In my work as a writer and as a coach, I am very aware of the balance between allowing space to sit in grief and feel it, and knowing when it is time to get up and start to walk. I have found that the sitting part of grief is as much a part of the healing as the walking part is. I have experienced this principle with my body as a weight lifter. I have days where I focus on specific muscle groups but always a day or two each week to rest my body. The rest day is as much a part of the process as the lifting days are. And I’ve learned to increase those rest days as necessary to avoid injury, when I feel that I’m on the edge of over-doing it.
When we walk through grief or trauma, there is a time and space for gratitude, affirmative thoughts, and the typical self-care forms we equate with healing, but there must also be space for feeling it all. We have to feel it to heal it. Everyone who has walked through pain or trauma must at some point lean into the pain, sit in it, feel it all, and dig in deep. The rising and healing takes great courage, yet we cannot rise and heal with the enormous crushing weight of pain and sorrow on our back. To release some of the weight, we have to take it out of the back pack, hold it, name it, feel it, and grieve it.
One of the things I loved about grief therapy was that it allowed space for me to just feel the feelings, take them out of the “backpack”- look at them, speak them, know and name them, bring them to the surface and just be with them, balanced with the next step of making choices about what to do with those feelings.
Sometimes loving yourself means allowing yourself to fall apart at the seams, collapse and feel it all. And honestly those are some of the hardest days. I found myself facing one of them on Thanksgiving evening. I did really great all week preparing for the big day, I had a blast shopping and preparing food with the help of my three youngest, I even had a great “most of the day” on Thanksgiving, and then we sat down to the table to eat. I don’t know what I was thinking. I love setting the table and making it look festive. That creative process is so fun for me. But, friends, I set a spot for Mattie at the table.
When I did it, it was a sweet, lovely idea.
But when we sat down and I looked at his empty chair between John and Elia, well it didn’t feel sweet and lovely anymore.
It felt gut wrenchingly horrible. I couldn’t even stop the tears, though I sure tried hard. I stepped away from the table a few times during dinner to catch my breath. I lost my appetite. Somehow I made it through, cleaned up from dinner, got out the pie, put the younger three to bed, and then settled in to watch a TV show. I got in bed, skipping the face washing part, and when John went down stairs to get the coffee ready for morning, I lost it. Totally and completely- lost it. I lay there sobbing, unable to catch my breath, with a horrible movie in my mind taking me back to the trauma of the day he died, the moment they declared him dead, seeing and touching him, burying him, the suffocating days that followed. Over and over rushing through me- a cacophony of pain and horror. John came in and found me, wrapped himself around me with a deep knowing. I fell asleep finally and woke up looking like a prize fighter, with a grief hangover. (yeah that’s a thing) I spent the next day in bed, weak and exhausted. I couldn’t have pushed myself to do some of the healing self-care that is part of my norm if I tried. It was necessary to just be, to feel and to rest.
Loving yourself through grief has so many forms. Sometimes love is a deep, heart wrenching cry. Sometime love is a fist-to-the-sky scream that loosens the hardness from the heart. Sometimes it is the tranquility of a yoga class or guided meditation. Sometimes it is a long talk with someone who understands. Sometimes a trip to the gym. And it ebbs and flows. What I need today, is not what I needed on Thanksgiving Evening, and I’m wise enough to know it now. Sorrow has shaped me and strengthened me, it has allowed me to know myself more fully and to be present, truly present for the pain of others.
My dear friends, no one I know has been healed by ignoring the pain or covering it with platitudes. In fact, the healing takes longer when the wound is covered, ignored, and allowed to fester. At some point all of that “stuffing” will erupt because we were not created to hold it. It becomes poison in our souls! I learned a lot about wound care during Mattie’s beautiful life. His first major wound was a septic ulcer on the back of his head when he was about two weeks old. We had to shave his head so we could see it clearly, care for it, and allow it to breathe. Just like with a physical wound, you can’t slap a bandage on pain and try not to look at it. Our heart wounds need to be seen and nurtured. They need air and sometimes a deep painful scrubbing; and they need healing balm.
Are you hearing me?
When we have learned to sit it our own sorrow, look at our wounds, scrub and care for them, we will begin to notice the pink appearing, the new growth of healing skin, and we will begin to rise even stronger. It is then that speaking your truth has power and rises from a place of knowing. It then that affirmations take root in your soul and do the anchoring work they were intended to do. And then a beautiful thing happens, we are able to turn to another and sit with them in their own pain, be the empathetic voice, the gentle reminder, the one who points to the wound and says, “It’s ok to look at it. Don’t be afraid. Let me help you find the balm.”