Since the beginning of August, the lives of my friends and family have been sprinkled with losses, changes and transitions, both wanted an unwanted.
Relationships have ended. Separations and divorces have necessitated relocation into new homes and cities, for families and new schools, new teachers and new bus routes for the kids. There have been health scares and sick leaves. Retirements and new career ventures. Doors opening and closing. Paths taken. Paths not taken. Globally, we are watching tremendous loss and upheaval around the world due to both natural and human-made turmoil.
In myself, and in those around me, I have witnessed emotion and uncertainty…and I recognized it as grief: the natural, instinctual and internal response that we have to loss.
Grief doesn’t just arise from death. Grief also arises from the changes, transitions and losses we experience as we live our lives. The tiny, micro-cosmic deaths we experience and accumulate on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis simply from living in a world where change seems to be the only constant.
Even changes that we choose, or perceived as good are still transitions, making us adjust to new life circumstances, routines and lifestyles.
All of these examples are marked by an ending of one thing and the beginning of another. Situations that require we transition from how we were to how we are. This is the space where grief lives; the fertile ground where we are confronted with letting go of one thing, while moving towards something else – what I call “living losses.” There is grief. There is emotion. There is even a sense fullness when the shape of our lives includes what we have left behind.
Unfortunately, grief has become a forgotten ally in our attempts to live whole heartedly. Without conscious acknowledgement of those parts of ourselves that are cut out/left behind/lost to the past we risk walking through our lives with big chunks missing.
Our society pushes us to “get on with things,” and “not live in the past.” There is a constant pressure to move upwards and forwards in our lives, and a real resistance to spend time in the muckiness of it all.
Ask any garden: the muck is where the nutrients are. The awareness of what we have lost, what we miss, and indeed what we have gained that helps us create lives that we find meaningful, purposeful and whole.
So, what can we do?
1. First, acknowledge that grief is possible without experiencing a death. It is possible to have internal grief in response to an external situation, regardless of the cause.
2. Expand your awareness to see what it is that you have lost. It’s not just the loss of ______ (insert loss or change here: work, relationship, health, etcetera etcetera). Loss is like a rock thrown into a pond…it ripples outward. A single loss or change may alter your self-identity, perception of safety and security in your world. It may change your social circle and social supports, cause spiritual questioning or quest, change your roles, and your daily rituals.
3. Pay attention to your feelings. Our lives and our feelings aren’t one dimensional. Our feelings can tell us a lot about the complexities of our experiences. Often times, we will feel a multitude of contradictory emotions. For example, you may feel sappy – sad and happy at the same time. Pay attention to this. Reflect on what your feelings are trying to communicate with you. Remember, you have to feel it to heal it.
4. Express yourself. Tell your story. It’s important to take your internal response to loss/change/transition and express it outside yourself. This will help integrate your new reality and new life both to yourself and those around you.
5. Use ritual. When words are inadequate, we can use symbols, ceremony and ritual to convey the depth of our experience. This year, prior to a move from an old house to a new house we had a leaving ritual. I found a beautiful poem about how houses become homes, and bring us shelter, comfort, companionship and warmth. I read this aloud to my partner, step-son and dog, before we walked from room to room reminiscing and remembering. In every room, we each voiced a memory of a time spent in that room; something about the room we would miss, and something we wanted to take with us. My thoughts were more figurative – I was going to miss the sense of peace I had within those four walls, and wanted to bring the bright and open energy of the space to the new house. My step-son was more literal – he was going to miss his friends next door, and he wanted to bring his bed and toys. In our own ways we were expressing our needs and wants around leaving and we used ritual to help us. Ritual doesn’t have to be anything fancy…it just has to be intentional and able to capture the breadth of your experience…the good and the bad…joys and fears…dreams and realities…
6. Lastly, and most importantly, reach out for support if you need it. You are not alone. There are millions of people in this world, all of whom experience change and transition, and I’m sure, struggle with it in the same way we all do.