What Does It Mean to Grieve Well?

by | Jan 31, 2022 | Feelings

I often wish that crying on a daily basis was as normal as brushing our teeth.

I wish that I could tear up more easily, that I could cry softly about things for five minutes and then move on with my day easily, without anyone thinking that something is weird or wrong.

I’d love crying to be a much more normal part of living because honestly, I could probably cry about and grieve things in my life every day.

The subject of grief and loss is loaded and culturally complicated. In cultures where being “strong” is a euphemism for being “emotionally closed off,” crying is seen as an unwelcome sign of weakness and vulnerability – something to be avoided.

But for me, love and grief are intimately connected. 

I’ve noticed that when I’m avoiding loss, avoiding sadness, avoiding grief, I’m also avoiding love.

I don’t want to get too invested. Too attached. Too dependent. A part of me doesn’t want to open myself up to the deep well of potential pain.

We’re interdependent mammals.
We’re wired for connection, community, and relationships.
We’re wired for attachment, love, and belonging.

Watching a video recently of a herd of elephants saying goodbye to a dead relative by touching their dead companion gently with their trunks and standing guard around the body, I found myself overwhelmed with heartache and tears. Animals mourn. They know how to grieve well, I thought.

So, what does it mean for us to grieve well?

How can we stay in relationship with these inevitable and natural experiences of loss, in the most life-affirming and healing ways? Here are a few suggestions.

1.  Name the Loss

What did you once “have” that is no longer present in the same way? It can be the loss of a dream, a hope, a person, a potential. We can lose an ability, a capacity, a freedom. Many of us have lost a sense of “normalcy” in a world that is constantly changing and surprising us. We can also lose a sense of confidence, clarity or connection.

Take some time to acknowledge what exactly you once “had” that now feels absent, remote, or unreachable. When we can acknowledge and name what we’ve lost, we start the process of both letting go and also of leaning into the transformation that this will bring.

2.  Surrender to the Yearning

When we experience the loss of something that previously fortified us, sustained us, or enriched our lives in some way – consciously or not – our physical system will yearn for this, long for it, try to reach for it. In the early stages, it can feel like putting tentacles out into the world to try to find something and bring it back to wholeness within ourselves. The ache is painful. Physical. Real. And thankfully, temporary.

Become as present as you are able to your feelings, and remember to greet them with compassion and kindness. No judgment.  

3.  Process in Community

When we experience loss, telling the story to others and having our experience heard, seen, and witnessed can be an integral part of moving through mourning. We need our communities. We need empathic listening. When we’ve lost something dear to our hearts, we ache. We feel disoriented. Sadness, anger, numbness, resistance, anguish, despair: these often visit our internal systems like unwelcome weather that needs to be waited out.

Talk with others, cry with others, express to others, feel with others. When we don’t know how to articulate or talk about our experiences, we end up feeling more isolated, more alone, more disconnected. Seek out communities of support who can help you lean in and feel, without being so alone.

We do not need people to lessen our grief, or point out the silver linings or try to reframe things as “good” in some way. We need people to sit with us in our grief, to be by our sides, honoring the loss with dignity and presence. Nothing can make it “better,” but remember that simply being there, and doing nothing (ironically) helps.   

4.  Reorient

Loss brings about a deep reorientation of internal and external worlds. We update our beliefs, we examine our sense of who we are, we develop new routines. A part of ourselves feels empty, on the edge of a void where something once was. Another part of ourselves reaches for life and possibility. For a while we swing between these two worlds: the emptiness and the new possibilities.

Be patient with yourself; the pendulation has its own timing and its own wisdom. Trust the process.

What are the ways you process grief? How do you mourn? What helps you let go?
I’d love to hear from you – leave a comment below.


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3 Comments

  1. Liz Barber Anema

    Ok, and good morning xoxo I had already cried once this morning and now again. I agree crying is so needed to feel, release and let go and be aware. What was that movie, where the news caster sat on her bed a purposefully cried before racing off to a high powered fast moving TV broadcasting job…ahhh "Broadcast News". Permission to cry xoxox

    Reply
  2. Bob

    Thank you. I let myself cry. I am mourning my daughters suicide 18 months ago. I cannot move on. I have two abusive failed relationships and Carly’s death has destroyed me after everything. Because of my history I cannot join a community – when I have tried to join a church (3x) I am deeply panicked by their loving outreach because it feels like I am being tricked or trapped. So I have found a Christian friend that I visit once every two weeks instead. I am engaged with a clinical psychologist and an art and movement therapist – both lovely people. I have also found your drop in group that I have been to twice. Having your loving members respond with such empathy and gentleness is a healing balm for my soul. I have had many offers of support and help, but these three methods are all I can manage right now. Thank you for this beautiful letter.

    Reply
    • Harry Mullin

      Wow brother, indeed!
      Thank you for your beautiful and heartfelt post!
      I’m curious to hear more about your experience with "tricked or trapped." That pattern/evaluation resonates with me. Perhaps we could share our experiences and each thereby learn from the other. I can be found at: harry mullin at gmail.com (using usual address format – take that you bots – grin!)
      Harry

      Reply

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