This has been a year of loss for everyone. We can forget that with all this loss comes the need to grieve. We struggle at the best of times to welcome grief and give room to process the impact it has on us. But, this may be a time when processing our grief is most needed.
This past year has brought us all into an experience of loss beyond “normal”. Many of us are overwhelmed by this extraordinary grief and don't know how to deal with it. As I reflect on this year, I see a need for us all to go boldly into our grief.
Many people have experienced the deep grief that comes with death. This year the world has experienced a mind-numbing number of deaths, with the dual pandemics of Covid and the Opioid crisis, as well as the deaths of loved ones that life often brings. However, there are so many other ways that we experience loss and the need to grieve. (For example, whatsyourgrief.com has a comprehensive list of grief types and other resources).
Here is a list of other types of grief that are not just about death:
This kind of grief can happen when you know a loss is coming. Walking a loved one through cancer, being uncertain about losing your job, or anticipating the loss of a relationship, can all lead to feelings of anger, helplessness, and pain.
Complicated grief occurs when layers of unfinished loss and trauma pile on top of each other. When we don't deal with the grief of the past, disordered thinking, reactive behaviour, and other losses can lead to a complex interaction of feelings. Sometimes complicated grief is attributed to the ways in someone's untreated depression or anxiety contributes to more severe reactions to grief.
Living with a painful loss that cannot change. Chronic grief might be identified when the reactions to a loss remain constant and intense for a longer period of time. Chronic illness or disability or the loss of a loved one are forever losses that won't change and can lead to sustained periods of grief.
Overload when one or more losses occur concurrently. Many people can experience multiple losses that occur right after each other or at the same time. While each of these losses may have been manageable, when they all occur together they lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed and that nothing is going their way.
Collective grief happens when a community experiences the same losses. This might happen when an extended family grieves together as they lose a loved one; a nation may grieve as a sports hero or beloved politician dies; or as we experience a global pandemic with endless experiences of a world in crisis.
We have all experienced one or more of these types of grief. Yet, my experience is that we are afraid to grieve, even though, grief is always present as life itself is a series of losses. Then a year like this comes along and we can’t escape the daily losses.
This is not to say that we don’t also have joy, but we seem to befriend our joy much easier than our grief. However, as Mary Oliver writes so brilliantly in her short poem, they coexist within us:
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two housed as they are in the same body.
- Mary Oliver, Evidence
Though joy and grief are both always with us, we so often ignore grief, fearing this “enemy” that might bring overwhelming pain. Oh, it will hurt, and it will come with anger, shock, sadness and heartache, but it will not kill us. Instead, if we trust it as a friend and walk with it, it can heal.
We avoid grief in so many ways: getting angry or resentful, trying to fix or pacify it, seeing ourselves or others as “strong enough” to not need to grieve, seeing grief as weakness, turning it into depression or anxiety without actually grieving, withdrawing from any emotions (positive or negative), seeing only the positive side of a loss, staying busy or shutting down and distracting.
But, there is such healing in sitting with grief, taking time, noticing it, befriending it with compassion, giving it a voice and allowing the feelings to be cared for. It is a rite that allows us to give praise to that which we love.
As Francis Weller says in his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow, "My grief says that I dared to love (and live), that I allowed another (or a something) to enter the core of my being and find a home in my heart. Grief is akin to praise, it is how the soul recounts the depth to which someone or something has touched our lives. To love is to accept the rites of grief."
"Grief is akin to praise, it is how the soul recounts the depth to which someone or something has touched our lives. To love is to accept the rites of grief." - Francis Weller
To walk with grief is to notice each of the emotions that come with a loss, giving it time and space to be felt and voiced (or screamed, cried, journaled, talked through, danced, etc...). You need to allow the hurt to be held with compassion, not trying to fix it or soothe it too quickly, trusting grief to hold you and move the pain through you, to find growth and healing beyond it.
I find it fascinating to observe the many efforts we go to avoid our grief because we are so afraid of it. We can ignore and deny our real experiences and emotions because of the fear of facing our loss. But this denial doesn't lead us into a healthier way of life. It's only by experiencing, expressing, and validating our grief that we can make sense of what has happened.
I believe that going boldly into our grief is a courageous and necessary act that leads to transformation and healing. Sometimes we might associate grieving with being weak or delving into despair but I think the opposite is true. Going boldly into grief means working towards an authenticity that is honest and hopeful because it honours our real feelings and what has mattered to us.
Working with our grief means that we face up to difficult feelings but we gain a greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. It is difficult, but it is always worth the risk.
...there is such healing in sitting with grief, taking time, noticing it, befriending it with compassion, giving it a voice and allowing the feelings to be cared for. It is a rite that allows us to give praise to that which we love.
I have come to a place where I am more open to saying “hello” to grief when it shows up. I'm more willing to ask it to teach me, to trust it, to spend time with it until it passes, knowing that it will return again as my friend when I need it.
If I avoid the important work of grieving, it can’t do it’s healing work.
If I walk with grief, it will heal.
Be bold, enter deeply into the rites of grief for all that you have lost this year, and move through it.
It promises to heal so that we can love again.