Navigating Grief and Loss in complex times
“In the Lakota/Sioux tradition, a person who is grieving is considered most Wakan, most holy. There’s a sense that when someone is struck by the sudden lightning of loss, he or she stands on the threshold of the spirit world. The prayers of those who grieve are considered especially strong, and it is proper to ask them for their help.
You might recall what it’s like to be with someone who has grieved deeply. The person has no layer of protection, nothing left to defend. The mystery is looking out through that person’s eyes. For the time being, he or she has accepted the reality of loss and has stopped clinging to the past or grasping at the future. In the groundless openness of sorrow, there is a wholeness of presence and a deep natural wisdom.” – Tara Brach
Grief and loss. We’re soaking in it collectively and in many cases, personally. It is “complex” grief too as the psychological community would say; as we are grieving more than the loss of human beings. Homes and pets have been lost, individuals and communities have been displaced, jobs have disappeared, health has been impacted, families have been divided, friendships have ended. I’m amazed we’re doing as well as we are to be honest. It’s evidence of just how resilient and strong human beings are.
I never wanted to consider myself wise or an expert on this particular subject, but as my life has unfolded that has become the case. For those who follow astrology, I have Hecate in Scorpio in the twelfth house, along with a Scorpio ascendant conjunct Neptune. The world beyond the veil is not frightening to me, in fact it is rather comfy. It’s navigating this world in the midst of devastation that has been.
Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife Michelle McNamara in 2016. He has been transparent about his process, including how annoyed he got with Pollyanna types wishing him the best on his “grief journey.”
I can relate to that. When I lost my beloved in 2013 I got some of that and even worse online; insensitive and out of touch people chiding me for being sorrowful and “low vibe,” which is classic New Cage shaming material. I didn’t fall for it then and I don’t now. It is my hope that you don’t either. You’re more than allowed to everything you are feeling and actually feeling it is a strength, not a weakness. You’re also not required to “be a better person” from the experience or someone other than yourself.
“When you lose someone you tend to eat Wheat Thins for breakfast and rewatch “The Princess Bride” about 80 times and not sleep all that well. So I don’t know when the push-ups are going to show up in my grieving process.” – Patton Oswalt
Here are some helpful suggestions based on my observation and experience.
• Don’t be afraid to remove toxic bypassers from your life when you are experiencing grief. Solid boundaries are important anyway. When you are grieving, they are vital as you have less available energy to spare. Some people simply don’t know how to respond which is understandable. Others may lack compassion or have more of an agenda. In a highly sensitized state, the value of the “gut feeling” cannot be overstated.
• Be extra mindful who you allow in your space while you are vulnerable. I went through one of the most toxic relationships of my life when I was going through a period of complex grief. I also was running a healing center and had a mortgage to pay. I wasn’t in a position to take much time off. That proved to be an unwise call later. I don’t recommend barreling through grief to anyone, especially if you identify as Empathic or Highly Sensitive.
• ASK for support when you need it. Reach out to your community, either in person, online or both. There is a tendency for people to be highly attentive to people at the time of their loss. This is helpful, but actually may not be the most difficult time for them emotionally as shock and numbness are factors. It is the “firsts” such as Holidays, Birthdays and the anniversary of their passing that can be very difficult emotionally. If you are in support of a grieving person; do keep those times in mind, especially for the first several years.
Stolen friends and disease, operator please. Patch me back to my mind. – Black Keys
Speaking of that, if you do fall into a mental, physical and/or emotional pothole or two or experience brain fog during grief, do not beat yourself up or label yourself as stupid or spiritually blind. You are not operating under your usual functional capability. It is no one’s fault. It is simply an experience to navigate as best you can. It’s good to ponder that it won’t always feel like this either, because it won’t.
Know that grief can create physical effects such as chest pain, lack of appetite, digestive issues, increased body pain and headaches. An increase of anxiety and depression is also common, along with insomnia. With any persistent or severe physical symptoms, please do see your health provider. I have utilized the services of a grief counselor more than once and found it vital to my healing. I also got a lot of energy work in the form of Reiki and IET (Integrated Energy Therapy) which I also can recommend for its therapeutic value.
“You can say you’re through with grief all you want, but grief will let you know when it’s done.” – Patton Oswalt
Grief has its own timeline and has been known to sideswipe us. If you’re expecting that it may happen, it will be possibly less shocking. I remember seeing a cute little old man at the grocery store in the year that my stepfather passed and I lost it. I had to return to finish the shopping later and it was okay. You will learn to be more gentle with yourself and what that looks like.
May you acknowledge that you are indeed Wakan, a holy one in your sensitive heart. Your contribution and presence are appreciated. You will be different from the experience. The high point being that you will have greater understanding and compassion for others in their loss and that is a blessing for us all.
Photo by Bret Langford Arts