an additional asset in breath-work.
You know what you love. Tune into it.
Sound therapy is also profound – I have not engaged in it myself, but I have heard only good things about it; for someone who is auditory-centered, it seems like an effective tool to include in your grief toolbox.
Art and Healing
Art is a forum that allows your soul to express itself without your knowing.
Drawing, painting, collage, mixed-media, photography, videography, ceramics, sewing, knitting, crochet, metalwork, woodwork, you name it: it’s going to help with grief.
Even if you don’t feel like it, lean in to the art practice that you most relate to and just get started with something and it will help. Art can also help you meditate by relaxing your mind enough to allow for that inner stillness and quiet that is so healing.It gives you spiritual space.
Taste and Healing
Ayurveda is based on the connection between your body and mind (read more about it here in this article by Deepak Chopra). Taste is in integral part of this.
This is part of it: healing from grief isn’t only lighting a candle and meditating; it’s what you eat, what you taste, what you consume and bring into your body and your physical experience.
Empathy and Healing
The pain in another can make us pivot on our own.
Helping someone else is the easiest way to take steps forward.
Be there for someone else, help someone through their struggle. Volunteer, work, reach out to something or someone – it will help with your own grief in powerful ways.
The hardest grief I have ever encountered in my life is the grief from the loss of my brother.
When he left this life, I was consumed with trying to understand how I could move forward into a future that did not have him in it. I simply could not wrap my mind, my heart, around this – everything seemed to stretch on and on without him in it, I couldn’t think of how I could make it through this life without him.
I needed to know where he was, how long it would be until I could hang out with him again. I mean, I needed this. I think it was a partly a need for hope – hope is, after all, one of the pillars of life: we all need something to look forward to, to be hopeful about. I think it was also because I needed a framework for understanding where my brother is now.
Understanding the Afterlife
This isn’t the same for everyone, I don’t think I need to expound on that. Some of you reading don’t believe that anything happens to our soul after our bodies die, some of you do. It doesn’t matter what you believe; it just matters that you find a way to have it give you peace and solace.
For me, that came through reading Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. I am convinced that my brother sent this book my way, and also nudged the Audible version at me.
The last hour of the Audible version was far and away the most useful element in it for me. I cannot recommend it highly enough, because it described the process of dying, of heaven, of God (“Om”), the brain, this world, the next, karma and more in ways that resonated with me.
This was helpful in working through grief as it provided me with a space and context for the afterlife, and it laid a framework for my mind (my mind that grapples with, “what now?” questions).
The Law of Attraction
The law of attraction is ‘that which like unto itself is drawn.’
This provides a way into a future, as it helps with a way of framing a world and processes that help move through grief.
If you are not familiar with it at all, Abraham-Hicks’ Ask and It is Given is a good book to start with. You could even dive into the Law of Attraction Project Planner as it is loaded with fantastic processes and exercises or this fantastic (and free) app, LOA, that also comes loaded with processes and exercises designed to have you consciously living your present and actively creating your future.
Whatever you choose, just be intentional about it. Use your grief to propel you into a greater life, which will honor the person that you have lost. Make your life to be your tribute; channel grief into productive, positive action.
On the heels of transforming your life is ‘planning.’
We all need this something to look forward to, and we also all need to stop periodically (or daily?) in life and re-evaluate where we want to go, what we want to be doing with this one precious life.
Take space in your grief to allow the quiet to unfold. The trajectory of your future may or may not change, but at the very least, this is a part of the process of determining what is the course of action that most resonates with you.
A Myriad of Ways to Help With Grief
Sometimes it feels impossible to talk about grief or even of the tools that help me get through the worst of it. It makes me angry, it makes me sad. Nothing will make it as it once was; my brother is not coming back to life, he’s gone, what’s the point?
Right. That is true.
But grief is a transformative power. If we don’t put in the work to allow grief to transform us along the positive, powerful lines we want, it will transform us in ways we don’t want. Either we use it to change ourselves, or it will use us and it can splinter us. In other words, grief, unlooked at and unresolved will remain there, ready and waiting to emerge when something else happens in life. Grief can simply accumulate in layers, becoming complex grief. In time, this can lead to mental illness.
So, figure out what you can do, how you can start.
Breathing is a good place to begin.
Some Tools I Have Found Helpful in My Journey with Grief:
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife and maybe more important than the actual book for me was the Audible version, as it had nearly 2 hours of powerful, life-changing content that was not included in the book
* *Updated from a post published on Nov. 5, 2016
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.