I was at a staff meeting recently where it was announced that the head of finance had unexpectedly passed the day before. In preparation for holding a bereavement yoga class for the staff, I investigated my own recent experience of loss and sadness. Although I have not experienced a debilitating grieving yet for a loved one, I have experienced many moments of loss and rebirth that have needed the same attention and processing required when one loses a close friend or family member. Sudden loss through dramatic life changes are not as commonly recognized as needing mourning as death. Death has many expressions in both literal and figurative forms.
When my partner and I moved here from Southern California, it was one of the most depressing and lonely times I can remember in a while. On top of the move being unexpected and a fairly significant lifestyle change, we both had to give up familiar communities and jobs for the sake of new horizons. Although I thought we were prepared for the change—both of us having moved many times (sometimes across international borders) before the age of 30—it happened so suddenly that we clearly hadn’t thought through all of the ramifications, nor had we really said “goodbye” to our lives down south. And even though there was a going away party, phone calls wishing us luck and lots of planning for the move, we still hadn’t sat down and truly accepted the situation.
The first couple of months living up here were shocking. One might scoff at that word in relation to a smooth move of a young couple with a strong bond and few personal possessions, but the emotional surrender needed to acknowledge that we weren’t moving along the path we thought was laid out for us, that the environment had totally changed and that we were without an immediate, localized support system was confusing. Why had we chosen to give up those things for a life full of…newness. I myself had just barely scratched the surface down south after a year there and was being asked again to uproot, or reroot as it stands. Things are different now, but time has given me an appreciative perspective on the move and how we, as adults, can stand to be more emotionally sensitive and supported through transition.
Transitions can be a very lonely time. When the world thinks you should be jumping at all of the new opportunities opening up to you in times of change, there is still this longing to shrink back and feel through the emotions of loss, grieving and the shedding of your old skin. Without acknowledging the loss that happens in transitional times, and only focusing on the assumed “joy” of a new journey, we lose grasp of the experience and whitewash what is a whole process of self-transformation in big life shifts.
In times of passage, we need to fully experience the sadness of loss, the release of the old for the sake of transformation itself. Feeling alone, feeling meaninglessness, confusion about one’s role and his interests in life are all shared experiences of people grieving loss. All of these things happen to a small degree in any situational change. I recently received a newsletter with tips to help families prepare their small children and pets for moving. It’s funny that the article was addressed to parents, but said nothing about taking care of the self in times of residential relocation. So, if these pets and children are expected to experience some trauma in the move, then why are the parents not invited to have the same reaction and receive the same nurturing that they will give to their dependents?
I find that us grown-ups get overlooked a lot in life. We are expected to be fully self-sustaining and hardened just enough, so that the changes of life are ineffectual, that we can “get over it” a lot quicker than younger people who are still learning to cope with their emotions. Even pets who are rescued from shelters or change homes are expected to be shaken up, edgy or sad; but, not adults. Knowing a lot of adults at the age of 36, I see that many of these so-called pros are just as fragile and emotionally unprepared as their young ones. And that’s ok. Let’s ask ourselves: why are we not given permission to feel through life without feeling like a baby?
It was only after a conversation with a friend on a hike that I was given this permission to recognize the trauma we had been through in the move. As she was a new friend, we were getting to know each other on the walk and I was telling her about how we ended up moving here. She responded with, “Wow, that must’ve been really hard to go through. Especially since you haven’t been together that long, it must all be very trying for you. I completely understand.” And through her words, I immediately released the sorrow and confusion about the move. Because someone else could see the effort needed to readjust and called it normal, I felt stronger, as if I had accomplished something great and really grown through a tough time, instead of lingered in sadness and self-pity parties when I should have been partying it up.
There are three standard steps for supporting greif. Step one for anyone experiencing big change and loss is to receive effective emotional support. The Dagara Tribe in West Africa has grieving ceremonies as a community. A beautiful article on this practice, written by tribeswoman, Sobonfu Some, can be read here: http://www.sobonfu.com/articles/writings-by-sobonfu-2/embracing-grief/. The Dagara believe that
“We need to begin to see grief not as foreign entity and not as an alien to be held down or caged up, but as a natural process. As the recipient of someone’s grief we also must understand that it is OK for someone to express pain.”
Step two is to surrender to the emotions and grieve what you have left. By denying the expression of emotions , they become stored in the body and rarely move through to pass in the stage of closure. If you are one who understands life’s experiences better alone, then find quiet time to sit in stillness and give permission to the feeling that rise within you. Bring consciousness to your immediate experience and be ok with what comes up. Take as long as you need in this state and seal the sessions with a self-soothing mantra, such as, “And it’s ok.”
The third step to processing loss is being compassionate towards yourself and getting rest. Find comforting experiences that bring you joy or quietude. Allow time to recharge your emotional battery. If you still aren’t at a place where going out and externally integrating into the world again is appealing, then find compassion for the stage you are at and take comfort where you are. Even a simple book, movie or silence can provide relief to someone in deep grieving. If you can find it in you to get out, take solace in simple, maybe communal activities that are your deep passions. Sleep a lot and ask for help when you need it.
Since moving earlier this year, we have recovered, although after much emotional hardship. The experience has made us stronger, and hopefully given us tools for the next big life transition. Change is the one constant, and so accepting that each major change needs appropriate recognition, support and recovery is a healthy way to ensure that we can transition with grace through life’s changing tides. Remember that you are not alone, although you may need some time alone. Use support as much as you need it, ask for help and don’t be afraid to feel the dramatic effects of change. In transition, there is a lot for the mind to comprehend and a lot for the heart to release and mourn for eventual renewal.