Ask the Therapist

Question: “A few years ago, I experienced the loss of a family member and am noticing that I am still struggling with feelings of sadness related to their passing and the space it has left in my life.  I sometimes feel frustrated that I still struggle as much as I do most days.  Can you offer any hope on moving forward?”

Dear Reader, 

Grief is a wild journey and a deep initiation.  The research the psychology community has done on grief is astounding. Yet, I have found that theories and the intellectual mind can only grasp grief so far.  I’ve discovered that grief is less about moving through stages and more about developing a way of relating to our grief because I do not believe it ever “resolves” itself or even “heals” in some ways.

I do believe that we can live through our grief and even thrive because of it.  All of this depends on our internalized beliefs about feelings and grief in particular.  Grief is intrinsic to life.  Everyone, whether you have experienced a direct loss or not, has some experience with it.  We must accept that it is here. 

Many of us try to bypass the sensations and experience of grief because it can be overwhelming.  In a society that has, for the most part, lost a genuine deep respect for rituals and community, grief itself can be traumatic.  But grief itself is not. In fact, it can be quite the contrary.  The mind has a terrible time conceptualizing death and dying.  The body can process it a bit more fully, but even in the physical realm of our existence, death (although quite natural) is incredibly existential.  It is hard to make sense of it.  In our world of wanting certainty, death gives way to nothing but a mystery.  It shows us where we are vulnerable and in need of support from something greater.  

For some, this is their spiritual community and belief system.  But even if you do not have a particular belief in a higher power, there is the authentic power of community and gathering, the power of nature and the elements, of singing songs and writing poetry, of movement rituals and feeling with others, the power of creating art out of our heartbreak.

I do not have any specific advice regarding anyone’s grief process because it is theirs, and it is so unique to the love you shared with your loved one.  That is what makes it so exquisite and also so lonely sometimes.

I know this, having lost both my parents and my sister in my early 20s.  I speak to you from personal experience, not some trivial soundbite of Pollyanna comforts.  

Part of the creative process when it comes to grief is allowing any and all feelings to have their space.  If there is rage, channel the rage.  If there is despair, can you allow it to be there and hold it like a small child needing the most sensitive care?  There is no timeline for grief.  Just as love is without limit, grief is as well.  

Ultimately, I invite you to do it with support.  The need for solitude makes sense; however, isolating in it will only consume you into realms of shame and overwhelm that can create unneeded suffering.  Find a friend, a group, a therapist, a clergy person, a tree, or even the sky; something that you can feel safe to be held by and let yourself fall apart and be reborn into this new way of being in the world.  

The relationship with your grief will ebb and flow.  Ultimately, I hope you will find that this grief has and will allow you to live life on an even deeper level – where the colors and tastes of the world become more vibrant.  Take good care of your body and your mind.  Move, breathe, rest.  In the grief process, sometimes, that is all we can do.  

And I will leave you with this beautiful poem that my supportive grief guide once shared with me.  It is called:

“Blessing for Falling into a New Layer of Grief” 

by Jan Richardson 

You thought
you had hit
every layer possible,
that you had found
the far limit
of your sorrow,
of your grief.

Now the world falls
from beneath your feet
all over again,
as if the wound
were opening
for the first time,
only now with
an ache you recognize
as ancient.

Here is the time
for kindness—
your own, to yourself—
as you fall
and fall,
as you land hard
in this layer
that lies deeper than
you ever imagined
you could go.

Think of it as
a secret room—
this space
that has opened
before you,
that has opened
inside you,
though it may look
sharp in every corner
and sinister
no matter where
you turn.

Think of it as
a hidden chamber
in your heart
where you can stay
as long as you need,
where you will
find provision
you never wanted
but on which
your life will now

I want to tell you
there is treasure
even here—
that the sharp lines
that so match your scars
will lead
to solace;
that this space
that feels so foreign
will become for you
a shelter.

So let yourself fall.
It will not be
the last time,
but do not let this be
cause for fear.

These are the rooms
around which your
new home will grow—
the home of your heart,
the home of your life
that welcomes you
with such completeness,
opening and
opening and
opening itself to you,
no part of you
turned away.

With love, 


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