As I have gone through grief, and now watch, listen and feel others go through it as well, I have been thinking about how I would help them professionally. What is the best way to let a parent, friend, or loved one of someone who has lost someone close to them know about some of the therapeutic ways to find happiness. About the ways to live with the pain. Because there is no complete removal of the pain, in some cases that isn’t even the desire. To fill no pain is to not feel at all, to not miss, to not mourn and then you are not keeping your loved one alive in your heart and mind enough. But what if that pain paralyzes you endlessly? What if you can’t keep it within you? This sadness that is now a part of you, a shaper of who you are. But, you are drowning in your sorrow, forever missing and longing for someone who is no longer there, can no longer physically be there with you…for you. Is it your destiny to cease to be as well? Will you then be another loss to those who have already lost this person, you all love? And how long will you feel what you are feeling? It may be anger, denial, a disconnection with reality. No, there isn’t a timeline for grief, even though I do believe in steps and phases, but there isn’t a set amount of time for each of them. And, not everyone experiences all of them in my opinion. I was stuck in anger for most of the time since my mother has passed…denial was not an option. I was somewhat prepared for her passing, more so than I think a lot of people are given the nature of the medical professionals in my family. No, I don’t necessarily think it should be that or even can be that way by any means, just my experiences, and the way things happened for me.
There are different reasons for grief and mourning…sometimes it isn’t a person at all; it may be a pet, or a place you have loved and cherished. My grandfather lost his home in Katrina and all of the memories of my grandmother along with it- washed away into the Back Bay as his refrigerator floated in the ruined garage. All of the pictures, clothes, knick-knacks, jewelry, memories…gone, and there was grief and despair along with that loss. We all felt that for him and through him. The loss of memories and of a home that we all shared during holidays and visits. Pieces of my grandmother that were still able to keep her close washed away with the raging waters that racked the gulf that year. I had thought this would break us all, but my grandfather moved through his grief, wave and after wave wracked this quick as a whip pilot, doctor, and psychiatrist. Father of four, grandfather of three…militarily strict but funny as hell. Oh, how I miss him every day as well.
My thoughts on grief are more of my thoughts on a happy life. It all relates when you lose sight of your happiness. When you lose your course, your strand of the web you were on with such sure footing and then blown off. Then you have to try and find some happiness and rational for moving forward. To shed the anger, the jadedness, the loss of faith and find a way to continue in their spirit, in their memories, yet without them. I don’t claim to heal intense levels of depression with these suggestions. In those cases, it is imperative to seek professional help, and if you know someone you think is depressed or suicidal, don’t fear asking them right out about their safety. You won’t inadvertently put that idea in their head, but by asking you may just save their life.
There are four things I believe can lead to happiness, spiritual growth and a path to healing.
Journaling: Finding the time and a way to get the racing thoughts out of your head on onto paper, a computer screen, a napkin, what have you is very therapeutic. It doesn’t matter if those words ever see daylight again. Sometimes it can be cathartic to read it or even destroy what you have written, sending it back into the universe (safely for goodness sakes, no living room bonfires please!). Journaling is also a wonderful technique for anger when you put down what you wish you could say to someone and then safely destroy it, thus ridding yourself of what is eating away at you. Journaling can often help recall forgotten and beautiful memories about your loved one. It can allow you to be raw and unfiltered (make sure you keep it private if that is your wish), and can also lead to incredible levels of creativity and wonder.
Empathy: Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is incredibly medicinal. It allows us to step away from your worries and concerns for a while, which our souls need a break from, and feel compassion for someone else. Being empathetic can lead to helping a fellow person in need which is also very healing and helpful for everyone involved.
Mindfulness: This technique saved me from what I think was a complete paralysis in my anger. I had lost my creativity and the future of my writing, and I just knew I was seconds away from panic attacks. Those seemed inevitable as work became increasingly demanding and stressful for not only me but everyone around me. I read about the technique in a book for mothers that focused on the need for me to be happy in order for my family unit to be happy as well. It isn’t an obvious notion for most of us to think about taking care of ourselves first as the best way to take care of others. Some are whispering “selfishness” in dark corners right now. No, we think doing more and more, pushing and spreading ourselves thinner and thinner so that our loved ones lives are fuller and busier are the answers to their happiness but it isn’t. Our children, husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, partners, lovers, friends and co-workers won’t be truly happy if we are suffering. Our mental and physical health is of the utmost importance if we are actually to help others around us. Mindfulness allowed me to take a break from everything and focus on only myself. Sometimes I know it is hard to find the time, sometimes I forget I need it, but it is refreshing, mind opening and essential. A free link to the technique is below from UCLA as well as a link to the book I read to get me on that track.
Nature: Enjoying the outdoors, the environment around you, tree hugging, dog petting, walking, biking, exploring, traveling, it is all incredibly therapeutic. Taking the time to watch a sunset, to go for a walk in your neighborhood, to count flower petals and practicing colors with your children outdoors is my last but not least recommendation. Most of us may be cooped up inside working all day, not feeling the warmth of the sun or the chill of the rain. Whether you like to paddle board, walk, skate, or even taking a drive with the windows down along a back country road. Taking your time and exploring, it is all therapeutic, and I believe necessary. Our history stems from being one with nature to the give and take, ebb and flow, the web of life. We are all connected, the earth, soil, water, animals, plants, bees, and trees; it’s important commune with it all once in a while. So go pick strawberries, body surf in the ocean or hike along that beaten path. It is cleansing and enlightening.
Right now I am in the midst of watching those around me experiencing intense levels of sadness, and I thought this is something I know about. Grief is something I have been trained on, lived through and utilize myself. My main character in the Alex Conner Chronicles overcomes a series of various levels of grief and utilizes many of these suggestions herself. Alex may be damaged, perhaps even broken, but she sought to make her life better despite it all. And if what you are currently doing is not working it is time to make a change, time to try something new. Looking to heal and be happier didn’t change the amazing parts of the person Alex is, and the same goes for me and hopefully for each of you.
If you would like to read more about Alex, please visit http://www.ParkerSinclair.net for a 3 chapter sample of her first book Trust and to join my mailing list. Be Well, Be Happy and Be You!
Mindfulness information and free guided practice: http://marc.ucla.edu/default.cfm
The book that led me to mindfulness: http://www.amazon.com/Buddhism-Mothers-Approach-Yourself-Children/dp/1741140102