Managing grief and losses
“When the grief train pulls into the station, it brings all the other cars with it.”
Grief does not occur in isolation. One loss can bring up past losses, even the ones we thought were over and dealt with.
A few years back when my youngest brother Jerry died, I was devastated. His death felt like a tsunami was washing over me. I remember sharing this with my best-friend who had buried her brother. I told her that my pain was so intense, like no other grief I had experienced. Worse one yet. How could this be I asked? I have lost so many people that I loved, and, lived through multiple different type of losses. Did this happen to you when your brother died? Is this feeling normal? Is it because this was my first sibling to die? I judged myself harshly for feeling “anger.” Shame and guilt pulled into the station too. Were these feelings on board now because we had not spoken in the few years leading up to his death? Was that boundary that was so hard for me to put into place really a good idea now Colleen? Now he’s dead. How’s that for a boundary? Or, was it how he died? Was it because his death was unexpected and shocking? Was it how I found out because no one in my family of origin had called me? Or, was this pain a measurement of how very much I loved him? My heart was shattered and I was exhausted. I was grateful to have the gift of my friend’s ability to listen, validate and support me through this period.
No one ever taught me how to grieve – until now.
The reason my brother’s death was exhausting was because the grief I was carrying wasn’t JUST about his death. My brother Jerry’s death brought up other losses. I was grieving the loss of our relationship over the past years. The loss of being disconnected from him, especially the not speaking part at the time of his death. And, my other losses surfaced begging for attention. In particular, but not conscious of it at that time, the unfinished business (grief) around the loss of my parents and our “complicated” relationships. And, there were more cars pulling into the train station. The train was brimming over with the losses and feelings associated with another reality. I did not have harmonious and nourishing connections with what was now left of my family of origin - my siblings. And now, we were down one. Confusion stopped by around my role as one of the eldest members still alive in this tribe. That caused even more scary thoughts.
In the past my go to coping mechanism was “avoidance.” I never had the courage to “turn towards” my pain and suffering, share my feelings with someone I trusted, or become curious as to why I was feeling this way. That lead to some of this stuff: isolation, getting sick, people pleasing, feeling less than, scared, anxious, fatigue, insomnia, and digestion issues.
My unfinished grief work led to addictions that came and went and only offered temporary relief.
Today, I am more conscious of myself in a room, who I am with, what is going on, my breath, how I am feeling in my body, what I am saying, what you are saying and not saying, and what I AM feeling when I AM with you and not with you. That awareness alone helps me tremendously stay in balance and certainly when grief visits. Like it is right now.
Having this awareness moves me now towards my meditation seat - every day - especially the days that I don’t want to. Like yesterday. That’s just one tool I use. I say it’s transformational for me in managing my grief. It helps me develop more courage for one thing. And, a steadier mind.
I offer you this wisdom from my teacher who is a grief expert (David Kessler) and from my own life experiences:
Grief does not occur in isolation. One loss brings up past losses, even the ones we think are over whether we are conscious of it or not.
If I resist, harden my heart, fight against it, I will only hurt myself even more. Not an option. I know from my past experiences that I can heal. I have healed and I know there is more to heal. This knowledge helps me move through my grief. My intention is to be willing to heal, keep my heart open, let go of what no longer serves me, die to the past and go easy on myself.