Coping with Grief - It's Called Living Through It
By Gail H. Stone
"Dad, I tried to wake Nana, I think she's dead."
"Grandpa died yesterday."
"Oh my God, Daddy's dead."
"Uncle Jack died today."
"Grandma died last night."
"I'm standing with the body of your deceased father-in-law."
"Hon, I think we should get a divorce."
"I'm sorry, but we weren't able to resuscitate your mother."
"Mike called. He thinks Mary is dead."
"I'm sorry to leave this on your voice mail, but Uncle Andy died last night."
This litany of phone calls and conversations on death or parting has all occurred in the past 30 years of my life, most in the last 20. Whether I was the one delivering or receiving these messages, the speaking of each one was the start of the long, seemingly endless process of grieving. Often, I felt so sucker punched that I doubted I could go on. Getting up the next day seemed impossible, yet somehow I almost always did.
Something deep inside told me I had to, that there was no other way to get through it, but to keep moving. I attribute that to my deep belief in a higher plan and a sense that getting through this trial was like going through a tunnel. I told myself that if I put one foot in front of the other, I would eventually come out the other side and be able to feel somewhat whole again. Sometimes, it was all I could do to put one toe in front of the other, but all forward movement I deemed positive.
The last five instances happened within the past five years, with my mother and sister-in-law and godfather's deaths back to back in '99, '00 and '01. Looking for the reason why I have been given so many opportunities to experience the grip of grief first hand, I now believe it was in order to help others and ease their way.
If you've been here, you know. There's no magic pill to get you through the immense pain, intense sadness and amazing denial, anger and upset that you feel. However, I did create, through trial and error, a few simple practices which have profoundly impacted my journey through the tunnel and I would like to share them with you.
(1) Every single day, let in the love of family, friends and co-workers. On those days that you feel you can't bear to see anyone or when you realize that some of them have moved on, thinking in error that you are "better", read through the cards you've received. Save and then play voice mail messages and re-read e-mails of support. Give your heart a visible reminder that others do care and want to share your pain. Let them - mentally off-load a bit of it onto their shoulders. Don't try to carry it all by yourself. It can crush you and it will try. Don't let it!
(2) Create a morning or evening meditation time. Even if you can't see how to find the time, do it somehow. This was especially helpful to me in getting through the horrible time of adjustment to life alone after my divorce and then again when my Mom died. I had always said a few wake-up prayers, but found I needed more. I started with Jerry Jampolsky's book, "Love is the Answer" and read one (short) chapter a day. Then, I bought the book "A Course on Miracles" and meditated on the daily passages. While the 365 lessons seemed to represent a huge commitment, the daily phrases were so empowering that I continued. Additionally, I saved affirmations from various sources like Science of Mind magazine and The Daily Word and read them daily. Any quote from a book or article that I thought would motivate me to get up and make the day a less painful one than the day before, I saved and re-read daily. I posted the best of them around my office and in my meditation area. I still do. When you actively start looking for empowering passages, you will be touched and inspired by what comes your way.
(3) Finally, but most importantly, express yourself in some way often! I would recommend that you do it daily, as well. I found out the hard way that keeping emotions bottled up or trying to ignore them hurt more in the long run and adversely affected my health. Talk to people about your loved one, write about him/her, start a journal of your thoughts and feelings, scream whenever you can find a place where you won't alarm the neighbors, family members or fellow travelers, do some kind of physical exercise to work off steam - whenever and wherever you can vent, do so daily.
To anyone caught in the black and blue morass of grief, I invite you to consider adding these three emotionally healing practices to your daily life. They have helped me come through some horribly upsetting times, still sad at heart, but feeling more serene in the knowledge that I can and will go on - living my life to the best of my ability - for my dear ones and with my dear ones safely ensconced in my mind and heart forevermore.