When you are stuck in complicated grief, you feel like you are in the middle of the ocean, drowning. You are desperate to keep your head above water, but it is hard, your arms and legs feel like concrete.
You are so tired of struggling.
You wonder if it would just be easier to relinquish to the waves and allow yourself to go under. But, there is some primal instinct in you that demands that your lungs receive the oxygen that will keep you alive. There is also a part of you which knows that your lost loved one does not want you to give up.
So you continue on.
People who love and support you are nearby in boats, but they are unsure of whether you need help, and if so, how to help. You don't understand why the people in the boats can't see that you need someone to pull you out of the water. Your supporters never fully comprehend the depth of your struggle, or that they were witnessing the near drowning of someone they love.
You eventually understand that there is no lifeline waiting to be thrown to you from the well-meaning, but unaware, supporters in the boats.
You are on your own. Exhausted, you force yourself to continue on.
Suddenly, your mind offers you a suggestion -- is it possible that your panicked struggling may be part of what is dragging you under?
As you make the decision to surrender, and turn yourself onto your back, you make the incredible discovery that your body is buoyant.
Some part of you knows how to stay afloat.
You gently float on the surface of the water, your face turned towards the sky. Looking up, you notice for the first time since your grief began, that the sky is full of brilliantly, luminous stars. Suddenly you realize you are not alone in your struggle, and that the stars are symbolic of a greater 'Divine Source" that is there to guide and encourage you.
You also understand that your lost loved one is there in the stars as well.
You were never alone.
You continue floating, keeping your eyes on the majestic beauty of the stars, until you've regained the strength and clarity to figure out how to get yourself to shore.
Practical Tools for Healing
• Be mindful of the energy you allow around you. Grief puts you in a very fragile state and you absorb any negativity that may be around you. Surround yourself with people who can be empathetic to the pain you're experiencing
• Don't overextend yourself physically or emotionally. Learn that it's ok to say no when you are doing too much. Listen to your body. Your body is working hard to try to get you through this crisis. Take care of it. When you are tired, sleep. When you need activity, exercise. When you are hungry, eat. Your emotions will take a physical toll on your body.
• Understand that it is ok to ask for help. When you are dealing with grief, you will find that the everyday activities that you used to accomplish with ease, now overwhelm you. Find those few people you know you can count on and give them specific ways they can help you.
• Surround yourself with a community of people who are experiencing similar pain. Being part of a support group can help relieve the loneliness of the grief journey. Modern day access to the internet has made it easier than ever to find support. Be careful not to isolate yourself and think that no one understands what you're going through. You are not alone.
• Find activities that bring you some happiness. For me, I discovered that repainting some of the rooms in my house while listening to spiritual audiobooks was very therapeutic. Figure out what brings comfort to you.
• If it has been more than a year since the loss of your loved one, honor your emotions -- allow yourself to feel the pain, but don't let yourself linger there for too long. I lost years of my life because I didn't believe that I had any control over my thoughts and feelings. I allowed my thoughts to control me. Do your best to remember the love you shared with your loved one. And then remember that love cannot be lost.
• When you are in pain, write down your feelings. You will be surprised at how therapeutic journaling your experience can be. The pen can become a tool that allows the pen to be an outlet for the expression of your grief to flow out of you and onto the paper.
2. Complicated Grief May Require Professional Help
• If it has been more than a year since your loss and you are still in as much pain as you were the first month, and you cannot find meaning in your life, you may need more help to get through your grief. Start with your family practice physician and they will be able to refer you to local resources to help you deal with your grief. The Center for Complicated Grief has been successfully studying and treating complicated grief for two decades and has been successful in helping those with complicated grief lead meaningful lives after loss.
3. Find your Spiritual Path
• You may be asking yourself what a spiritual path has to do with healing grief. In my experience, finding your personal spiritual path can be used as a light to help guide you through the dark days of grief and eventually assist in bringing you out on the other side.
• What do you believe? Do your beliefs help you through the experience of losing someone you love, or do they cause more pain and confusion for you? If your beliefs do not help you deal with the loss of your loved one, you may not be on the right spiritual path.
• How do you find your spiritual path? What questions do you have about death, life, God, and how the universe works? You will find that the questions about what happens after death lead to deeper and deeper questions about the meaning of life, and why we're here. These questions will help you on your search for your spiritual path.
• Read. Research. Find your answers. Whether it be one of the world's major religions, Eastern philosophy, quantum theory, scientific evidence of life after death, near-death-experiences; find what resonates with you. Use one, or many spiritual teachers/religious or spiritual teachings, as stepping stones to help you develop your spiritual path. Maybe you will find one specific religion or path is what is right for you. Maybe you will find several. Find what resonates with you and start building your path.
We each have our own path to find, but I hope that some of the suggestions that I've shared will resonate with you and that you can use them to help you on your journey.
Healing grief, and learning to live without your loved one is the hardest thing you will ever do, but, you can learn to find joy in life again.
Don't let grief steal more joy from your life than it already has. Honor your pain. Honor your loss. Find your path. You can make it back to shore.
You can find more of my writing here.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at email@example.com.