Spontaneous Moments of Grief

Soon after my father died, I was in a restaurant with a good friend and our daughters. We were on a trip that we had planned months before, and I hadn’t wanted to cancel it because it meant a lot to me to do something special over a school break with my child, especially after I’d been gone for so long to be with my dad before he died, and then with my family as we navigated the time afterwards.

I was tender, but I think still in a halo of disbelief. I could smile and enjoy a well-cooked meal. But on the morning we were leaving, we were eating breakfast in a little diner. Next to us was a table with a family of four: two parents and two elementary aged children.

Soon, two people came in and approached the family’s table and it was clear that these were the children’s grandparents. There was so much joy and enthusiasm when they all saw each other. Big hugs all around.

I zoomed in on the grandfather and immediately felt my throat tighten and tears spring to my eyes, emotion happening before thought. The reality that I wouldn’t have that with my dad anymore and my kids wouldn’t have that with their grandfather hit me right between the eyes.

A Friend’s Caring

The gift my friend gave me in that moment was noticing. She looked in my eyes and asked quietly if I was okay. I nodded and took some breaths and went back to my pancakes. I knew if I tried to talk, I’d have a hard time keeping it together. But I felt held and like I could be quiet for a while as I listened to our girls banter with one another.

These moments happen a lot, when I witness things from at least two angles simultaneously that carry several feelings. Seeing adult daughters with their mothers having a good time makes me smile and wish I had that with my mom. People casually mentioning they talked to their dad on the phone makes me long to be able to pick up the phone to talk to mine.

Watching shows or movies is a minefield at times. I can be relaxed, watching whatever is on and out of nowhere, grief surges and I’m in that space. It could be a theme, a sentence, a shift in the music, a look…

When Grief Lives in Us

When we’ve lost people we love, grief lives in us, and there are pathways to it. How do we handle it when it takes us off guard, or we are in situations where we don’t want to release fully into the feeling of it? I’ll share some things I do, and I’ll love to know what you do too, if you’d like to comment below.

  • First, I let myself know there’s nothing “wrong” with me. Grief is river inside of us, just like love. Once we access it through experience, it’s part of our internal landscape.
  • I bring my mind to my heart and often find that I’ve placed my hand on my heart or belly without thinking out it. This centers me. If I can, I close my eyes and breathe into the feeling and into my heart space by imagining energy flowing through it. I do this because I don’t want to stop the feeling. I want it to flow the way I want rivers to flow.
  • If I’m with people I am close to, I share what’s going on with me. I feel like this is important. I say, “wow, I’m missing my dad” or “not sure what just happened, but I’m really feeling grief come up about my mom”. Maybe the grief is more of a global feeling rather than being attached to a person. In that case, I just claim it. “Wow, that just busted my heart right open.” I don’t apologize for it.
  • Sometimes people are interested in hearing more. Sometimes not. If I need to talk about it, I think about who I want to reach out to.

Welcome Your Grief

  • If I’m in a place where I don’t want to feel vulnerable, I ground myself by tuning into my senses. For example, I’ll listen to the music playing at the grocery store and really listen to the words or the bass line. I’ll look out a window and notice the specific shapes of leaves on a tree or the color of the sky. I’ll feel textures that are around me or focus on the taste or smell of something. All these things help me to know I am safe and I am here (wherever that is). Then, and this is important, I let myself know that later I can spend time with my feelings when I am in a place that is comfortable. Our grief needs an outlet.
  • I talk to my loved one in my mind, and I tell them I love them and miss them.

I don’t wait anymore for the time when this won’t happen. And I assume it will and claim the right to be as tuned in to grief as I aim to be with love.

I think it’s in our attempts to quell grief that we experience the most pain, no matter how long it’s been since our loved one died. And who knows; maybe if we allow ourselves flow with grief and love, we create an atmosphere where others can do that same.

Bradie Hansen is co-author of  The Long Grief Journey: How Long-Term Unresolved Grief Can Affect Your Mental Health and What to Do About It (Compassionate Grief Book for Healing After Loss): Blair, Pamela D., McCabe Hansen, Bradie: 9781728262666: Amazon.com: Books

Read more from Bradie Hansen: Maintaining Contact with the Dead Heals Some Grievers – Open to Hope


Bradie Hansen

Bradie McCabe Hansen is a licensed psychologist- Master, who’s been in private practice for over twenty years. She has worked with children, adolescents, and adults, especially around issues to do with depression, anxiety, grief, addictive or abusive use of substances, developmental transitions, and trauma. She is the co-author of the newly released book The Long Grief Journey: How Long-Term Unresolved Grief Can Affect Your Mental Health and What to Do About It as well as the article “The Wisdom of Regret”, published in the Assisi Institute Journal. In addition to Bradie’s clinical work, she teaches weaving and helps to manage the fiber studio at the Shelburne Craft School in Shelburne, Vermont. Certified as an Archetypal Pattern Analyst and a Weaving a Life Leader, Bradie has the unique opportunity to help people use weaving and fiber craft to work through life stages and passages, grief, and moments of choice. As a psychologist, Bradie worked with individuals around complex life experiences for many years, but it was the sudden and traumatic loss of her mother in 2017 that opened her eyes to the lived experience of long-term, complicated grief. Grief altered her capacity to socialize, complete mundane errands, and carry on with many of the responsibilities that had previously been part of day-to-day life. After a particularly challenging time of sleeplessness and stress all to do with the rigors of grieving, she found herself learning how to weave on a four-harness, counterbalance floor loom that had come into her possession. Her teacher showed her how to thread every heddle, and sley every dent in the reed. The repetitive and mindful motions required for dressing a loom helped her find her way back to herself. While Bradie was already teaching children about the wonderful world of handcrafting, the gifts she received from weaving were expanded, and she now tries to bring the healing potential of handcrafting to clients and students. Bradie shares, “There was no thinking my way out of the pain I was feeling. No problem solving could get me through it. No timeline applied. But engaging in something as tangible as weaving helped me to connect with myself and with the threads that connect all people to each other. Weaving is a part of our ancestral DNA. Through the simple process of interlacing threads, I was able to weave comfort over my broken heart and find my way back to community and my own creativity. Now, I just want to share that gift that I received when I was at my lowest point with other people.” You can reach Bradie through her website: www.healinghandcrafting.com and you can find her book, The Long Grief Journey, on Amazon. Additionally, Bradie and her co-author Pamela Blair will be regularly contributing to the Long Grief Journey Blog which you can find here: https://thelonggriefjourney.com/blog-2/

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