Navigating Grief Consciously. What does it look like and how do you do it? This week on Your Freedom Unlimited we’re talking about a topic that people don’t often like to talk about, and one I’ve never covered here on Your Freedom Unlimited because it’s such a tough one, and that topic is grief.
The reason that I’m talking about it today is from my recent experience of losing my Dad who I’m very close to. Let me be clear I’m not a specialist in this area, but I wanted to share with you what I’ve been experiencing and how I am mapping this against the philosophy I regularly share with you here on Your Freedom Unlimited – which is about choosing your story, managing your emotional frequency and being as accepting and allowing as possible.
What Does it Mean to Consciously Navigate the Grief Journey?
What I have realised is that this journey of grief is of course a process that all of us must go through. There’s no getting around, up or over it. And I’m still inside that process – but the way we navigate this journey really is a choice.
This is what I mean when I speak about navigating grief consciously. It is about seeing this as an opportunity to be conscious in the process rather than dropping into a conditioned, pre-programmed response of how things can be or feeling a victim to it.
I’m not saying that I’ve got it all sorted or I have all the answers – I absolutely do not. But I felt while I was inside this experience, it was probably a good idea to talk about it because when we’re in it is when we’re most aware of what’s going on.
I also thought it was important to talk about navigating emotions in times of grief. If you’ve listened to this podcast before you know that I often talk about things like gratitude, love, trust and allowing and acceptance. It’s easy to talk about these things when life is fairly straightforward and smooth sailing, but it’s another thing entirely to talk about gratitude and love and acceptance when you’re in a deeply stressful, excruciatingly painful, personal situation.
So what happened? My dearest father became very ill with terrible stomach pain on 18 May, was hospitalized on the 19th of May and passed away by 28 May. It all happened very suddenly and was a huge shock to all of us – our family and Dad’s many, many friends.
To say my Dad is a bright light is an understatement. I didn’t realise how bright a light he was until he had left his body. My Dad is the most incredible man and one of my role models in terms of optimism, love, resilience, kindness, compassion and how it is to live as a happy human being. He has left an incredible gap in all of our lives. He was also more than my father – he was my friend which has made it all the harder. If you want to find out more about him, I encourage you to go back and listen to Episode 54 of this podcast where I interviewed him. Right now I’m so grateful I did that because we have the chance to hear his life story, and also his views on what are the things that we talk about on the podcast in his own words.
Learnings From The Journey So Far
So what has this journey been like? Well, at one level, absolutely devastating and like all terrible experiences – an opportunity for me to learn. What have I learnt? Quite a bit so far and I know for sure there is much more to come. Here are a few things I have learnt:
1. There is a Cycle of Grieving
When you experience the loss of a loved one it is vital to know it’s time to just strap in and embrace the process of grieving. There are different views on the grief process but one thing I know for sure – there is a process.
Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is famous for her Five Stages of Grief model which she tirelessly promoted throughout her life. The five stages of grief are: Denial,Anger, Bargaining Depression and Acceptance.
Interestingly as I started to look for support in dealing with the loss of my father I came across new research by Dr Lucy Hone, Director of the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience, Dr Hone’s work questions the five stages of grief and says instead there is no “right or wrong way” to grieve, that everyone grieves differently … and that is ok.
Frankly when I heard that I felt uplifted. Dr Hone’s work feels so accepting and allowing.
What I learnt from my mother’s long dementia illness and passing is that there is a cycle of grieving and while we may not hit every stage bang on, we are likely to cycle through it a number of times. It is not a one and done event.
What I have also found is that it is vital to keep yourself open to a forward movement and to not be stuck in any one stage. If we bottle our grief up and we don’t allow ourselves to fully feel into it we’re going to cause some problems for ourselves down the track. We are human and our human body has to be allowed to experience itself fully – if we do not do this is where we may become stuck.
Finally, in this space we must respect the process of grief. It’s not something that can be rushed through in order to get to the other side. Once we have lost someone our lives are changed and we will experience moments of grief years later.
2. Spend Quality Time With Those You Love and Say What You Need to Say Before Your Loved Ones Pass
While there are no surprises in this one my learning from this experience with Dad was to spend time with those that you love. Even though work and other pursuits can seem really, really important, it’s also vital to be able to spend time with the people you love because you literally cannot get it back.
I am grateful for all of the time I was able to spend with Dad and the fact I had said everything I needed to say to him. Nine years ago I made a decision that I was going to drive to see my parents (Mum was alive at that time) once a week. They lived an hour and a half away from me, and so I decided to devote a day to take them out for lunch, and to their appointments.
When we have taken the time and had the experience of saying what we need to say to people it makes the grieving process less complicated.
I’m so grateful I did create the time and did say the things I needed to say. But in the depths of that first very acute stage of grief I felt I still hadn’t done enough or said enough which takes me to my next learning.
3. Stop the Self-Blame and Regret
In the hours and weeks that follow the passing of a loved one it is very easy to step into self-blame and regret. I know I sure did, I was thinking of all the things that I should have done, shouldn’t have done, should have said, shouldn’t have said and then felt extremely guilty for those things.
And this is coming from someone who had spent a considerable amount of time with my parents. I was still completely caught in the thinking that despite those nine years of visits I still hadn’t done enough.
As my dear cousin Marc, who gave me a lot of solace in those early hours and days of Dad’s passing, said to me just realise it is the mind trying to come to terms with the trauma. It is a mind game trying to deal with the emotions of loss.
I soon saw my self-blame was distressing for those around me. I also realised my negative energy towards myself was making the grief process grief even harder.
This is a big learning for me, and I’m still really working on it. When I feel my mind go into that space, I have to stop and be quite disciplined with myself. Just as we all know happiness is a decision, so is managing our mindsets in grief.
4. Accept the Situation
If you have listened to this podcast before you know I often talk about accepting and allowing. In my situation with Dad this was another real lesson in acceptance.
I have really needed to accept that this was my Dad’s time and that even though we would have loved more time with him this really was his time.
While his illness was sudden and a shock the way he transitioned from us, over a few days, allowed us to say goodbye. He wasn’t there one minute and gone the next and for that I’m truly grateful.
Another factor that has allowed me to accept the situation is to understand that he has transitioned into eternal life. While I’ll talk about this a little bit later on knowing this has really assisted me with accepting his passing. I know Dad is with my mother now and for that I am eternally grateful.
5. We are Supported and Loved – We Need to Remain Open to It
While losing someone we love it can be devastating it’s also a time when other people around us can really step up and show us their love and support. That’s certainly been my experience – I think in great part because my Dad was such a great person. He mattered to people and they wanted to to tell me that when he passed.
I received incredible family support throughout Dad’s illness and passing and then phone calls, emails and letters from so many people telling me what a great person Dad was and how much he did for so many people. I have found these conversations so supportive and affirming.
In this time of grieving it’s important to let that support and help in rather than push it away.
6. Self Care is Paramount
Self-care is important at any time but it’s paramount when we are experiencing grief. And it can be the first thing to go when we experience a loss of a loved one. We lose sleep, we don’t feel like eating and likely don’t have the time to exercise as we normally do. But all of those things that support us in our daily lives are critically vital when we are grieving.
The week Dad was in hospital before he passed was a critical time for me to maintain basic self-care. When we are extremely upset this is something we can easily let go but we need to keep looking after ourselves so that we can be as supportive as we can for our loved one and other family around us.
For me this looked like making sure I got some sleep and kept eating. Long vigils by hospital beds are what happens in these times. There was nowhere else I wanted to be – but I had to make sure I supported myself to be there.
After Dad passed it took me a couple of days to get back to some of my normal routine. Most important was yoga and some quiet meditation.
Meditation can be hard when we are grieving because of the randomness and nature of our thoughts. What I’m finding really useful at that time is focusing on the breath and visualising the love and support around me. If you would like some guidance on meditation click here for my free How to Meditate for Beginners Guide.
7. Remain Kind To Yourself
Being kind to myself is one of my life lessons and in this experience of deep grief it is also really vital. The thing I found I’ve had to be most kind myself about is my level of energy and my emotional bandwidth and my expectations of what I can get done in a day.
My current emotional bandwidth is much more limited than it normally is. I’m finding I’m reacting to things I would not normally react to and feeling incredibly tired and low in energy. These are all normal things we experience in grief – but something we really need to cut ourselves slack for.
The bottom line is right now I just can’t do what I normally do. So this is about accepting myself rather than pushing myself. It’s also about not doing too much. I have to take things off my to-do list right now rather than put them. I’m not able to answer all of the phone calls from friends straightaway but know that I will when I can.
8. Remember We Are Eternal
While I’ve always believed we are eternal, Dad’s passing has reinforced my belief. He has let me feel his presence with him and shown me signs just as my Mum did.
This is a belief that we can take comfort from – from whatever perspective we have – Christian, Muslim, Hindu or spiritual. There is also much literature now that documents peoples’ experiences and it is such a blessing for those left behind.
This beautiful truth that our soul continues and that we will see our loved ones again is powerful.
I also feel so grateful and happy that my parents are reunited. In our last conversation, Dad told me how much he was missing Mum. So it’s wonderful for me to know they’re back together.
A couple of beautiful podcasts that have really helped me through these times are Messages of Hope with Suzanne Giesemann and Irene Weinberg’s Grief and Rebirth . Both of these podcasts share incredibly uplifting stories of hope and dealing with grief. Irene’s book They Serve Bagels in Heaven is wonderful and really buoyed me up in the days following Dad’s passing.
9. Remember We Can Choose Our Grief Story – Our Perspective
The other major realisation is that I can still choose how I respond and I can choose the story I want to tell about my loss of my Dad. In the acute stages of grief this is hard but after a couple of weeks – or when we come out of that first terrible time we can start to navigate things more consciously. We can choose our perspective on the situation.
For me this looks like not being a victim to the situation. From all of my work and study I know I consciously can write the script for any situation. So the question is – do I become a victim to the grief or do I just journey along with the grief?
I realised early on that I had a clear choice – to cast myself as a victim of grief, with little power, or to see myself as the leader of my life journeying through grief, making conscious choices to ease the path and to continue forward.
Journeying along with the grief has been the answer for me. In this story I don’t need to throw myself into a victim trap or under the grief bus, but I do need to allow my human body to do what it needs to do to fully experience the grief journey.
I’m not suggesting we manage grief like we would manage a project with a Gantt chart, rather it is about fully accepting the journey and being on it.
Early on when Dad had passed I was feeling abandoned but I soon realised that that feeling of abandonment would lead to a cascade of other negative emotions that would really bring me undone. Just as much as if I’d stayed in the self-blame and guilt space. Neither position was good for my soul.
So now I see that I’m journeying along with my grief. It’s as if we’re in a car together. Sometimes when I’m feeling really sad the grief is on the windscreen obscuring my view. At other times when I’m feeling flat and low energy, it’s like grief is sitting in the passenger’s seat beside me. For right now that feels ok – I’m still driving the car and moving forward. I might not be moving forward as I usually do but at least I can see the road ahead.
The key is to be ok with grief in the passenger seat and to be gentle on us both I keep moving forward.
10. Allow Yourself Moments of Joy, Escapism and Normal Routine
Parr of writing our own grief story is to allow ourselves moments of escapism and normality. While it’s valuable to fully experience our emotions it’s extremely tiring to be in them 24/7. In fact its not possible.
In the hospital my sister and I found ourselves making some lighter-hearted comments because it was just too sad. We also gave ourselves “an hour off” every night watching just one episode of the wonderfully escapist Bridgerton on Netflix.
Since Dad’s passing I have also found routine to be valuable. Hard as it seems when we lose someone we love we do have to get back to “normal” life at some point. Apparently from a neuroscientific perspective routine is very valuable in recovering from grief because it tells the body we are out of “fight or flight” mode.
The Journey Continues
So I’m still in the early stages of this with my Dad, there’s no doubt about that. However I wanted to share with you where I was at and some resources I have found helpful
Grief is something we can be fearful of – which means we don’t look into it. So this is here for you as a resource if you ever need it.
A book I would like to recommend in this space is Dr Lucy Hone’s Resilient Grieving. Given her experience in resilience, the loss of her own daughter which led to her own cutting edge research into grieving I feel this is a must-read.
To get a sense of Lucy and her work you can watch her Ted Talk here.
Thank you so much for your time and as ever take great care!