How to Grieve in a Healthy Way

So many of you have sent thoughtful emails, texts and left voicemails offering condolences for the loss of my mother two weeks ago. I am so grateful and appreciative for all of your prayers, light and good thoughts. I am also thankful for the wonderful memories and stories you've shared in your messages about how my mom touched you in your life. 

There are so many additional things that I am grateful for, even in losing my mom.

  • I am grateful that I am grieving in a sober, conscious, awake and empowered way.  
  • I am grateful that I do not feel like a victim.
  • I am grateful I had a healthy relationship with my mom and I have no regrets.
  • I am grateful she touched so many lives and that many of you are sharing that with me.
  • I am grateful that she knew my children and that my children knew her.
  • I am grateful that I know how to keep the memory of someone alive. 
  • I am grateful that I spent lots of time with my mom and despite being three thousand miles away, I used technology to connect with her face-to-face several times a week.
  • I am grateful I got to take care of my mom the last week of her life, that my father allowed my sister and I to help him, and my mother allowed us to come full circle.
  • I am grateful that we said I love you to one another often, that we cried and reminisced while she was still alive, that I held her hand and looked into her eyes as she took her last breath.

What. An. Honor.

Then there are the other things that fall into the category of grief.

  • Rehashing that last week over and over again.
  • Remembering her last breaths.
  • Recalling the little words and phrases she spoke between sleep.
  • Giving myself space and time to allow the tears without allowing it to swallow or consume me.
  • Serving my clients, staying present with what I've created but not overworking or distracting myself to bypass the sadness that comes along with not seeing or talking to her human form. 
  • Learning to be okay with being uncomfortable.
  • Writing down savored memories.
  • Talking with friends, praying, meditating, and continuing with self-care.
  • Going outside and breathing fresh air, exercising a few times a week, nourishing my body with good foods. 

I've experienced a lot of death in my life, more than most people my age. Family friends, a boyfriend in high school, aunts, uncles, cousins while in college, babies too soon before their time, friends in recovery, and even a best friend who committed suicide. I learned early on in my life the different ways people grieve by watching them. I was able to form my own path to grief; a way to accept and to connect with the spirit after the human form has dissipated. I've worked with many clients over the past ten years on grieving and rebirth after the death of a loved one. The common denominator is that there is no way around it... the only way is through the grief. 

This time, I am learning some new things about grief... with my mother's death. 

First, is I can see the ego, or basic self, wanting to control, especially when it feels powerless. It wants to know when this will pass, when things will feel normal again. It wants to figure it out and fix it. Then the ego quickly moves from powerlessness into fear. It worries that my business and momentum suffer, it worries that I will forget her smell, her laugh, her touch, her voice. I am learning that this is very normal. I am learning that instead of controlling or figuring it out, all I need to do it observe and pay attention to the message. The part that wants to figure it out simply wants some normalcy. The part that is afraid simply wants to remember her. I don't have to retreat in despair to those basic self aspects, I can simply listen to their message and act upon it. If it wants normalcy, I can give it that through sticking to a morning routine; walking my kids to school, seeing a few clients each day, checking in with my team, etc. If it wants to remember her, I can write down the memories I hold dear, I can look at her photos, I can close my eyes to hear her voice and laughter. I have learned that I can use the ego for support in the process, not to weigh me down. 

Second, is observing how grief appears. Sometimes it's angry, other times it's sad, and then it's joyful and laughing. Allowing the grief to show up the way that it needs to without judging it, creates so much more freedom than if I judge the emotions as wrong or bad. As noted above, I can ask the anger, the sadness, and the joy what it wants me to know. If I can stay conscious and pull on the thread, I will always discover that under the anger is sadness and below the sadness is love. All of my emotions are layers and each shows me how much I was loved and how much I loved. 

Last, is that grief feels powerless. If you follow me on Instagram you know that I post about this concept of powerlessness often. Yes, the grief comes out of nowhere and true power comes from admitting I am powerless about when and how it comes through. What I am noticing is that there is usually a thought that precedes the wave of grief. A thought of never having tea with her again, never receiving her embrace again, never calling her for a recipe again... things I don't want to let go of. I don't get hard on myself for having those thoughts. I am powerless over the thoughts that come through but I can choose what to do with them. I allow them but stay aware that they make me feel a certain way. I ask them what they need from me. Sometimes they need to cry. Sometimes they need to reminisce. Sometimes they need to connect with her spiritually.

In admitting my powerlessness about the thoughts that come through, I free myself. I'm learning that admitting powerlessness is the most courageous and spiritual thing I can do. For years I struggled with the concept of powerlessness and admitting I was powerless. I thought it meant that I was weak, a failure. Now I realize how much courage and strength it takes to admit these feelings. I also know how much freedom comes from acknowledging the feeling of powerlessness.

I've been looking through some of my mom's favorite books, reading the notes she made in the margins and post it notes she flagged through the pages. I found this quote that sums up the power of powerlessness and it speaks to me of grief. 

"There are rough as well as gentle waves in the ocean; strong emotions come, like anger, desire, jealousy. The real practitioner recognizes them not as a disturbance or obstacle but as a great opportunity. See right through them, as soon as they arise, to what they are: the vivid and eclectic manifestation of the true nature of the mind. As you gradually learn to do this, even the most turbulent emotions fail to seize hold of you and instead dissolve, as wild waves rise and rear and sink back into the calm of the ocean. - Sogyal Rinpoche the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. 

Like the rain and flowing creek water, shedding tears cleanses and clears. I am learning how to lean into emotions, open up the outlet for the tears, and teach myself that my feelings are safe and also very healing, insightful and expansive. Continuing to do this today as a sober woman allows me to use feelings to be aware of the thought behind the feeling and freeing myself from it. Without alcohol. Without drugs. Without prescriptions. Without sugar. Without over-exercising. Without overworking. Without distraction.

I am finding health and healing in grief by allowing the feelings, staying awake each moment, and being conscious of myself and present to the beauty grieving has to offer.