What it is and suggestions for healing
This past year, there was collective loss felt in a variety of ways. Here in the U.S. alone, we lost over 600,000 of our fellow Americans to a highly transmissible novel virus. Globally, the disease this virus causes has claimed the lives of nearly 4 million people. When you consider the social network or nucleus of each of these individuals (friends, family, coworkers, etc.) the number of people who are dealing with loss grows exponentially. As life begins to take on a semblance of normalcy again, it is important to recognize that there is still so much unresolved grief in the wake of this pandemic.
What is grief?
Grief is a natural response to losing someone or something that is important to you. You may feel a variety of emotions, like sadness or loneliness. You might experience it for a number of different reasons. Maybe a loved one died, a relationship ended, or you lost your job. Other life changes, like chronic illness or a move to a new home can also lead to grief.
As you can see, many things can trigger a grief response. Many of these things (losing a job or a loved one primarily) occurred on a scale we have never seen in our lifetimes last year. Grief is already a complicated process for most of us to navigate, but further complicating it was the nuances of the pandemic. Being isolated and distanced from our support systems and having many of our healthy outlets shut down to curb the spread of disease exacerbated the negatives of our grief. Particularly in the case of those who had a sick or dying loved one (from COVID or otherwise), being prevented from seeing them in medical institutions and not being able to have traditional services after a death was extremely difficult.
Everyone grieves differently. But if you understand your emotions, take care of yourself, and seek support, you can heal from it over time.
The Phases of Grief
It is important to note that these phases do not necessarily occur in a set order, and it is possible to reach a later phase and then return to an earlier phase during the grieving process.
So now that we understand what grief is and what causes it, let’s talk about the ways we can start to heal from it. Grieving is a highly individual experience. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and how you grieve depends on many factors unique to you, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, and how significant the loss was to you.
Grieving takes time and the healing happens gradually. There is no “one size fits all” approach to grieving and it cannot be forced or hurried. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process can take years. The most important thing is to be kind to, and patient with, yourself.
Below are some of the tips and suggestions we teach our Doulagivers practitioners for when they are assisting a patient during their end-of-life process or their loved ones after death. These have been widely successful in helping people to process and eventually heal from their grief. These are subjective and we recommend that you try first what you feel resonates with you personally.
Steps to Help you Heal from Grief
- Take your time – Again, this is of the utmost importance. Allow yourself the time to grieve naturally and do not become frustrated with yourself if it takes longer than expected.
- Be present – Take some time each day where you are disconnected from the outside world. Turn your phone and television off and take a walk in the neighborhood or even sit on the front porch. Get some fresh air and allow yourself to be in the moment.
- Lean into the Grief – Grief is natural and expected when we lose something or someone important to us. Honoring it will help to move it and allow it to pass.
- Talk about it – Do not try to hide your grief or feel ashamed of it. Speak it. Find a support group or someone you trust that you can confide your feelings in. Speaking about your grief will help move you towards healing from it.
- Get a grief journal – Whether or not you feel comfortable speaking to someone about your grief, it is recommended to write your thoughts about it down on paper (or in a digital document). Holding your grief inside and neglecting to express it will keep it there longer.
- Reprocess the entire journey (or event) – Whatever led to your grief, try to think about it in a new light. This is a way to learn and understand from it. To make sense of and deal with emotions it causes in healthy productive ways.
- Reframe the experience – Similar to reprocessing, reframing requires seeing something in a new way, in a context that allows us to recognize and appreciate positive aspects of the experience. Reframing helps to process the entire experience, work through any guilt, pain, or anger, and then highlight all the positive aspects of it.
- Self-care – When grieving (particularly if experiencing depression) it can be difficult to give consideration to certain parts of our daily routine. Eating healthy, nutritious foods, drinking enough water, getting physical activity, getting dressed and going outside for some sun and fresh air, and keeping up with cleanliness (both physical hygiene and living space) are important to maintain during the grieving process. Do what you can and do not feel bad if you struggle at times to keep up with all of it.
- Learn something new – Sometimes when we are grieving, picking up a new hobby or learning a new skill is a helpful way to cope with our emotions, or even express them. Creative writing, playing a musical instrument, painting, and dancing are some suggestions.
- Practice Gratitude – In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. These benefits are believed to occur because gratitude cannot run the same pathways of the brain as depression, sadness, anger, guilt, or pain. You cannot experience these emotions at the same time you are expressing gratitude.
- Be of service – At Doulagivers, we believe this is the true secret to happiness. It is by giving that we receive. The sole meaning in life is to serve humanity. Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Through fMRI technology, we know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show that altruism is hardwired in the brain and that it is pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier, but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful. It can also help you heal from your grief.
We hope these tips can help you or someone you know begin to heal from their grief. Please know that if you are having a hard time returning to a more normal life that you are not alone. Many people are still dealing with the pain of various losses and difficult circumstances they have gone through recently. It is more important now than ever before to be kind and supportive to one another.
Remember to take as much time as you need in your grieving process. To honor your feelings and allow them to be felt. Create a solid self-care plan to help you stay accountable to your physical needs while you deal with the emotional intensity of your grief. Try volunteering to help people or causes you are passionate about to meet like-minded people, take your mind off of your grief temporarily and meet your social needs. These are all empowering elements to finding joy again and living a full life after loss.
In Love and Service,
Suzanne B. O’Brien RN and the Doulagivers Community