By Shannon Calder
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.
~ William Shakespeare
What is grief?
First you have to decide that you have lost something. This is sometimes where people get stuck. A patient said to me, “I am losing my keys constantly.” Knowing this patient’s situation I asked, “What have you really lost?” This was a moment of realization for her. I saw it in the stunned way she looked at me. Her reply was “my hope.”
Sometimes loss is obvious and sometimes it is not. Simply, you need to step out of your resistance and denial or simple unconsciousness, decide you have lost something, something you needed, something you need to grieve.
Paula D’Arcy, author of When People Grieve wrote, “Grief is the heart’s response to any deep loss.” I would argue that the most obvious home for grief is the heart but that grief is housed in our body, spirit, mind and soul. This is how someone can lose something and not be conscious of their need to grieve for it. Be mindful of your inside landscape and you will be mindful of what it needs.
For me grief feels like something inside of me is trying to drown me and the one thing that kept me from drowning is the thing I have just lost. Then, a sense of powerlessness pervades. I know that grief will not drown me literally and that I am not powerless literally however, my imagination knows what it knows.
How does grief feel to you?
I would like to suggest you not only use your words for this. Words are often where most of us feel quite comfortable and they also get us up in our brains. We’re looking for what gets us down in our gut, in our soul.
So I’m going to suggest you share your words here in the comment section but perhaps those words can describe your process of what your grief looks like, feels like, smells like, etc. You can look in magazines for pictures, on television for characters or movies that touch this deeper emotion in you, look for art work or artists, athletics, pieces of music and don’t forget pieces of music without words, those pieces that touch you in that guttural way.
If you become afraid, step out of the place you are in with these sensory triggers and breathe into a single breath of consciousness within you and do something comforting or even ritualistic like checking your email, something that gets you back into your brain. Then when you feel like working with grief again, go back to your senses.
And please, let us all know what you did and how it went.
Paula D’Arcy, author of When People Grieve, is an internationally known expert in grief counseling and pulls from her personal resources of having lost her husband and daughter
This really resonated with me. It’s a very scary thing to look at and I know that I didn’t for a long time.
I think that during that time, my grief felt as if it was contained in a very small, white box. It was a box made of something cold and hard, like alabaster, and there was no way I was going to take the lid off. It was safer to keep it all inside there.
Eventually, of course, it had to come out, and then it ran all over the place, but now I feel as if it’s dissipated. There’s a little cloud that floats around in my gut, it’s just a fluffy white cloud most of the time and doesn’t trouble me, but every now and then it gathers into a small storm and leaves me with a knot of grief that I have to rub and work out again. Letting the lid off that box though was the right thing to do and I probably should have done it sooner. Ah well, live and learn.
I’m not sure i yet have words for grief.
I have some memories of my grandparents. I saw something the other day that reminded me of my grandmother, and i considered purchasing it. But i already have my memories. My reason to own that item would be to create new memories for someone – and there isn’t anyone there. I don’t have relationships with my nieces/nephews. I had saved many of my favorite books to share with my children. That won’t be. I still haven’t figured out how to make Christmas meaningful as two of us. I still ache when someone posts about their daughter/son being the most important thing – or granddaughter/grandson. I think grief is these ongoing sharp pains because i’ve not learned to create a new identity for myself or define who i am and why life has purpose without children.
I’m old enough this should not be so, but life is cruel. I had somewhat come to terms with it in my late 30s, only to meet and marry someone in my early 40s – and have 3 m/c. That started the cycle of longing anew and i’ve still not figured it out. I don’t know if this is what grief is, i only know i’m not beyond it.
For me, grief seems to be related directly to my breathing. All of my acute moments of grief have been centered on the feeling of not being able to breate. It’s odd because I don’t think my breathing is actuality affected and I don’t feel like hyperventilating. I just feel like I don’t have any lung space, like everything is shallow within me and like the air is stuck in my throat. I haven’t felt this way for a while but got a huge reminder while shopping for a baby shower gift today – buying my favorite childhood book and knowing I’m never going to have my own child to pass it on to.
To quote the artist jewel, “The silent sorrow lying stiff in my throat like cold and broken teeth”. Today that is what grief feels like for me.