Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the 5 stages of grief in her book ‘On Death & Dying’ which was first published in 1969. These stages were initially witnessed by Elizabeth for people who were dying, not actually grieving. The stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance which are still accurate components of the grieving process, but some people will experience all of them, some will experience one or two and rarely will you experience them in chronological order. Up until recently, this has been a benchmark in understanding grief, but we are now seeing many more idea’s to help us understand this rich and complex process. For example, David Kessler has recently published ‘The 6th Stage Of Grief – Making Meaning’ and Claire Bidwell-Smity – ‘Anxiety The Missing Stage of Grief.‘
Grief is being explored and expanded upon, but there are still many misconceptions and cultural conditionings which are deeply in bedded in us. The first I will outline is, ‘being strong.’ I myself received much praise for this as a child. Stoic and unemotional not wanting to burden others with my pain, when people remarked on my strength, it left me with an uncomfortable feeling. My grief repression made me numb to such a degree I grew self hatred from not feeling, judging myself for being like a stone, cold and lifeless.
I think in my culture, first world, industrial Britain we like to praise emotional strength, it symbolises a resilience that delays nothing, the epitome of the industrial revolution. There is even a phrase in England, ‘Keep Buggering On’ – that is what we do in the face of struggle and set back, we keep going and we trouble no one. I even have a letter from when my father passed from a well-meaning close relative telling me, ‘you have to be strong for your mother.’ I had already decided this the day I found out my father was dead, the letter confirmed my decision, I would be strong, I will not feel. I will build great big strong walls around my heart and let very few people close to it incase they die or leave me.
Crying. Since we were born we have been told, ‘don’t cry.’ When we become adults, we feel shame when we cry, we apologise quickly as the tears begin to fall, ‘I am so sorry’ and we wipe them away as fast as possible. We quash our tears. We try and stop them as fast as they start. But what we forget is that tears are medicine. Tears are the very things that detox us from negativity, it is a beautiful cleansing process and is in fact, very good for us. As we evolve, we welcome tears, we appreciate them instead of being afraid of them and I hope you will find yourself in the company of people who will praise them and see the beauty in them. Our brilliant bodies, shedding our emotions and cleansing us from toxins from the inside out.
Being able to cry without shame, is great strength. It takes strength to be vulnerable. Tears are quite the reverse of weakness as we have understood before because we were constantly told ‘to stop crying.’
Are you not over this yet? Have you heard this helpful comment? Maybe you have even heard it from someone who has experienced great loss and sadness. Unfortunately it lacks so much compassion. There are of course many people out there who will say untactful and triggering comments and this is for me, in the top 3! Your grief is your grief and it will be there in your life in different degrees of intensity. My advice here would be this – choose your audience. What I mean by this is that not everyone can hold the depths of your heart with the respect and love it deserves. A therapist once quoted from the Bible to me, ‘don’t caste pearl in front of swine’ – what this means is what I have just outlined, be discerning about who you share your inner pearls to, because not everyone can hold the space for you. Remember, there is no timeline to your healing.
What a lot of people are unaware of is the secondary losses that we experience in grief. There is the loss of identity, maybe you are now a widow or an orphan. The death or loss has an implication on health and financial support. There is the loss of shared goals, dreams, faith, a desire to live, confidence and emotional support. Thinking of milestone scenario’s such as weddings, anniversary’s or funerals, weddings or graduations you will attend will always be a trigger for the future. Holidays like Christmas will also take on a different meaning. Many people around you will not think of that. Some people may indeed tell you to forget about significant anniversary’s or Birthdays because it will just be too painful.
I have spent my early life feeling sad at weddings, one boyfriend I had even said at a wedding that I was a reluctant bridesmaid at said, ‘why is it that every time everyone else is happy you are always sad?’ I cannot remember what I said to him, but I knew in my heart it was because I would never have a wedding like that, my parents were gone. My heart was so bruised and and I longed for someone like my boyfriend to get it, but I did not even get it back then, because I too was thinking, I should be over it, a few years had passed and we are told over and over again that time is a great healer.
Time is a healer. It can be. It can also mean absolutely nothing. I certainly thought that I should be over my pain by a certain time. I did not acknowledge my pain and grief for many years. So when I finally did, it was decades after my parents died. Sometimes, time means absolutely nothing at all where grief is concerned. I however, did very little when it came to mourning, I wanted to run from grief, pretend it was not happening and use my stoic strength to get through. This will not work long term. Maybe you can keep it up for a while, but eventually, grief will come knocking.
I can do this alone. Trust me, I tried this for a really long time. I barely grieved with my sisters, because I did not want to upset them or the time we had together. I usually used my romantic relationships as the root cause of all my pain. It was not until a romantic relationship hurt me so badly, that I decided to seek help. This relationship indirectly led me to a path of healing. I started to open, I started to cry, but in all honestly, it took years to peel back the layers, to finally reach the grief of my parents. I did not to do it alone. I went to multiple therapists, a coach and the most powerful work of Clearmind.org that really broke through layers and then Spiritual Psychology that was gentle and deep and led me into a very compassionate and loving space to grieve my parents. Others peoples help will get you through. Asking for help is a skill that some of us need to learn and have the confidence or humbleness to do.
So many of us do not know how to respond and react to grief, and the absence of mourning is more socially acceptable. But not anymore, things are changing. We have so much information about death and grieving than ever before. I think one of the upsides of social media is people are brave enough to share their inner most pain and suffering through their social media accounts.. Others can read and watch and take a deep exhale. I am not the only one. Grief is no longer a private, shameful affair.
Conscious Grief has begun.Read more
Holding space – perhaps this is an over used term for you or maybe you have never heard it before. Wherever you are in your discovery of this phrase, it holds a vital role when it comes to listening to those in grief. What is meant by this term, is to be with someone who needs their inner pain and turmoil to be witnessed by someone who is skilled at listening. Someone who is skilled at listening does so with intent. They are doing it because they care, they have compassion and they want to help.
Giving advice, interjecting the person talking or bringing their own experience into the fold as a way of making the other person feel more heard are tactics that we use in everyday conversation. These are the very things to be avoided when holding space. Listening with intent may be giving a small nod of understanding, or the words ‘I hear you’ said softly to let the person know you are following them, you relate, you are right there with them. Some people who may find it deeply uncomfortable to take up space, may need small questions to know they can keep opening, such as ‘is there anything else?’ It might be the first time that anyone has ever given them their undivided attention which could be unsettling at first. A suggestion would be to begin a conversation with a sentence like, ‘it is my intention to hold a loving space for you to share whatever is going on for you right now.’
A skill that I was taught whilst studying Spiritual Psychology was ‘See The Loving Essence’ in each person that you listen to. The purpose of this is to breakdown the judgements that can often block us and distract us from really listening. If we imagine each person we listen to as their soul essence, or often I think of a baby, when a baby is born, it is like pure love. As life happens, we build barriers to protect us, which take us further from our essential nature – love.
Heart Centered Listening was another term taken from Spiritual Psychology which teaches us to listen from our hearts and to be totally devoted to the person talking. We mostly listen from our heads, thinking about what we can say in response and only listening to a fraction of what we hear. When we listen from our hearts we hold a pure space. The person we listen to will energetically feel that and be able to go deeper, they will trust more and feel safe in their vulnerability.
Holding Space is like an act of service. It is putting aside our own agenda, and being so present to what is being shared. It is sitting with that friend, client, stranger whoever it may be and witnessing their pain. It might make you feel very uncomfortable to see someone desperately upset, it is not about you taking on their pain, it is about showing that person they are heard on a deep level. It is profound what listening can do. We may worry that we do not have the answers to resolve someone else’s pain, but your heart centered listening will bring more healing than you can ever imagine.Read more
“Online Grief Groups are a brilliant way to connect with others who are experiencing similar feelings. Being able to express our grief to people who listen with intention allows our grief to be witnessed which is powerful and healing. Meeting with a group online from the comfort and safety of our own homes makes getting to a meeting more straightforward and strong connections are still made in our new normal virtual world.”Read more