Last week I hosted an Instagram LIVE chat with Chloé Pestana on the subject of grief. Chloé and I had met at a New Year’s party in Oahu, just nine months after my husband Ian died. As friends drank champagne and partied around us, Chloé and I found ourselves in a deep conversation about loss and grief. Chloé had lost her three-year-old son Legend just about two years before I lost Ian. Although we were strangers at the time, we were instantly connected through our respective losses. This beautiful stranger, who had lived every mother’s worst nightmare just two years before I lived mine, gave me so much hope and inspiration that we can survive, if not thrive after someone we love dies.
Since the party, Chloé and I kept in touch and in light of the global pandemic, she reached out to see if I’d talk openly with her about our stories of loss and grief. We both agreed that as the whole world grieves the loss of normalcy right now, some tips about coping with grief might really help!!
So we jumped on Instagram LIVE and got real! But, half-way into our conversation, we stumbled over the word coping. Chloé and I both agree that as grief evolves from a place of profound pain into love and gratitude, it doesn’t feel like coping. It feels more like remembering and appreciating your deceased person. You don’t cope with grief, you live with it. But, this evolution takes time, the feelings are always bittersweet, and just like life, it’s unpredictable and varied.
So here are my top tips for living with grief:
Give yourself space.
Grief comes with a lot of intense feelings and emotions (feelings are attached to a thought, while emotions can be experienced subconsciously). As a single-mom, I’ve found it highly difficult, if not impossible to process my feelings and emotions with my children around. I literally have to make physical space to find solitude and stillness to move through my grief. For me, unprocessed emotions feel a lot like anxiety. My chest tightens, my heart starts to race, and frantic thoughts and energy takes over my mind and body. THIS is when I know I need to call the babysitter, make space, and lean into my grief.
I’ve always struggled with naming my feelings and emotions — especially in the months shortly after Ian died. I remember feeling numb and “off”, but struggled to attach any meaning to it. With the simple intention of just “feeling better”, I found that moving my body was the best cure. Research shows that trauma and emotional memory is stored in many places in the body (not just or even primarily, in the brain). So verbalizing our emotions can be really difficult when we’re just FEELING it! Emotion is also energy. It needs a place to go. Exercise is how I found this release.
Listen to your body
Instead of choosing one go-to workout to move through my emotions, I let my body do the deciding. If I felt anxious, I jumped on a spin beak to escape into a dark room filled with loud music. If I felt angry, I grabbed a set of heavy weights and fueled my deep muscle burn with inner rage. If I felt afraid or unsettled, I grounded my feat on a yoga mat for breath-work and intentional flow. Each type of movement addressed a different type of emotion.
Give yourself breaks from being “in it”
When people talk about grief, they often use a wave analogy. Grief comes in waves. Sometimes you choose to ride them and sometimes you don’t. By finding stillness to ride the big waves, I’ve had profound breakthroughs in terms of self-discovery and healing. But, I’ve realized that I need a break — to take a pass on occasion — in order to function day-to-day. As I mentioned previously, grieving takes up space. Sometimes we need a break to go out with girlfriends, play with our kids, and just enjoy sunshine, laughter and being happy!
Share your story
I started the process of sharing my story to raise money for Ian’s cancer treatments on GoFundMe. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this is how I was processing my anticipatory grief. And, after Ian died, I didn’t want to stop . I gained therapeutic value from not only writing the updates, but also receiving feedback from readers expressing how inspired they were, or who simply wanted to send their love and support.
Whether it’s on social media, in a private journal, talking about it with a therapist, or just with a good friend, sharing my story has supported my healing in so many ways. When we share our story we make sense of the insensible. We start to connect dots and draw parallels that we never thought existed. Instead of the victim asking “why me?”, we create our own “why”. While I’ve found inspiration from others’ stories, I know that others are inspired by mine. It’s been a beautiful, empowering, mutually-beneficial experience.
Surround yourself with love and support
Both Chloé and I attribute much of our ability to live with grief to the amazing support systems we have in place. What I’ve found though is that I was very selective of who I included in this sacred safety net. When you are grieving, there is only room for love and support. So surround yourself with people who emanate it! And be weary of sharing your precious energy with those who don’t.
Give yourself permission
I saved this tip for last because to me it’s like the golden rule of grief. Give yourself permission to to feel whatever you need to feel; to do whatever you need to do; to say whatever you need to say; and to just do you! There is no rule book. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There are no “shoulds”. You are your best guide. Give yourself the permission to be the authority on your own grief journey!
Check out Chloe’s tip on her blog!
Have any tips that have helped you live with grief? Please share them in the comments below!