Learning to grieve actively is one of the best skills you’ll ever need.
It might seem morbid, but none of us escape life without significant loss. Yes, even you, young grasshopper.
I remember, at 23, studying the life span of long-term marriage and getting to the midlife or “third stage.” One of the “processes” of that stage was to reflect on and grieve the losses and disappointments of the marriage.
My response was, WHAT?! I’m not going to have losses to grieve. I’m going to create the life and love I want. I scoffed at such a notion.
Now I laugh at myself. I know so much better!
Learning to grieve well, in a healthy fashion, intentionally, fully, actively is one of the most important skills you can learn to master in this life. Because you WILL need it.
And as a culture, we kinda suck at actually doing this, much less teaching our children how to do it.
Lucky for you, it’s a skill you can learn. I can help with it. You will need more guidance than I can fit in one of these posts, but here’s a start:
Examine what you’ve already been taught about grieving
What messages did you receive about loss?
These may have come from anyone around you, either by their example or their words. What messages have you picked up along the way? There are TONS of messages out there for how to handle loss and grief. Maybe it’s something like:
- Others have it worse. (Or “it” could be worse. At least…)
- You’ll get through this. (Really? How?)
- It just takes time.
- Get out there and find another….love, puppy, father-figure.
- You need to be strong. (Maybe for others.)
- Just keep going. (Just keep swimming, moving, doing.)
- God has a plan.
- It will all work out.
- Grief is a private affair. (You’re alone; figure it out. And don’t burden others.)
Those platitudes are SUPPOSED to help, but they SKIP all the nitty gritty of actually feeling, expressing, and healing real grief. Can you think of other messages you’ve heard or given?
Consider the list. Even reread it.
Is there anything truly HELPFUL about these messages? Do they actually explain or demonstrate HOW to fully recover after a loss? How to live after grief?
No. Yet these are the messages and examples we received. And for lack of better knowledge and experience, we perpetuate them; we have followed the examples around us. We’ve relied on flimsy, pathetic thinking in order to survive. That’s okay. It’s natural. It’s just not enough. Next…
What has been your go-to in dealing with loss? What’s your usual MO?
Do you get busy? Work harder? Replace the loss? Try to muster the strength? Push it away? Go it alone? Cling to religiosity?
Cool. Probably helped you survive. Probably not going to help you really THRIVE. Now or after the NEXT loss. There’s no judgment in what has been your method of choice coping with your grief.
And if you’re perfectly happy with the way you’ve always dealt with loss, okay. Stick with that. But I bet since you’re reading this, you have loss (or losses) in your life that are unfinished, that continue to hurt. Or maybe, you’re confronting a fresh wound and finally want a method that really helps.
You deserve that.
Grieve Actively as a process
Grieving actively starts with acknowledging loss. So many times we try to breeze past it, ignore its impact, and just “move on.” It can be easy to move at a frenzied pace, faking your way. Actively grieving means you slow down and actually process the past, its cost, and its messages.
In addition, don’t let your past dominate you. Don’t LIVE there. Don’t wallow in it. That is the point of processing the loss, after all. You process loss (actively grieve) in order to truly recover and live more fully in the present. I like this quote: “The longer you live in the past, the less time you have to spend in the present.”
So, you want to do this in a way that you spend just the right amount of time dealing with it.
Grieving actively means acknowledging what you wish had been “more, better, or different.”
Those are legit desires. And don’t just lightly acknowledge. Honor those impulses and wishes. They reveal your heart and values. Truly. Listing what you wanted more of, what you wish had been better (no matter who is responsible) and describing what you would like to have been different is a GREAT way to clarify your own values.
It’s SAFE to do this.
So many times we think we can only consider the good things (especially after death.) Or maybe only the bad (especially after a divorce or break-up.) But the most important things can be learned and processed by thinking through and listing out ALL we wish had been more, better, or different.
Believe it or not, this process also allows ALL the positive things to get through more accurately.
Next, intentionally DO something meaningful with the info.
Apologize for your part. Probably you will see ways that you contributed to the situation yielding less than you hoped. Take responsibility only where it is yours.
Forgive (and determine to forgive) those things that you need to be released from. Remember, resentment and bitterness are costly to YOUR life, not the offender. It’s okay if you don’t “feel” like it’s forgiven. Purpose to forgive. Let go as much as you are able and acknowledge your need to forgive where it’s tough.
Get clear on the significant emotional realities. Sometimes this is something that fits neither category. It’s just something true and significant. For example, “Mom, you tried to put lots of shame on me and that was not right. It’s not my shame.” It could be “You were a good dancing partner and I’ll always be happy about the time we spent dancing.” State those things that are significant, charged, and true for you.
You will do best if you write these things down, and then share them with one trusted person. That can be a professional or a peer doing the same thing. Then, get busy living in the present.
Guess what? It’s absolutely okay to cry. Maybe a lot. It’s also okay NOT to cry. Know what isn’t okay? Getting stuck and wasting time or missing the lessons your loss can teach you.
I have a real 6-8 session process to walk you through grieving actively. It’s part of my women’s groups and one on one sessions. Check your options HERE and let me know if I can help.