Hear from a Therapist: How to Honor Grief and Find Joy

Hear from a Therapist: How to Honor Grief and Find Joy

Image description: A blue and purple graphic shows an image of Deborah Riggs and the text "Hear from a Therapist: How to Honor Grief and Find Joy".

How do we find a way to carry our grief for our loved one and find joy in the present? This question is one that I often get asked. I am very open about the fact that I lost a son to cancer 20 years ago, and that loss has shaped me into the person and clinician I am today. Grief is exhausting. It takes courage and vulnerability to allow ourselves to be transformed by our grief and ultimately live after discovering our own resilience. We know that we can’t escape loss, but we can lean into our grief and learn to live with a deeper awareness and appreciation for our lives and the connections that are meaningful to us.
 

As an aside, I’d like to share that after the loss of a child or spouse (or any significant loss), the recommendation is that at least three months pass before any formal therapy or group healing process begin. It may be more than a year before you decide to seek this type of help, and that’s perfectly normal. I say this because in our society, we are often rushed through our grief and people feel pressured to “get it together” or “move on.” The reality is that you may be crying in the grocery store or in the car for years, and that’s okay. One thing that bereaved people learn is that grief makes other people uncomfortable. This feeling often causes grievers to hide their feelings and grieve in private. But when we open ourselves up and share our stories, we give others hope and increase support for ourselves, and that’s when healing can begin.  

If we understand that grief is actually a lifelong process, and that as long as we love our deceased loved one we will grieve them, how do we balance the loss with the love? Below are a few tips that may be helpful: 

  1. Find connections. Understand that we do not heal in a bubble and that we need people. This can mean attending a group for bereaved parents or spouses. Finding other people who have experienced similar losses will enable you to have a safe space to share your story and feel understood in a way that others may not be able to. Not your thing? Again, that’s okay. Some people find that they don’t want to be in groups and note that journaling is helpful. Sometimes, they start a blog or find other ways to share their story. 

  2. Find opportunities for creative expression. Engage or reengage in something you are passionate about. Do you have a passion for art? Find a local class. Do you enjoy cooking? Maybe there is a fun class at the local college. Our grief can be so consuming that we lose sight of what we enjoy. Engaging in creative expression can be another way to help you express your feelings and give yourself permission to feel good again.  

  3. Practice mindfulness. Find time to focus on the present moment, using mindfulness and/or meditation techniques. Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment with acceptance and without judgment. Often, we are so focused on our grief and our to-do lists that we don’t slow down and breathe in the present. Also, if we can notice our feelings of grief and compassionately acknowledge them, this makes room for us to open to the possibility of experiencing joy.  

  4. Practice self-care. I know we hear about self-care a lot and tend to dismiss it, am I right? But there is something to be said about caring for ourselves by eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Spending time in nature and natural sun light does wonders for our psyche. Consider the concept of spending time “being” and not always “doing.” 

  5. Be kind to yourself. Be aware of your internal dialogue. In other words, practice kindness with yourself. The empathy and compassion we tend to show others needs to also be directed at us. Being kind with ourselves makes us more able to tackle the difficulties of grief and makes us stronger.  

  6. Honor the negative emotions too. Give your permission to feel the negative feelings of anger, fear, or frustration. We can’t have good without bad, so we need to process the bad in order to appreciate the good. 

As we know, there is no easy fix with grief, and we need to be patient with ourselves through the process. There are no timelines and no quick fixes, but eventually there can be moments of joy along with the grief. 

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