What to do when grieving and lost. Advice from the bottom of the well.

I’m no expert. Just my experience and what is helping me cope with some hard times. Some of these ways of coping contradict each other. Maybe that’s the nature of the beast. Maybe you will find something useful here, amidst the confusion and the contradiction.

1) Accept the bigness of your feelings. Don’t waste the time trying to hold back the tide. It will break over whatever flimsy fortifications you think you have. Let the feelings be the wave you ride. Catch it when it shows up, albeit unexpectedly, let it carry you to the floor of your kitchen, let it buckle and bend you.

2) Get out of bed. It’s alluring to stay there all day and wallow, but that’s a downward spiral that you will thank yourself later for avoiding. Well, maybe definitely give yourself some of that, you know, feel all the feels and wallow all the wallows. But try and pull yourself together before you think you’re ready. You may find yourself in a sea-saw of falling in to bed and willing yourself out of it. That’s okay, that’s part of it. Let yourself crumble and not be okay, but also gently nudge yourself to at least the appearance of okay. Getting back to “normal” will help re-orient your life to where it’s going, not where it’s been.

3) Distract yourself. It’s okay to turn off the feeling machine, in fact your system might actually benefit from a break or a distraction. Sometimes this is the only way to get out of a destructive thought pattern loop, to distract your brain with something entirely different.

4) Ask for help. Tell your friends, family and support network what’s happening, ask for support in specific ways. Asking for specific help makes it easier for people to show up. They understand the expectations, and can become more empowered to stand (or lay on the floor, as it were) with you. It’s a win-win because you also get your needs met. The other day I was really wanting support from a friend and wasn’t certain that she had the time. So I started small and asked for 5 minutes on the phone, she said yes, and I left that conversation feeling so much better. It was a small ask but a clear one, and it did the trick. Sometimes the act of being cared for is more important than the specific content of the care.

5) Make your art every day. Maybe your art is writing in your journal, or doodling in the margins. Maybe it’s making music or film or moving your body. Whatever your creative expressive outlet is, engage that muscle a little bit each day. Grief and loss and confusion are rich places of human experience, delve in there and see what wants to be expressed. Don’t edit or judge (as best you can). Give yourself the free pass of making crappy art while you are in a crappy place. No one has to see it – this is process-oriented self-art-therapy.

6) Don’t force the gratitude. Gratitude might be the way out of this mess, as it’s a strong conduit for joy, but forcibly searching for things to feel grateful for when you actually feel like crap might make you feel worse about yourself when you can’t muster it. Instead let it show it’s face in surprising moments. The other day I was giving a massage and a beautiful song came on, I looked up and saw an expansive night time view of the bay and Marin twinkling in the distance and I experienced a surprising rush of joy and gratitude for such a peaceful moment. It was so simple, and fleeting, but so important that I got to feel that again. Relish those moments, however small they may be, and pat yourself on the back for accessing this pathway to joy.

7) Witness your human experience. Grief and loss and confusion are all a part of the human experience. See if you can take a step back from your suffering and witness it in the larger scope, whether that’s the scope of your whole life story, or how your experience connects in with the larger human story. There is a beauty in grief that can be witnessed from this frame, a richness that makes me feel less sorry for myself and more accepting of what’s happening.

8) Raise your vibration. For me, that’s smelling essential oils and creating small ritual around that. For you, it might be meditation, chanting, singing, eating nourishing food, soaking in hot water, walking in nature. Take a moment or two each day to remind your cells that you still have access to a higher vibration, even when you are feeling so very low.

photo by Alyssa Keys Photography.

november 22, 2015
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