Grief Evolves: FOUR Shifts in my Journey

 

I’ve decided that comparisons like “easier” or “harder” / “better” or “worse” don’t really apply when it comes to grief. These words attempt to simplify a highly complex process that has billions of caveats because everyone’s grief journey is so unique.

However, humans crave order to feel in control. 

So in the two years of navigating life without my late husband, I wanted to offer a look at some of the differences between my first and second year of grief. Perhaps not to show that it’s gotten “easier,” but that even through the chaos, fear and uncertainty of life…

We can find peace and empowerment by learning to adapt! 

So here it goes: 

Shift 1: MOVEMENT ➡️ STILLNESS

Exercise has been and always will be my “go-to” outlet for coping with grief. During year one, I needed to physically move my body to feel and release the anxiety and anger that consumed me almost daily. I couldn’t “sit with” my grief because my emotions were too BIG — too overwhelming. If I didn’t workout I fell victim to the negative thoughts swirling in my mind and trapped by my circumstance. 

But, in year two, I started to discover the power of stillness in addition to moving my body as means to cope. I found that after I released the energy of an emotion, I needed stillness to sit with my grief and understand what it was telling me — 

What wounds needed attention? 

What limiting beliefs were holding me back? 

What external stressors were causing me so much inner turmoil? 

Entering my third year of grief, I understand that I need movement, stillness or a combination of both!

Shift 2: SURREAL ➡️  REALITY

Year one was surreal. Most of the time I felt numb and detached — disconnected from the life I was living. It still didn’t feel real because I was in shock. Yet, as the fog lifted so did the floodgates to my emotions.

I felt more anger and sadness as reality set in during year two. Everything felt more concrete and finite, which helped me accepting my loss (or rather surrender to it). But I felt SO much more!

Luckily I had learned a thing or two about grief in year one…

Shift 3: SURVIVING ➡️  HEALING

There is nothing that prepares you for the death of a loved one. So when the nightmare comes true and you lose everything you ever knew, loved, wished for and dreamed of, you are forced into a state of survival. This is a life you never wanted — in fact it’s your worst nightmare — and you are being asked to keep going! So you find a way to bear it — you endure, you exist, and day by day (sometimes minute by minute) you discover a way to pull through. 

My survival strategies in year one were asking for help, working out (like … NONSTOP), getting curious about grief, resilience and how to survive hardship, and finding hope and inspiration from other widows, communities or friends who had experienced a loss. 

I started making the shift from survival to healing when I began seeking meaning in my loss. I wanted more than to just bear or tolerate my new normal. So I focused on healinghow I could integrate this devastating loss into my life and find purpose moving forward. I’m still on this path today! 

Shift 4: COURAGE ➡️ CONFIDENCE

The first year after a loss is called the “year of firsts” for a very valid reason —  everything is totally foreign and new! From navigating the range and intensity of emotions, to taking care of the never-ending logistics, and filling in all of the gaps in your life that were once occupied by two! All of it was scary, painful, confusing and hard but with courageI did it anyways. 

With time and repeated action I found my footing and gained confidence in year two. I approached grief equipped with coping strategies, I knew my triggers, I made space for grief on major milestones — I had my roadmap!

This roadmap helped me create a healthy relationship with grief, which made it feel more manageable and freed up space to rediscover my identity and purpose.

Entering year three, I’m still get acquainted with this new, evolving version of myself.  I’m learning how to trust in her feelings and intuition, yielding decisions and actions that propel me forward.

I’m feeling confident that with time, patience, perseverance, surrender and the willingness to adapt to whatever life hands her … everything will work out. 

Maybe not the same, or “better” or “worse.” 

But different.

And I’m genuinely ok with that. 

xx,

Emily

If you’ve experienced a loss and are looking for gentle guidance on your grief journey, I would be honored to support you. You can learn more about all the ways we can work together here. Sending love and light your way!  

Emily’s Top Grief Books

While everyone’s grief journey is unique, I’ve discovered that educating myself about grief has helped me better understand my own process. Learning about the psychology of grief and trauma, reading other people’s stories of loss, healing and growth, and exploring various coping strategies has helped me begin to moveTHRU my own loss. Below are some of my favorite books that have helped me. Drop any of your favorites in the comments!

PICK #1: The Choice

This is my number one book recommendation for anyone facing a tragic loss — and it’s not even a specific “grief” book. What Dr. Edith Eger’s story did was give me was hope! She taught me how to shift from a victim mindset of why me? — to a survivor mindset of what now? In her memoir she accounts the horrors of Auschwitz, how she survived and overcame severe trauma for years following, and the went on to help and heal others. Her story made a profound impact on how I coped with my personal loss and taught me the valuable lesson  that struggle is universal, but victimhood is not. Despite how devastating and dire our external circumstances might be, we can seek freedom in our minds. As long as we have choices, we have power and are never trapped by circumstance!

PICK #2: On Grief & Grieving

I read this book one year after my husband died, and wish I had read it sooner. This book walks you through the five stages of loss, which have been misinterpreted and misused over the years since Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced them in 1969. However, her colleague David Kessler explains that the five stages were never intended to be linear, to put grief into “pretty boxes,” or to over generalize people’s grief. He admits that grief is messy and that people experience the stages at different times. What learning about the stages did for me, however, was validate the intense emotions and feelings that I had experienced over the course of a year. By normalizing my grief, I was able to understand my emotions, stop judging myself for feeling certain ways, and ultimately seek meaning from my loss.

PICK #3: Option B 

This book is not just for widows, but for anyone facing loss or hardship! Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, lost her husband about 10 years ago to a sudden cardiac arrhythmia during vacation. She teams up with psychologist Adam Grant, to provided data-driven evidence and practical tips on how to build resiliency and find joy in the face of adversity. Sheryl also created optionb.org — a website rich with resources on overcoming adversity including support groups and articles, videos and stories on building resiliency. Check it out and learn how we can help those suffering in silence.

PICK #4: Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief 

This book has been instrumental in finding peace in the permanence of loss. It helped me understanding that most events in life are ultimately meaningless, but we as humans give them meaning. It taught me that I can choose a meaning that adds to my suffering, or one that empowers me to move forward. I would highly recommend this book for anyone on their grief journey, as it brought me tremendous peace and comfort knowing that I could still connect with Ian by keeping his memory alive and finding ways to honor his legacy — and give meaning to his loss.

PICK #5: Hot Young Widows Club

Nora McInerny lost her husband, father and unborn baby all in the same year. Can you imagine? Probably not. I watched her Ted Talk shortly after Ian died and it gave me the reassurance that I can still move forward with my life and keep Ian very much a part of it. She is a witty writer, moving speaker and reluctant founder of the Hot Young Widows Club — an online support group for anyone who has lost a significant other. I joined and while I don’t participate in the conversation very often, it’s been helpful to read about other people’s grief journeys — finding comfort in our similarities and appreciating our differences. While the online support group is closed to widows and widowers, you can read some of the stories on their public Instagram Page. They are heartbreaking, beautiful and truly inspirational.

PICK #6: No Happy Endings

Another resource from Nora McInerny! No Happy Endings is Nora’s personal memoir documenting her grief journey. She writes about navigating the trauma of death, single parenting, filling the void, feminism, dating and eventually falling in love, re-marrying and having another child. She is raw, funny and relatable. This book helped me because it validated a lot the feelings and thoughts that I was too afraid to share with friends or family. Nora’s personal experience with grief gave me the permission to feel and do exactly what I needed to do (and still do to this day!).

PICK #7: Healthy Healing

Michelle Steinke-Baumgard (aka One Fit Widow) explains how she hit rock bottom after her husband died in a tragic plane crash and how exercise saved her. Not only does she share her personal story of using fitness as her main coping mechanism, but also provide scientific explanation for why exercise is so effective in helping us handle grief, nutritional tips, and common misconceptions about grief. The second part of her book provides a 12-week healthy healing program to help grievers incorporate exercise and healthy eating into their grief journey. I honestly only read the first half of this book because exercise is already such a huge part of my life (teaching spin and barre, and attending yoga and yoga sculpt classes daily). However, I really enjoyed learning about the science behind exercise and healing.

PICK #8: The Invisible String

Of all of the children’s books I’ve read on grief and loss, The Invisible String has been my favorite! We started reading this to my three-year-old, Izzy, when Ian started getting really sick, just to introduce the idea of loss. The story explains how even though we might not be able to physically be with a loved one — whether they be deceased or just at the grocery store — we are always connected by an invisible string of love. Izzy and I would draw the invisible string with our hands and send kisses to daddy when he was in the hospital — or even now that he is gone. This book provides a very tangible tool and storyline to help children feel connected to their loved ones, even after death.

Check back for more of my favorite grief books as my list continues to grow!