As we seek to understand our own grief process, this article will draw from the resource, Understanding Your Grief, by Alan Wolfelt to outline ten essential touchstones.
Touchstone One: Open to the Presence of Your Loss
“You have probably been taught that pain is an indication that something is wrong and that you should find ways to alleviate the pain.
In our culture, pain and feelings of loss are experiences most people try to avoid. Why? Because the role of pain and suffering is misunderstood. Normal thoughts and feelings after a loss are often seen as unnecessary and inappropriate.”
“You will learn over time that the pain of your grief will keep trying to get your attention until you have the courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative – denying or suppressing your pain – is, in fact, more painful. I have learned that the pain that surrounds the closed heart of grief is the pain of living against yourself, the pain of denying how the loss changes you, the pain of feeling alone and isolated – unable to openly mourn, unable to love and be loved by those around you.”
Setting our intention to heal is a commitment to sometimes being frightened, painful, and often lonely. No words can take away the pain. However, an intentional letting ourselves be as we are – in our uniqueness – and allowing what is in us to be experienced in its fullness is setting ourselves on a path to healing.
“It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you don’t stop.” – Confucious
We must be patient with ourselves. Finally trusting that the pain will not last forever brings hope, and endurance to walk through, instead of skim over and try to avoid our truth. We surrender, and we “work at” as we are brought to new spiritual maturity in the process.
Touchstone Two: Dispel the Misconceptions About the Grief Process
“As you journey through the wilderness of your grief, if you mourn openly and authentically, you will come to find a path that feels right for you, that is your path to healing. But beware – others will try to pull you off this path. They will try to make you believe that the path you have chosen is wrong – even “crazy,” and that their way is better.”
Realistic Expectations for Grief and Mourning
- You will naturally grieve, but you will probably have to make a conscious effort to mourn.
- Your grief and mourning will involve a wide variety of different thoughts and feelings.
- Your grief and mourning will impact you in all five realms of experience: physical; emotional; cognitive; social and spiritual.
- You need to feel it to heal it
- Your grief will probably hurt more before it hurts less.
- Your grief will be unpredictable and will not likely progress in an orderly fashion.
- You don’t “get over” grief; you learn to live with it.
- You need other people to help you through your grief.
- You will not always feel this bad.
Touchstone Three: Embrace the Uniqueness of Your Grief
“The wilderness of your grief is your wilderness – it is a creation of your unique self, the unique person who died, and the unique circumstances of your life. Your wilderness may be rockier or more level than others. Your path may be revealed in a straight line, or, more likely, it may be full of twists and turns. In your wilderness, you will encounter places that are meaningful only to you and you will experience the topography in your own way.”
Touchstone Four: Explore Your Feelings of Loss
“Did you ever know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? I was wrong to say the stump was recovering from the pain of the amputation. I was deceived because it has so many ways to hurt me that I discover them only one by one.” C. S. Lewis
“Opening to the presence of your loss creates pain and feels hurtful. It may also leave you feeling numb, angry, fatigued, as well as many other emotions.”
“Perhaps the most isolating and frightening part of your grief journey is the sense of disorganization, confusion, searching, and yearning that often comes with the loss. These feelings frequently arise when you begin to be confronted with the reality of the loss. As one mourner told me, “I felt as if I were a lonely traveler with no companion and worse yet, no destination. I couldn’t find myself or anybody else.””
All feelings are valid and need to be expressed in ways that are safe for you and others. But they must be expressed. Closing them off inside will hurt you further and can even work against the journey of healing. Anger, guilt, blame, terror, anxiety, panic, fear, hate, rage, jealousy, laziness, feeling crazy, regret, sadness, depression. You may feel all these emotions or just some of them. And there are likely more you may list. You are not alone in feeling these feelings.
Touchstone Five: Recognize You Are Not Crazy
Because this may be a new journey, the expectations are uncertain. We may experience time distortions or an unusual focus on ourselves – being unable to even see or care about the needs of others.
To our amazement, we begin rethinking and retelling some part of our story over and over. We may be doing pretty well emotionally, and suddenly find despair taking over. Feelings of powerlessness and helplessness are completely overwhelming. We may have grief bursts, sobbing that seems to have no end, physical aches, and even thoughts of suicide.
You may have recurring dreams, a sense that the person is nearby, conversations, or other ‘mystical’ experiences. You are not crazy. These can all be part of the grief process.
Touchstone Six: Understand the Six Needs of Mourning
Accept the reality of the death
“It’s as if the realness of what has happened waits around a corner. I don’t want to make the turn, yet I know I must. Slowly, I gather the courage to approach.”
Let yourself feel the pain of the loss.
“The grief within me has its own heartbeat. It has its own life, its own song. Part of me wants to resist the rhythms of my grief. Yet, as I surrender to the song, I learn to listen deep within myself.”
Remember the Person Who Died
“I can release the pain that touches my memories, but only if I remember them. I can release my grief, but only if I express it. Memories and grief must have a heart to hold them.”
Develop a New Self Identity
“Now I realize: I knew myself so little. This death has forced me to become reacquainted with myself. I must slow down and listen.”
Search for Meaning
“I must encounter my questions, my doubts, my fears. There is richness in these domains. As I explore them I don’t reinforce my tensions but instead, release them. In this way, I transcend my grief and discover new life beyond anything my heart could ever have comprehended. Oh, the gentleness of new life.”
Let Others Help You – Now and Always
“I heal, in part, by allowing others to express their love for me. By choosing to invite others into my journey, I move toward health and healing. If I hide from others, I hide from healing.”
Touchstone Seven: Nurture Yourself
- You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
- You have the right to talk about your grief.
- You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
- You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
- You have the right to experience “grief bursts.”
- You have the right to make use of ritual.
- You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
- You have the right to search for meaning.
- You have the right to treasure your memories.
- You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
Caring for your physical self
Exercise your heart. Eat a good diet. Exercise your mind and spirit. Get plenty of sleep. Keep in touch with your doctor. Slow down. Rest and relax. Laugh. Invest in relationships you value.
Caring for your mind and emotions
Listen to music. Schedule activities each day that bring you pleasure. Make a list of goals. Avoid making major changes for at least two years. Count your blessings.
Caring for your social self
Your friendships will probably change. Be honest and proactive (even though you are the one grieving). Find a grief “buddy” – someone who is also grieving, or who has experienced grief also.
Caring for your spiritual self
Create a sacred mourning space. Start each new day with a meditation or prayer. In the beginning, each day may start off with heaviness and tears. Later, however, you will be able to set the tone for your day with simple phrases or prayers. Get outside.
Touchstone Eight: Reach Out for Help
Some people will be able to walk with you with compassion and empathy and care as you heal. Some will be neutral about your grief – not because they are uncaring – but because of who they are at this time in their lives. Some will want you to hurry up and get over your grief. Spend time with those who bring life with them when they visit.
If thoughts of suicide become more than a passing fantasy, call a crisis line, get professional help, don’t minimize the power of grief or times of lost hope which will not remain in their intensity.
You may want to find a support group of people with whom you feel comfortable, accepted, and free to speak your heart and emotions.
Touchstone Nine: Seek Reconciliation, Not Resolution
“Mourning never really ends. Only as time goes on, it erupts less frequently.”
Signs of Reconciliation:
All are not “required.” Many will begin to appear in your life as you go through the grief process.
- A recognition of the reality and finality of the death.
- A return to stable eating and sleeping patterns.
- A renewed sense of release from the person who has died.
- The capacity to enjoy experiences in life that are normally enjoyable.
- The establishment of new and healthy relationships.
- The capacity to live a full life without feelings of guilt or lack of self-respect.
- The drive to organize and plan one’s life toward the future.
- The serenity to become comfortable with the way things are.
- The versatility to welcome more change in your life.
- The awareness that you have allowed yourself to fully grieve, and you have survived.
- The acquaintance of new parts of yourself that you have discovered in your grief journey.
- The adjustment to new role changes that have resulted from the loss of the relationship.
- The acknowledgment that the pain of loss is an inherent part of life resulting from the ability to give and receive love.
- The awareness that you do not “get over” your grief; instead, you have a new reality, meaning, and purpose in your life.
Touchstone Ten: Appreciate Your Transformation
“The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.” – Maya Angelou
“What you are is God’s gift to you. What you do with what you are is your gift to God.” – George Foster
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” – Helen Keller
“I have been trying to make the best of grief and am just beginning to learn to allow it to make the best of me.” – Barbara Lazear Ascher
“In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus
“Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” – Zephaniah 3:16-17
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