ALLOW Yourself to Grieve:
honoring your personal grief journey*
*When I speak of grief/grieving I am not talking only about losing a loved one. We grieve many and varied losses in our lives and can often use the same methods to assist ourselves.
If you are grieving you’ve probably heard at least one of these:
“Keep busy, it’ll take your mind off things.”
“It’s time to get on with your life!”
“He (she) is better off now.”
None of these honor your particular experience or expression of loss. They are designed to get you to push your feelings away, to ignore your personal grief timetable, and to “assist” you in getting back to the way things were (to who YOU were) before your loss. But, the strong – deep feelings of grief – the loss that has occurred, cannot be easily (or healthfully) ignored.
AND their opposites: don’t feel, don’t think, don’t socialize, don’t rest, don’t talk.
Just ALLOW. Value – honor – your unique process of feeling, thinking, and experiencing life and loss.
Because grief often feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you – you lose your equilibrium, your sense of how to BE in the world – some examples of incorporating the principle of ALLOW into your self-care work may be useful:
Allow yourself to feel. This can run from anger to sadness to numbness (a kind of not-feeling) and everything in between. Your emotions will probably fluctuate a lot.
Try to feel without judging, allowing your feelings to be whatever they are. You don’t have to act on your feelings. It’s helpful to remember that YOU are not your feelings. In other words, you can feel very nasty toward a person – even hateful – and that does not make you a nasty or hateful person, just a person who is having a nasty or hateful feeling.
When you want to allow yourself not to feel you can do something physical – work in the garden, or do the dishes.
Allow yourself to think about your loss – about your loved one, your future or past. Perhaps you wish to plan some type of long term memorial – a garden, a grouping of pictures, a piece of art or letter/story that describes your loved one. When this becomes too overwhelming, or you feel that you need or desire a break from thinking – move your body. Take a walk, clean or organize, do a craft. Or, “move” your mind by placing it somewhere else – read or watch TV.
Allow yourself to socialize or not depending on how you feel. People will often attempt to convince you that getting out – going to social gatherings – will help you. Only you know if this is true at each particular moment. If you feel awkward turning down a number of socializing requests, it might be helpful to remind yourself (and assure the people who are wishing to spend time with you) that you have not decided to become a hermit – you are just honoring your need for alone time now.
Allow yourself to talk about the person who died. Don’t be afraid of the negative – sometimes we have a tendency to make saints out of everyone we’ve lost. This doesn’t honor the person they really were.
When my paternal grandmother died my cousins and I sat around uncomfortably reminiscing over funny and sweet things about her. At one point someone spoke about how she had been a strict disciplinarian. We all laughed and the tension broke. It seemed that the comment brought us closer as we could talk honestly and did not have to pretend that our grandmother was perfect.
Again, allow yourself not to talk about the person who has died when you do not wish to – even if someone else thinks it is a good idea.
More often you will probably find that people shy away from talking to you about your loss or your loved one. People can misguidedly assume that if they bring up your loss they will make you uncomfortable – as if in not mentioning your grief you will be spared feeling it. If you wish to talk about your loved one and/or your feelings of loss, honor your desire to do so.
Allow yourself to rest. Grief is hard work and you will probably need more rest than usual. You can think of rest time as refueling. Rest will mean different things to different people. For you it could be a nap, a time to sit and read or daydream. It could mean time to zone out in front of the TV, or to meditate or pray.
Also allow yourself not to rest – if you wish to keep busy, honor that.
There are many ways to nurture and support yourself during times of grief. Please know that there is NO right way to grieve. No self-care methods are better than others. Honor YOUR own ever-changing way!