“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” -Kahlil Gibran
Loss is inextricably part of life. Some discover this truth sooner than others, like my niece who lost her father at age 4 months, and her mother at age 12. Each of these losses is devastating. The consequences of each of these losses are profound, and yet cannot be tangibly quantified or compared.
I, like you, have experienced my own losses, although a little later on in my lifetime. I lost my best friend at age 32. I lost 5 pregnancies at various stages. A few years later I lost my sister. My marriage. My father.
Loss. The defeat of hope. The forfeiture of dreams. The opposite of having.
We all deal with loss and grieve in our own personal ways. Sometimes while in the middle of it, it seems more like it deals with us, and on its terms, not ours. Some losses may be judged as harder than, or worse than others, but these things cannot be measured.
Symptoms of grief
There have been many articles written on the stages of grief, so I won’t go into them here, but we all agree the symptoms of grief can be overwhelming. They may include physical symptoms such as fatigue, incessant crying, changes in appetite, body pain, headaches, nausea, and a depressed immune system. Psychological symptoms may include feelings of despair, sadness, depression, loneliness, anger, fear, and being “stuck” . In my times of grieving, it felt like the world should just stand still until I regained the energy or motivation to go on.
Grief cannot be hurried or halted, and its symptoms play out in both inwardly and outwardly. Symptoms are signs that the state of healthy balance of mind or body has been disrupted. This disruption can arise from various influential factors from the external factors such as environmental or social or internal such as belief systems or thoughts.
As when dealing with any symptom, masking or repressing only serves to push the imbalance deeper within the physical or emotional self. This is a critical truth in naturopathic medicine. Imbalances represented by symptoms will find their way out through other channels if not allowed to follow its natural course. This is one cause of dis-ease. If grief is suppressed, it can become chronic and cause further dysfunction to the mind or body. If expressed, grief can be a powerful facilitator of healing.
One of the ways in which grief heals us is written in the symptoms themselves. Loss changes what our lives look like. It changes our routines. It changes our relationships. It changes our identity. The symptoms of grief force us to slow down. To stop while the rest of the world cannot. We eat less, we sleep more, just as when we are healing from a physical wound. Our grieving signals others to reach out and offer support. Crying also helps release stress hormones in the body, according to Dr. William Frey, author of the book Crying: The Mystery of Tears. It is interesting to note emotional tears contain more proteins such as prolactin and serotonin than other types of tears, which are associated with attachment, bonding, depression and mood. Shakespeare said it best: “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
However overwhelming or even powerful grief may seem, it is your grief. It is part of your mind/body experience of existence; therefore you can direct its trajectory in your life. This is an important shift in thinking that moves us from victim of grief to victor of our circumstances and master of our own mind/body/spirit selves.
Steps to transforming grief
Validate your grief
She serves a purpose, just as a fever serves a purpose to fend off an illness, grief is an innate natural mind/body mechanism to experience and process loss. Validating grief does not mean you have to wallow in it, unless that is helpful to you. Validating your grief does not mean rejecting or ignoring it. Validating your grief means feeling your emotions fully and accepting the fullness of what your loss means to you. It means accepting its value. Simply saying “yes, I see you” to your grief can shift the quality of the feeling from one of despair to one of tenderness This perspective allows you to see what you are feeling is actually love in its deepest and unfathomable form. It may still be painful but of less vacuity and more knowing.
Write a letter to your grief
Writing your thoughts and feelings of loss can facilitate deeper self awareness. This awareness comes from being present in a situation. When we grieve, we are often less able to focus on our everyday tasks and routines. I believe this is nature’s way of helping us stay present in the moment, which is the only place that healing can take occur. We cannot return to yesterday and we cannot foretell tomorrow, but we can remain present in the now, which can reduce fear and and anxiety.
When writing a letter to your grief, you may wish to ask it what it wants. Whatever comes up, be careful not to judge. Remaining impartial will allow the full and natural expression of your emotional response, so that you can properly release what you need to. Releasing grief does not mean you will no longer feel loss or sadness, but is a process in allowing yourself to be mindful and in control of your experience of it.
Share your grief
We are naturally inclined to connect and share with others. In a way, I am sharing my grief with you, the reader. Finding a safe place to share your grief can alleviate feelings of isolation and even guilt because we are all sharing the human experience. Do not be afraid to reach out to others, as it helps them, too. Altruism does not only benefit the griever, but research shows that helping others benefits the one offering assistance. Connecting with others increases the hormone oxytocin, which plays a role in bonding and immune function. This means it is healthy to ask for help.
These steps are helpful in dealing with grief, and can help you understand that what is underneath the loss is a deep love, and we can celebrate that. As Rumi said, “Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”
Razi Berry, Founder and Publisher of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review (ndnr.com) and NaturalPath (thenatpath.com), has spent the last decade as a natural medicine advocate and marketing whiz. She has galvanized and supported the naturopathic community, bringing a higher quality of healthcare to millions of North Americans through her publications. A self-proclaimed health-food junkie and mother of two; she loves all things nature, is obsessed with organic gardening, growing fruit trees (not easy in Phoenix), laughing until she snorts, and homeschooling. She is a little bit crunchy and yes, that is her real name.