I recently gave an informal talk on the topic of healing grief at a Cygnus Community Café event at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary in Shere, Surrey. The Sanctuary is a favourite place of spiritual nourishment for me; the environment is tranquil and welcoming. The whole feel of the place is geared towards one’s temporary removal from all the cares and worries of everyday life. It is always an uplifting place to visit.
After my initial talk when I described my own strategies for dealing with the issues surrounding grief and loss, we became a more interactive group with consideration of questions that were put forward for discussion.
One of the audience, who is a healer at the Sanctuary, said,
“In my healing sessions, I often come across people who are bereaved and grieving. They are trying to carry on as normally as possible, and they will tell me they are struggling with their losses. Do you think it is a good idea to tell them that they can give themselves permission to grieve?”
Needing permission to grieve may seem an odd concept, but in fact it makes sense.
When we are grieving, we become very adept at hiding it from the outside world. To a certain extent, we need to do this to be able to function usefully in the workplace and in our activities of daily life. After all, we are not much use to ourselves or anyone else if we are constantly dissolving into tears and generally being unable to get through the days. But …. There is an inherent danger in being too buttoned up in the face we show to the world. If we are not careful we can lose the ability to feel the emotions that we need to feel in order to move forward in our grief. Someone once said to me that we are meant to feel pain when we grieve, otherwise it would not hold meaning. Harsh, but true.
So, to return to the original question, if someone said to me, “OK Andrea, I give you permission to grieve. Go off and do it …” What would I do?
I think I would be allowing myself some time to sit quietly and reflect on the years of loss, to think about James and remember him with the joy that he brought … but also to recall the agony of the early days which seemed utterly insurmountable at the time. By revisiting the darkest of places it is possible to simultaneously look back at the monochrome days and look forward to the bright colourful future. I have learned to do this in a controlled way through learning visualisation and meditation techniques which are very helpful. Giving myself permission to grieve also means that I can allow myself to cry, though this happens less these days. Sometimes to go off into a quiet space and have a good weep is a very therapeutic way to move forward in grieving.
Naturally, the urge for me would be to share … I feel very strongly about expressing grief through writing and talking about it, as openly as possible.
Stoicism can be your worst enemy. When you are grieving and feeling like you want to grieve actively, involving others in your grief rather than holding it to yourself, you need people who will empathise with you, tolerate your pain themselves without flinching, and just be present in the moment with you. That really is all you need.
Grief is a jumble, it is so many things – a tangled ball of wool, an onion with many layers, a set of stairs, a big black hole, a spiral, a rock, a mountain … the list is endless and the path along it is individual to each person who is coping with his or her loss. It is not worth your while to try to defer or deflect it, which will simply prolong the agony. You have to accept that the unpredictability of grief and its non-linear journey of recovery will be strewn with obstacles, but with will, determination and a degree of stubbornness they can be overcome. Eventually.
This week I read some truly insightful words by Thomas Cohen, who was married to the late Peaches Geldof. He said,
“The thing that really had the greatest impact on me and the entire situation was the realisation that if you aren’t going to love yourself, if you’re not going to take care of yourself, if you’re not going to take yourself to every single place you need to go in order to heal yourself, then you’re not going to get through the grieving process”. What a brilliant example of someone who has given himself permission to grieve.