I find it so fascinating that according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Autumn is the season of grief. How wise is it that this ancient medical system saw the importance of not only living with the seasons but the value of honoring the major emotions in a seasonal way? Our Western Medical System doesn’t really acknowledge the importance of emotion in health at all, let alone the importance of the seasons. (A possible exception to this is the diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Grief is associated with the lungs in Chinese Medicine, which I think is interesting as many of us feel grief in our chest area. We tend to let out big “grief sighs” and heave our chests when we really cry. Autumn is also associated with the large intestine, which is the biggest organ in our body for letting go. Literally, “let that shit go” comes from the large intestine. The grieving process is all about letting go of what we have lost.
This week, I was asked to give a talk on grief as a part of this seasonal cleanse I have been doing, so I thought I’d share it with you here.
Grief is heartbreaking. No one wants to feel it. I know it’s not a popular topic, but I hope I can offer some tips that can help you through grief whether you are currently overwhelmed by it, or you are currently “under-accessing” it. (What Grief?? I don’t have any GRIEF!!)
So we’re in the season of grief.
Leaves are falling off the trees, the days are getting shorter. The weather starts to get colder and drearier. We’re starting to grieve the loss of the current year. It’s also harvest season which is a blessing, but as we harvest the fruits of our labor, the plants also die or go into dormancy.
For many of us, we find ourselves in the autumn season of our lives. Our kids are grown or almost grown, we are starting our second half. Luckily for humans, we can choose to rebirth and do it all again! We’re more like perennials in that way! That’s what this Midwife of Midlife Blog is all about!
In this time, there is the joy and abundance of the harvest coupled with the grief of the loss of the year. It’s often like that in our emotional cycles too. We feel blessed that we had that person, thing, or experience in our life, but simultaneously so sad that it is now gone and over.
Grief can exist with other emotions. ALL the other emotions. When we grieve, we often not only feel gratitude but also anger, betrayal, and even fear about what life is going to be like now. Some people feel guilty about not doing enough, not saying something they wish they would have said. Sometimes people can even feel relief depending on how taxing the caregiving situation and the relationship with the person. No emotion is wrong during your grieving process. The only thing that would be considered “wrong” is not honoring all the many emotions or making yourself wrong for experiencing some emotion.
Grief arises from more than just the death of loved ones.
A lot of people think of grief as only about the death of people close to you, but grief comes in many flavors. You can grieve the loss of your health, a role, an identity, a home, a material possession, a relationship, a time of life. You can feel immense grief over the loss of a pet, a job, or even a person you didn’t know. There’s grief every time a disaster strikes or a mass shooting. Grief is all around us.
Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance are kind of a myth.
We’ve all heard of these stages as originated by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, BUT it’s important to note that not everyone goes through these. In fact, only a small percentage of people go through these stages in that order.
We all grieve very differently and for different lengths of time.
There is no one size fits all approach to grieving. This is why you should never expect yourself to be “over” something, even if it happened 20 or 30 years ago, especially if you weren’t in space at that time that was conducive to grieving.
Tips for moving through grief.
- Don’t block the pain. Allow yourself to cry, scream or be angry about the loss. Take time with a journal to write about your feelings. Sometimes grief can be exacerbated by beliefs that aren’t really true.
- Don’t get stuck in pain. Pema Chodron once said that any emotion, if not fed, lasts only about 90 seconds. This doesn’t mean your grief will be over in 90 seconds but that it will shift into something else in that amount of time. Grief comes in waves. We can either be taken under by them, or we can learn to surf or just keep our heads above water.
- Increase self-care A LOT. Sleep can be great for grief. It gives us a respite from the pain, but we don’t want to rely on that too much either. Allowing extra sleep but also planning a walk in nature or other exercises can keep us from getting stuck. A massage would help too. I also have a recipe for a grief bath if you want it that really helps move the grief through instead of getting stuck in it.
- Don’t isolate. This is our inclination. In fact, it may feel like others are avoiding you. They might be, but if you reach out, it can help them to feel more comfortable giving you the support you need. (My neighbor’s dad just died, and even though I’m a therapist and we are good friends, I find myself unsure of what to do or say.)
- Breathe through the pain. When you feel a wave of grief, breathe it into your heart center. Say to yourself, if it feels right, “I’m here for you. I love you. I’m listening.” Continue breathing and notice how the sensation of grief changes with each breath.
- Be sure to cultivate moments of joy and breaks in the grief. Watch funny movies to get your mind off of it from time to time.
- Schedule time to grieve and keep it to that timeframe if you can. This is a common suggestion in therapy to keep the grief from becoming all-consuming. Schedule an hour (or two) a day to really allow yourself to grieve fully. If grief comes in at other times, just say to yourself, “I’ve set aside time at 4 pm to feel this grief.”
- It’s ok to distract from the pain as long as the distraction doesn’t lead to other problems. This is the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping. If your coping makes you feel worse later, you might want to try something different or seek help.
Here’s an exercise you can try to help you to move through the grief when it comes up. The key is to connect with it in your body on a sensation level instead of going up into your head about whatever thought the loss is bringing up (this is so unfair, why me? why them? How am I going to survive? What am I going to do now that this person’s place or thing is out of my life? These are all thoughts that can keep us stuck in the pain of grief without moving through it.)
- Locate the grief in your body.
- Ask yourself, “If this had a color, what color would it be?” If this had a shape, what shape would it be? Texture? Temperature? How big does it feel”? This helps to keep you out of your mind and thoughts and to go into the actual present-moment experience.
- Ask this grieving part of you, “What do you need?” And see if you get an answer.
Once you’ve connected with the sensation and learned more about it, then put your hand on your heart and breathe. If you can, bring to your mind’s eye an image of something you’re grateful for or happy about. Connect with that positive emotion and imagine that you are able to breathe it in and absorb it like a sponge.
Lunar Living for the Week Ahead:
Enjoy the last week of Libra Season! I will be, for sure! It’s my birthday this week, and I will be finishing my Fall cleanse!
Next Sunday, we will be entering Scorpio season and gearing up for Halloween, Samhain, Dia de Los Muertos, and all things creepy, dark, shadowy, sexy, and intense.
I hope that helps.
Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about any of this.
As always, if you need more help, be sure to reach out. I’m here to help you move through the grief so you can get to your joy!