Grief is a punch in the stomach. It knocks the air out of you, its pain is physical and mental and psychological and spiritual and all the sticky places in between. It sucks. It sucks so bad you think you’ll never smile or laugh again.
It hit me when my Dad passed away at the all-too-young age of 51 from brain cancer. I didn’t cry when I found out, I just stared at the wall in front of me; dumbfounded, confused, and in unspeakable pain. I held myself together at the funeral because I had to give the eulogy and well, that’s what I do: when shit hits the fan I fake a brave face and act like a big girl. But I wore waterproof mascara just in case.
For a few weeks following, I felt numb but all together kind of fine. I existed in a robotic state of being, and I thought that would be okay. I naively believed I had dodged the bullet of this whole grief thing.
You can run but you can’t hide, and the tears and mourning soon found me. They found me and they wouldn’t go away until I dealt with them. After sobbing on the living floor for too many hours, I picked myself up (well, actually, my boyfriend was the one who literally picked me up off the floor). Something had to be done; I had to get proactive.
The only way I know to be proactive is to research, to learn, to read and to explore. So I dove deep, going back to my yoga and meditation practice, seeing a therapist, an energetic healer, a holistic doctor and a yoga guru (just to cover all the bases).
This is what I learned:
No one has to die for grief to happen
Yes, someone dying is really, really hard. And I don’t mean to downplay that in any way, but when I began to explore that awful feeling, I realized that I’ve had inklings, echoes of it before. When I was laid off from my first job that I really loved and cried the whole way home, when a childhood friend decided she wanted to go a separate way, and when romantic relationships came to an unexpected end. On some level, we grieve all the time, because grief is in many ways a dramatic way of saying goodbye, of entering a new phase, of starting over in a way. Grieving is a part of the cyclical beauty of life. And there is no beauty in a world without ugly- we need both.
To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the therapist whose couch I landed on, but she did have a one-liner that made the appointments worth it: the process of grief is non-linear. For my mind, this was the hardest thing to accept; this mind of mine thinks in strategies, processes and steps to a goal. The non-linearity of grief made it feel like a downward spiral to hell most days. The best way to deal with it? Like everything: let it go. Let go of your expectation for any sort of progress and just commit to be along for the ride. Accept the rainbow of emotions that happen on any given day and experience them one by one, as they come to be in the present moment.
Time for a time-out
Having grown up in a multi-religious home, I am used to viewing religion as a societal practice, as an anthropologist and scientist, not a member of the chorus. Morbid as it may sound, following Dad’s passing I spent many hours Googling the grieving ceremonies and practices of every religion and culture I could think of. And although they may have different names for it, almost unanimously every religion and culture has a sort of a “mourning time-out”; a formal period of time with a set number of days in which grief is to be honored and observed. How appropriate to give yourself time to not do anything but take care of your hurt-ness, to wallow in the sorrow. And how appropriate that there’s a set time limit to this phase, after which you must get up and move on. So call it whatever you want to call it, but do just this- set a time to mourn and feel sad, and set a deadline for when you are going to actively start to move on. Non-linearly, of course.
Nothing is permanent
My mom used to tell me this when I would cry about summer being over: all things, good and bad, must come to an end. My yoga practice taught me that nothing in this physical life is permanent, and that the false belief of permanence is what causes us ignorant humans so much suffering. We attach, we cling, we refuse to let go and move on. We grieve because we thought we’d have this thing- this job, this friendship, this boyfriend/ girlfriend/husband/wife forever. And then we lose them and we’re all of a sudden panicking and in shock. But guess what, even the feeling of grief, of painful loss isn’t permanent, and it too shall pass in its own time. Remember that time is the greatest healer of all and focus on staying in the present instead of wallowing in what you had and have now lost.
But above all, be incredibly gentle with yourself. Know that this is a part of the journey and it’s ok if it’s hard and it sucks. You’re learning. Just keep going- I promise you it will get better.
Related: On Dealing with the Loss of a Pet
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Photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr