Healing from Grief Lies In Honoring the Pain
I was scanning the books on the Barnes and Noble shelves, searching for the one that would show me the magic formula to take away my pain. Grief was my new companion, pulsating through my being. We were one.
I was in my 30s. What did I know about death? There was no preparing for the moment when my husband would be taken from me. A shocking diagnosis descended upon us and illness consumed my beloved. We were ill-equipped and unprepared to handle this — my heart left shattered in a million pieces. The only world I had known gone forever — leaving me with memories and ashes. There was nothing and everything to reassemble.
As I skimmed through all of the self-help books, I knew there would be no easy answers to putting the pieces of my heart back together. But I didn’t yet know that my loss would lead me to discover more than I could ever imagine — that it would hold gifts and a sense of purpose.
I spent years in denial, anger, and darkness. In my desperation, I even bargained with the universe: “I’ll do anything if you would just make it stop hurting so much!” All I could think about was how much I wanted my old life back, and if I couldn’t have that, I just wanted to sit on a park bench and wait for life to be over.
I was my own worst enemy because I was so lost in my personal anguish that I didn’t want to start over. I was stuck, immobilized by it all.
I hate to think what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had two small children to care for. I needed to be strong for them. After all, they had lost their father, so their world had been shattered, too. I did what I could to keep their lives as ‘normal’ as possible, waiting until they were safely tucked into their beds before crying myself to sleep. Often, I awoke in a cold sweat at 3:00 a.m. riddled with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Holding it together became my new full-time job. But it couldn’t be sustained — eventually something had to give.
When death or any kind of loss happens in our lives – divorce, job loss, or illness – we can feel helpless, hopeless, and out of control. We get lost in our own heads, and our minds become a maze of confusion. We become strangers in our own bodies. Fighting to free ourselves from the pain, we often find ourselves more frustrated, angrier, and even bitter. We want a pill to dull the pain, or a glass of wine to numb our feelings — to self medicate the emotions away. We stay in dysfunctional relationships to avoid being alone.
After wallowing in my pain for years, I finally realized that I couldn’t run from it anymore. I had to embrace it.
Why not? At that point if felt as if I had tried everything else! I started by honoring the pain. Previously pretending it wasn’t there hadn’t made it go away. I allowed myself to experience it fully and to soften around it. I learned to accept what I couldn’t will away. I began to surrender to it, and then…slowly, I began to let it go.
And to my amazement — in doing so, I came to understand that there are gifts in any loss or change. That’s hard to accept, but when we choose to do something with those gifts we can finally move on.
In my search to healing, I didn’t realize how much I had closed myself off from love — not just for others or from others. Somewhere deep within, I decided love was meant for everyone else, and I created a hard shell of protection around my heart, from self-love.
Sure, at the deepest level, my heart longed for love and joy, but I denied what I needed because the loss I had experienced was so great that I couldn’t imagine opening my heart again. I couldn’t go back there. It wasn’t until I surrendered to my pain that I began to stop seeing myself as damaged and broken. And yet, I came to understand that love was the missing piece to heal my heart. If I wanted love, I needed to live in love. I needed to open my heart to myself first and be love.
I thought that I had lost love, but I now understand that it isn’t possible for us to lose something that we already are. We just have to learn how to love ourselves again. We have to find our way back. Then and only then can we open our hearts to others. The very thing I had been blocking was the key to unlocking my healing.
When you reconnect with yourself, you’ll find your way back to the love that resides in each of us. And you can only reconnect with yourself when you accept your pain.
Here are steps I took that brought me back to love:
I learned to be still with myself and take time to ‘just be.’ Meditation allows us to discover our innate perfection. We’re all born into this world in pure love. My mantra is: Be Love, Live Love, and Give Love. When we send our love out into the world, others will start to do the same. So, surrender to your pain. Allow it to rear its vulnerability, acknowledge it, feel compassion for it, love it, wish it well, and send it on its way. The waves of pain may feel like they’re going to break you, but they won’t. They’ll just break your heart open. That’s how you let go of the pain and surrender.
I practice yoga not for exercise, but as a way to connect with myself, as well as express myself. As you step on to your mat, imagine it as your sacred space. Use the time to disconnect from technology and the noise around you. Let it be ‘you’ time without thoughts about what you need to do for anyone else. In my yoga classes, I dance with my mind, body, and breath. I flow like water running down a mountain stream. It creates the space for physical healing.
Find a form of expression that you enjoy, and do it for the love of it. Paint, write, color, dance – whatever helps you reconnect with your playfulness. Don’t worry whether you’re “good at it” or not! Take a class, and try something new, leaving your judgments at the door. Express yourself. Play with your inner child. You’ll soon discover that s/he’s your new best friend.
Get outside and connect with our world. Take a hike or a walk, noticing the plants and the birds. Ride a bike, look up at the big blue open sky, or go to the zoo, the mountains, or the beach. When we connect with nature, we’re able to step outside of our small little world and find where we belong within the greater universe. Allow yourself to be enveloped and supported by the beauty and purity of nature.
Love and Kindness
The gift is in the giving. When we help or give of ourselves to others – whether friends, family, or strangers – we often wind up helping ourselves. Be a mentor or volunteer. Or simply find some way to share your wisdom and your gifts. Giving to others makes us feel like we’re worthy of taking up space on the planet. It gives us a sense of purpose. How great does it feel to make a difference in someone’s life? We all need one another. We all want love. So, let it begin with you, and watch what happens.
If you’ve suffered a loss, be patient with yourself. Don’t expect healing to happen overnight, but at the same time, take care not to wallow for too long in your pain. The sooner you’re able to step outside of yourself and observe your pain as a passing visitor – not who you are – the faster you’ll be able to befriend it and give yourself the compassion you need.
True healing is not about finding an alternative route around it — we cannot bypass our life experiences and lessons and overlook the pain. Only then can it move and heal. Books can help. Friends and family can help. But ultimately, it’s up to you to open your heart to yourself and allow the healing to take place — to feel what you feel. Opening your heart involves kindness and patience. Treat yourself like you would a beloved child, and you will – no matter how dark it feels at any given moment – begin to see light again.
>Learn more at KatheCrawford.com
You may also enjoy reading The Courageous Art of Supporting Someone in Grief (At Any Age) by Angie Lucas