We face multiple losses through our lives. They may be small and seemingly insignificant or catastrophic or anywhere in between, but they all have an affect on us on a conscious or sub-conscious level. The big losses we’re aware of and they are the ones that usually cause us suffering and sorrow, and that’s what we’ll cover in this article as I share some insights from my personal and professional experience of loss and grief. I will also share evidence based understanding of how we experience loss and grief and how we can begin to heal through the sorrow it causes with mindfulness.

As a start, it is important to understand that our loss and grief are deeply personal and that we cannot judge another’s level of response by the way it might affect us. That which may be seemingly insignificant to one of us may be deeply traumatic for another. In the same way we may see others coping with what seems like so much more than our own loss and we may feel ashamed by the affect our loss is having on us. In this way, the way we experience grief is complex and deeply personal, and yet there is a universal understanding of the suffering of grief.  We understand in an embodied and visceral way, the pain that deep loss causes. It literally cuts us to the core of our being, and can shake the very foundation our identity – making us question everything we thought we knew.

Because grief is an embodied and holistic experience, it is experienced psychologically, physically, socially, behaviourally and spiritually [to name just a few ways in which grief affects us]. This is why it feels as though the ground is shaking beneath us and our world is falling apart. These are some of the specific ways in which grief affects:

  1. Emotional responses: Grief often involves a range of emotions, such as sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, confusion, despair, numbness, yearning, or even relief. These emotions may come and go, and their intensity can vary over time.
  2. Physical responses: Grief can manifest in physical sensations and symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia or changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite or weight, muscle tension, headaches, aches and pains, or a weakened immune system.
  3. Cognitive responses: Grief can affect our thinking patterns and cognition. It may be challenging to concentrate, make decisions, or remember details. Intrusive thoughts or preoccupation with the loss, a sense of disbelief, or difficulty accepting the reality of the loss can also be common.
  4. Behavioural responses: Grief can impact our behaviours and daily functioning. Some people may withdraw socially, have difficulty engaging in activities they used to enjoy, or experience a loss of interest or motivation. Others may seek distraction or engage in excessive busyness as a way to cope.
  5. Spiritual responses: Grief can trigger questions about meaning, purpose, and our beliefs about life and death. It may lead to a search for understanding, seeking comfort through religious or spiritual practices, or reevaluating one’s values and beliefs.
  6. Social responses: Grief can affect our relationships and social interactions. Some individuals may feel a need for increased support and connection, while others may experience a sense of isolation or struggle with communication due to the unique nature of their grief experience.

It’s important to note that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to experience grief. Each person’s journey is unique, and there is a wide range of normal and healthy responses to loss. We should however, also be aware that there are unhealthy responses too. Responses that leave us not wanting to ever feel better due a sense of guilt or loyalty, for example. This too is normal at first, but if we find that we never seem to be moving through this response period, it may be a flag that we need to seek support.

So how do we start to heal through our grief in a healthy way? Firstly,  facing and accepting the reality of our loss and our response to it is a foundational step in the healing of our grief and sorrow. So what does this mean and how do we even begin to do it?

It starts with learning to really be with the feelings, which can feel extremely daunting, because that’s what we feel is at the heart of our suffering. But with support, this can also be a truly liberating and healing experience in and of itself. As we learn to be with the feelings of loss and grief, we recognise that although these feelings cause us pain, the suffering is actually a result of what we think and fear about the pain and how we respond to the pain rather than the pain itself. In learning to respond to our loss in a more accepting way we reduce the grip of fear that so often accompanies, and amplifies, our grief. This is not to say that by accepting the reality of our loss, the grief and sorrow somehow magically go away. This is a healing process and acceptance is a step in the process that allows us to open to it. In other words we have to let the pain in in order to let the healing in.

I realise that this may sound counterintuitive, and that when we’re in pain, the last thing we want to do is accept and be open to the pain. This is where mindfulness can be really helpful as mindfulness can offer support in navigating this experience and promoting healing. Healing through sorrow with mindfulness involves cultivating a present-moment, non-judgmental awareness of your grief and using mindfulness practices to support your healing process. Mindfulness allows us to observe what we experience in the moment with openness, curiosity and care – creating a compassionate container for our sorrow. From a more practical perspective, here’s how mindfulness can intersect with loss and grief:

  1. Acknowledging and honouring emotions: Mindfulness encourages us to acknowledge and accept our emotions without judgment. By allowing ourselves to fully experience grief, we can cultivate self-compassion and create space for healing.
  2. Cultivating presence: Mindfulness teaches us to be present with our grief rather than suppressing or avoiding it. By consciously acknowledging and staying with our emotions, we can better understand and process them.
  3. Self-care and self-compassion: Mindfulness emphasises self-care and self-compassion during times of loss and grief. Engaging in self-compassionate practices, such as self-soothing techniques, gentle movement, or self-reflective journaling, can provide comfort and support.
  4. Finding support: Mindfulness can help us connect with others who are also experiencing grief. Group mindfulness practices, such as grief support groups or mindfulness-based therapy, can create a supportive and understanding community.
  5. Coping with triggers: Mindfulness equips us with tools to navigate triggers or reminders of loss. By bringing awareness to our thoughts, sensations, and reactions in the present moment, we can respond with more perspective, clarity and self-care.
  6. Cultivating gratitude: Mindfulness can help us find moments of gratitude amidst grief. By intentionally noticing and appreciating small moments of beauty or support, we can bring a sense of balance and resilience to the grieving process.
  7. Patience and non-judgment: Grief is a highly individual and non-linear process. Mindfulness encourages us to approach our grief with patience and non-judgment, allowing ourselves to experience it in our own unique way and timeframe.

Remember that mindfulness is a practice, and although it will not remove the pain of loss entirely, it can provide a compassionate and supportive framework for navigating grief, promoting healing, and finding moments of peace amidst the pain. Seeking professional support from a therapist or counsellor experienced in grief and mindfulness can also be beneficial.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on how you navigate grief and loss – please leave a comment in the box below. If you found this article interesting or helpful, please like and share it to your social media platform of choice. Thank you.

To work with me or book a mindfulness-based support session, please contact me directly.

Image Credit: David Marcu

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