Good Grief


“Into each life some rain must fall.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Without exception, each and every one of us is going to experience deep sorrow at some point.   The death of a loved one, a job loss, divorce, financial or medical hardships – whatever the circumstances, we will grieve for what was, and what might have been.

No matter what triggered the pain, one thing is certain – keeping it bottled up is going to eventually take a toll physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Repressed grief not only compromises our immune system – it can literally lead to death.  The late neuroimmunologist Dr. Candace Pert scientifically proved the human body has seven major centers of consciousness, or chakras, each corresponding to an endocrine gland.  The heart chakra is the center of our emotions, and it corresponds to the thymus, which is the master controller of our immune system.  Any emotional trauma weakens our immune system, and our ability to fight off illness.

Besides the physical consequences of holding in sorrow, the death of a loved one might cause the grieving spouse or family member to retreat into self-imposed isolation.  The combination of seclusion, depression and failure to acknowledge their loss results in a shockingly high rate of suicide.

Thankfully there are many positive, effective ways to navigate painful life passages, and truly experience “good grief.”

The first actually comes from the phrase, “good grief.”  It’s a version of “Good God” or “Good Lord,” which is the beginning of the litany, “Good Lord, deliver us” from hardship.  Asking for God’s help in getting through your sorrow is a powerful, effective way to start to heal.

A psychiatrist described another grieving process as “paradoxical.”  He suggested encouraging the bereaved to go through photos and belongings of the loved one, sharing rich memories along with the tears.

“It’s both letting go and holding on, “ he explained.  “It’s a way of integrating all those happy memories into yourself, permanently making the departed loved one a part of you.”  He also cautioned against expecting a mourning period to last a specific amount of time, or be expressed in a precise way.

“People have been criticized for either remarrying too quickly, or holding on to their grief for too long,” he said.  “Each of us handles grief differently.  There is no single standard.”

“If you stay stuck in the trauma that might have surrounded a person’s death,” counseled a certified funeral celebrant, “you can more easily stay stuck in your grief.  Grab hold of that grief – feel it, go through it, know it’s OK to be sad.  Then recognize the gift that they were here.

“It’s important to remember how your loved one lived, not just how they died.  Remember the happy things — all the people they touched, all the things they did, and how they left a beautiful legacy.”

If you feel you or someone you care about is getting stuck and isolated in their grieving process, here are some positive steps to take: 

  1. Give your grief to God, and ask for His help in healing your broken heart.  If you have a minister, rabbi or counselor, share your sorrow with them.  They’re trained in how to help you navigate the hurt.
  2. Take a daily walk outside.  The combination of gentle exercise with being in nature is quite healing.
  3. Do something nice for someone else in your loved one’s name.  Donate some of their possessions to Goodwill.  See if a local school might be interested in their books or musical instruments. 
  4. Bring beauty back into your life.  Visit an art gallery. Stroll through a botanical garden. Have fresh cut flowers on your dining room table.  Listen to classical music.
  5. Open your heart and your mind to new experiences.  Take a class.  Join a community choir or theater group.  Volunteer with an organization that’s close to your heart.
  6. Journal your feelings.  Remember to make lists of all the things you are grateful for during the time you shared together.

The important thing to remember is your grief is a passage, not a new way of life.  Be gentle with yourself, honor your feelings of sorrow, but gradually bring your attention back to being actively engaged in the present.  You are blessed that you experienced deep love. 

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