Love, Loss, and Learning the Benefits of Witnessed Grief
It is no surprise that around the holidays, feelings of grief can kick into high gear. With the pressure of creating the “perfect” holiday, stuffing our feelings seems to be easier than dealing with them. Thankfully, the term, “Blue Christmas,” is being acknowledged, and several places of worship offer services and assistance because, well, it’s “a thing.”
Additionally, it’s no surprise that the longer we push uncomfortable feelings down, the more difficult they are to deal with, as they have a tendency to keep trying to be acknowledged.
A good analogy for this is pushing a beach ball down under water. For a time, you can keep the ball under the surface. Yet, it will still try to come up from the water. When it does, it can really fly erratically into the air.
Most of us don’t want to be “that person” whose tears distract from a holiday event. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. And, we are afraid that once we start crying, we will never stop.And, we are afraid that once we start crying, we will never stop. #holidays #grief #witnessgrief #tears Click To Tweet
But that is not true. The tears will stop.
I was at a holiday gathering recently, and my tears started to seep out. Thankfully, I was with a person so dear to me, and her tears started to seep out, too.
It was okay – I shared my grief with her, and she shared her grief with me. We wept together. While neither one of us could completely understand 100% what the other was going through – because our individual experiences are unique – we could certainly share our feelings of loss and concern together.
Sometimes, just a listening ear will help. Sometimes a hug. Sometimes a gentle word. Sometimes, a gentle touch.
I’m sure that many can relate with not knowing what to do when someone is weeping. We don’t know what to say. It can make us feel uncomfortable to see someone else’s discomfort. Unfortunately, while we all share the same human experience of grief, we were never really taught how to handle it. So, many times we walk away or pretend we don’t see someone crying, because we just don’t know what to do with their pain.
The person who is grieving can’t help when the grief hits them. It is a body response. Sometimes the grief is like a gentle wave, and other times the grief is like a tsunami. Yet, many, many times, we shut those feelings and tears down.
I experienced a grief tsunami the other day. I felt the grief in my body, and wasn’t sure when it would truly wash over me and release. I could literally feel the tension and the body sensations building. So, I sat with it. I acknowledged that I felt the weight of grief.
When I started to journal about the feelings and sensations, the tears came over me. Tears are cleansing and there’s research to back the claim. Even though it is good to cry, we tend to feel shame to do so. Additionally, I feel that we think the pain of grief is so overwhelming, and so we try not to cry, thinking, “will these tears ever stop?” That cycle makes it worse.
When the tears came, I didn’t fight them. It wasn’t but a matter of minutes when my nurturing dog, Sadie, heard me crying and climbed into my lap and witnessed my grief. She licked my tears. She nuzzled my neck. I was laughing, crying and grateful, all at the same time. I took the opportunity to share with her what I was grieving, which allowed me to release some more healing tears. And then, she “tackled me,” and I was laughing so hard, the tears of grief started to subside, giving way to tears of relief.
In that moment, I was reminded of what I had learned in my coursework about grief. That laughter can also move that heavy grief energy out as efficiently as crying.
Getting that gunk out of my system helped me feel lighter. I did experience smaller waves of grief throughout the day, which were much easier to handle than the earlier tsunami.
We can definitely witness our own grief by telling ourselves what we are grieving, and feel the injustice of it. Yet, it is much easier to have someone – or a furry someone – who can hold that space with us.
As we enter into the next week or so of holidays; of memories and of feelings of loss, I hope we can hold the space for each other to share, witness and grieve. The feelings will pass, especially if we don’t judge ourselves or others. No one has ruined a holiday by shedding tears. In fact, I believe, that when we do shed those tears, we allow others to feel what they need to feel in order to heal, too.
I’d like to share a link, should you want some tips on how to deal with grief during the holidays – or any other time of year. While this link was written for people in recovery, there are a lot of really good ideas and coping strategies for anyone dealing with grief. And remember, grief isn’t just about death – it is any change that results in a loss: career, friendship, health, relationship, pet loss, finances, loss of home, etc. Additionally, grief isn’t linear – you can jump through the stages of grief any time. And – that’s okay.
If you need a life jacket in your tsunami, please reach out. No one needs to handle this journey alone. There are support groups for grief and 12-step programs for addiction. And if things are extremely overwhelming, reach out for help ASAP by calling 988 or visit 988LifeLine.org.
Much love xo
© Lynne Cobb – 2022
Do you stuff your feelings down during the holidays? Share your experience in the comments section. If you like the content, please subscribe to my blog.