just like there can be
“four seasons in one day”
when grieving there can be
“many emotions in one day”.
Parents of young children would know that every day both the children and their parents – experience a whole range of emotions including frustration, joy, confusion, anger, love.
Add in an overlay of intense grief and the swirl of emotions can feel overwhelming and debilitating .
Before kids and before grief my days and my emotions were relatively smooth. I was recognised at work and at home for my calm demeanour. I managed to avoid most difficult emotions by keeping busy with work and social commitments. If I had to face my emotions then vigorous exercise, a brisk walk or a chat with a good friend would help me move through them.
I discovered in my second year of grief as emotions and memories started to flood through my body and mind that my methods and understanding of how to cope with emotions were not going to work.
I had no physical energy and no energy to interact with people. No energy even to connect with dear friends who kept reaching out to me. I had too many losses and traumatic moments that I needed to reflect upon.
I asked “How can I cope with all these emotions?” and the answers that l that I found were: Be still, Know that each emotion will pass, Practice Self Compassion and Find comforting activities
I was shocked that my body was exhausted and that I could not even take myself for a short walk. In any free time that I had – I was forced to sit still. One of the best remedies for depression is to move and to exercise. So why couldn’t I move my body? I wasn’t depressed. I was grief stricken. I needed deep rest.
“Grief pushes us into “deep rest’ weighing down our muscles, wringing tears from our eyes and sobs from our guts”
by Martha Beck (Finding Your Own North Star)
My counsellor reminded me of the image of a war veteran sitting with a blanket and a cup of tea, a blank expression looking out to sea. I realised that although I had not been at war witnessing and suffering tragic atrocities – I had been through three and a half years as a brain cancer carer and at the same time I was the mother of two toddlers. There had been many moments that were full of anxiety or heartbreaking and bittersweet. I had been operating in overdrive for years. My body was telling me what I needed to do to heal.
And so in any pockets of time to myself I would lie still under a comforting blanket, or meditate or sit on the beach or journal. I would accept whatever emotions that would arise and I would feel lighter as a result.
KNOW THAT EACH EMOTION WILL PASS
Have you noticed how children can be distraught and then five minutes later they can be laughing and fully engaged in the joy of nature or a game?
Watching my young children move through so many emotions every day was a wonderful reminder that emotions do pass and no matter how heavy and intense they are – there is always some lighter and joyful moments ahead.
This gave me the courage and a little patience to acknowledge all the emotions that came to me because I knew that they would not last the whole day.
PRACTICE SELF COMPASSION
With every emotion full day I struggled with unhelpful suggestions from well meaning acquaintances and much internal chatter from the SHOULD part of myself.
It kept saying
- “You should exercise. Exercise is so key and important. Don’t just sit there!”
- “You should be back at work and soldier on.”
- “You should be achieving things every day and be productive at home. Your house should be ship shape!’
- “You should be chatty and make new friends at school functions. This quiet reserved flat you is not the real you. Why are you hiding behind a hat and dark sunnies?”
- “You should get out and socialise more with your dear friends”.
I could not stop my nagging critical mind from over-riding wisdom from my body and heart that knew my lack of physical energy and withdrawn social self was appropriate for my stage of grief.
I needed to practice self compassion and self love.
Brief chats with best friends and regular visits to my grief counsellor and my acupuncturist helped me to practice self compassion. To validate that being still and withdrawing with my grief was the best way to care for myself.
“Accepting someone else’s compassionate response to your story enables you to feel love for yourself … the healthy self-love that allows you to care for yourself as you would a dear friend”
by Martha Beck (Finding your own North Star)
FIND COMFORTING ACTIVITIES
Although I accepted my emotion full days, I knew that my heart still needed some lighter activities to provide a balance.
I found that yoga, sitting at the beach and trashy light sitcom television provided relief from the heavy weight of grief and provided a reclusive form of connection with the world.
Participating in a group yoga class meant that I was surrounded by people all participating in an activity together without the need to interact. I felt connected and supported by our common purpose of practicing yoga and meditating.
Sitting on the beach provided much comfort and connection. The warm sun on my back felt like an embrace. My toes wriggling in the sand was soothing and grounded me. Observing people surfing and swimming in the water reminded me of the playful aspects of life. The flow of the waves and the movement of the clouds reminded me of the cycles of life and the seasons.
Watching sit com television and romantic comedies was a light hearted way of connecting with other peoples stories of the trials and tribulations of life.
Once I understood and applied my newly found methods as to what would help me to cope with an emotion full day, I felt more patient and had a new level of acceptance and respect for my grief. It was a significant step towards healing and eventually emerging from my Labyrinth of Grief – to actively participate in life again.