The Sacred Journey of Grief
Inevitably, grief changes you. You can never go back to the world as you knew it because you are not the same. As a result you may feel as though you’ve been sent into the wilderness without a map. However, knowing models of the grief process and descriptions of the common experiences can help you find your bearings.
The process of grief is a circuitous journey. A path made of many small stones. Each step forward might feel like a micro-movement but overtime you forge new trails; loop around landmarks until, eventually, new territory becomes familiar.
“I believe grief and loss is a sacred journey. To relate to death asks us to reflect on what it means to be alive. This process is an initiation. Maybe you discover new strength, your capacity to persevere, or the necessity to surrender and let go. When death touches our lives we are reminded that it is a profound act of courage to engage in life, knowing that loss and pain can and will happen.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Models of Grief
In all models of grief we see descriptions of phases, cycles, and stages. Classically, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified 5 core phases of grief which involve denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. More recently models of grief have evolved to be much more complex and less linear regarding the progression of stages. Ultimately all models remind us that the journey is one of adjustment and adapting to living without the physical presence of your loved one.
You might feel numb or cut-off. You will likely feel afraid, sad, confused, or angry. Your world might feel surreal. You may have emotional outbursts or feel panicky. Feelings of loneliness, betrayal, or abandonment are also common. Many people describe feeling disorganized or having an inability to concentrate. You might also notice physical sensations such as loss of appetite or dizziness. Some people go through a period of depression or desire to isolate themselves. These experiences may feel overwhelming or frightening; however, they are normal.
There is no right or wrong way to feel. Your loss cannot be compared to another person’s experience. We are all unique and come to the world with differing backgrounds. Your grief is yours. Your process is yours. Your timeline of healing and recovery is also uniquely yours. My invitation to you is to honor your pacing by listening to your body, mind, and emotions.
Grief and Growth
Not all grieving is painful. As you adjust to loss you might begin to make new choices, forge new relationships, or discover new aspects of yourself. You may discover unexpected strengths, renew hope, and even find a desire to help others. For example, several research studies looked at some of the ways that people grow in response to loss. People report an increased willingness to be vulnerable with others, become more willing to ask for help, identify social supports that had previously been ignored, and describe an increased appreciation for their own existence.
I have witnessed people put their lives back together after the loss of a spouse or child. I have seen people choose to love again and rebuild their lives. While hardship can and will fundamentally change you; you can be changed for the better.
Find a comfortable seated position. Take a few moments to notice your physical sensations and the quality of your thoughts. See if you can be curious about your experience. There is no right or wrong. Can you bring greater acceptance to your experience, to yourself just as you are right now?
Bring attention to your breath. Notice if it feels easy to breathe or if your breath is constricted? Now, take a moment to bring awareness to the quality of your emotional tone.
As you breathe explore any micro-movements in your posture that fine-tunes your ability to connect to your heart. Take a deep breath into your heart, feel your lungs, and lift your chest slightly. Now, let the breath go and feel the space around your heart.
During times of grief and loss it is common to feel closed and shielded. You might say, “The wounds are too great, I can’t take anymore, I have to close down and not feel a thing.” Honor your pain. You can place your hands over your heart bringing in protection and your loving presence.
There are times when your heart may feel clouded over. You might notice an inner voice that says, “Leave me alone! I need time to get clear.” When this is true we honor the cloudy heart by taking time away from the busy world. Give yourself as much time as you need to restore a sense of clarity to your grieving heart. With your hands over your heart take a deep breath wishing your heart well.
Now, take a deep breath into your heart and ask what your heart needs from you? Invite your heart to share with you what it needs…Listen for as long as it takes to create understanding with yourself.
Take a deep breath into your heart, feel your lungs, and lift your chest slightly. Now let the breath go, and just feel the space around your heart. Take a few moments to notice how your body feels now? What is the quality of your breath,…your emotional tone,…and your mind? Take as long as you need to breathe into your heart allowing yourself to integrate this meditation in any way that you need.
Online Support for Grief and Loss
Sometimes it is hard to find the right support for grief and loss in your area. Maybe you or someone you know has a difficult time getting out of the house. Or, you might find therapeutic services cost prohibitive. These are some of the reasons that I partnered with Healbright, a company with a vision of bringing psychological support into the privacy of your living room. I developed an online course to support grief and loss. This 8-module course offers a collection of lectures, yoga, guided journaling exercises, and mindfulness practices. Healbright has many affordable courses at $59 per course or $99 for a 10 course annual pass (other courses focus on relationship support, parenting, and more). Please check it out and pass this on to anyone you know who would benefit from grief support from the comfort of home. You can learn more or sign up here: Resilience Strategies for Grief and Loss.
You can get a taste of the course here:
More on grief and loss:
- A personal story of loss
- Hanuman’s journey, a metaphor for healing
- Resilience and Post Traumatic Growth
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook or sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all my posts.