Though grief has common symptoms, each person’s grief is unique. Your grief isn’t quite the same as mine, and each of us must find our way. In 2007, after losing my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law, I was overcome with grief, so overcome I could hardly function.
But my husband and I were our twin grandchildren’s guardians and we didn’t have time to waste. Two vulnerable teenagers were depending on us. At the time, I didn’t have a grief recovery plan, yet my subconscious was working on it. Each day, I set aside some time for reflection. And I opted for a spiritual path to healing. What is spirituality?
Spirituality and Religion
Religion is a set of beliefs shared by a community of people. Ceremonies, practices, symbols and writings support these beliefs. Spirituality, on the other hand, is an individual approach to the mysteries of life. As Rabbi Earl Grollman explains it in his article, “Spirituality/Religion and the Professional,” the word spirit has its roots in a Greek word, pneuma, which means “to breathe.”
“Unlike religion, which has established, definite systems,” Grollman continues, “spirituality allows a simple questioning of everyday life . . . .”
Spirituality and religion may be a bit different, but I don’t think they are vastly different. Just as you choose your beliefs, you may choose your path to grief healing. My path was dark at first and gradually became brighter as time passed. The steps I took may help you to create your recovery path.
Some people fill their lives with activity and noise in an effort to escape the pain of grief. I did the opposite and embraced quiet time, 15-20 minutes a day. Meditation has many benefits and, as I discovered, in the quiet, you discover yourself.
Even if your first attemps at meditation are not successful, I encourage you to keep at it. According to a Mayo Clinic article, “Meditation: Focusing Your Mind to Achieve Stress Reduction,” the practice has many benefits, including the reduction of anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure.
I discovered other benefits of meditation: self-knowledge, awareness of weaknesses, awareness of strengths, understanding life purpose, setting new goals, gratefulness for life, and a sense of peace.
Meditate in a quiet place that has no background noise. Relax your body and repeat a word or phrase. I meditate for a few minutes before I start to write. Other days, I focused my meditation on one word, such as love.
Many grief experts tell their clients to put their feelings in writing. You may do this in a blank journal, on the computer, or lined paper. With a diary, you make entries each day. With a journal, you make entries regularly. My daughter and father-in-law died the same weekend. One week later, I sat down at the computer and made a conscious decision to write my way through grief. This decision, more than any other, kept me on the recovery path.
“I’m not a writer,” I hear you saying. It doesn’t matter. Identifying your feelings and expressing them with words is what matters. You’re not writing for the Smithsonian or a publisher or your friends; you’re writing for you. If you keep at it, you will begin to see where you are on the recovery path. Best of all, you will identify problems and come up with solutions.
When I vowed to write my way through grief, I had no inkling it would lead to writing six grief resources. Writing these books made me feel better, and I hope they make others feel better as well. I give lots of books away, which also makes me feel good.
Donating money to national organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, also helps you cope with loss. We commissioned a song in memory of our daughter. It’s written by St. Paul, Minnesota composer Elizabeth Alexander. The idea of other choirs singing her song gives me chills.
You may donate books to the library in memory of your loved one, money to the local food bank, or volunteer for community organizations. Giving is an act of love, and gets us out of ourselves, which is important.
Whether it’s giving, writing, or meditating, each step moves you forward in life. These steps may be taken by believers and nonbelievers alike. Bob Deits writes about religion in his book, “Life After Loss: A Practical guide to Renewing Your Life after Experiencing Major Loss.” He writes, “You will search for hope. The kind of hope that will serve you best acknowledges that you will never be the same again, but insists that life after loss can still be full and good.”
Today, I am a happy person living a new life. Deep in my heart, I know my loved ones wouldn’t want me to get stuck in grief. Rather, they would want me to savor my remaining days. I am here, you are here, and we can make the most of each moment. We can also remember Albert Schweitzer’s words, “If you love the life you live, you will live a life of love.”
Harriet Hodgson 2012