Tips To Navigating Those Unexpected Waves of Old Grief With Peace
Nearly 5 years later, my grief made a surprising return visit and caught me by surprise.
I wasn’t even aware that it had snuck back in so quietly and gently. But before I knew it, my grief had wrapped itself around me and carried me gently into its ocean of sadness. On a cold winter’s day, I found myself wanting to stay floating on those waves of sadness.
For those of you that have lost a loved one, be it a parent, a child, a lover, a dear friend, and even a beloved pet years ago, I know you can relate.
Both of my parents have died, my father nearly 11 years ago and my mother just over 5 years ago. My stepmother and I supported each other beautifully with my father’s death. When it came to my mother’s death, being an only child, I didn’t have any immediate family to help me process the feeling side of losing my mother. I did have a lot of support though navigating the business side of losing my mother.
Wait what? How dare I mention the idea of ‘business’ in the same sentence as the death of dear loved one?
That’s the thing though … in any death, there is the immediate ‘business’ side to be dealt with. Funeral or services to be arranged, lawyers, the will or lack thereof, bank accounts, credit cards, titles to homes and/or cars, decisions to be made on all their possessions, and on and on. The list is seemingly never-ending. Because it can take quite a while to navigate this aspect of a loved one’s death, that in of itself seems to keep us locked into the business side.
At the same time though, there is the emotional side, or grief, that is always there. The aftermath of my father’s death was not nearly as complex as my mother’s. It was that complexity and the deadlines on the business side that created the time and space so that I could slowly process my grief over several years.
The thing is that with the loss of a dear loved one, our grief never really goes away fully. For some of us, even years later our grief comes back to visit on occasion. What do you do so that you don’t get stuck in waves of sadness when it returns years later?
Let me backtrack a couple of words and focus on the idea of ‘waves’. Think of sadness, or any emotion actually, as waves. Waves that wash over us. Sometimes those waves are so intense and all-encompassing that they pull us in to the ocean of that feeling, wrapping themselves around us. And sometimes, you’re afraid that you may even drown in your sorrow. But they are just waves. And like ocean waves, they will wash over us and they will eventually recede.
So, when I recently realized that my grief had returned, I reminded myself that this wave of grief is just that ~ a wave. It will recede and drop away from me in time. The sooner I became vulnerable and allowed that sadness to flow through me, felt it in all of my being, the more quickly it would dissipate. Almost like it just wanted to be recognized and acknowledged, then it could recede.
Ok, I get it … for some of you that’s a bit too esoteric to ‘feel your sadness’. Simply put, create some space and time for yourself to grieve again, even years later: take a morning, or an afternoon, and let your tears flow. Curl up on your bed, or your couch, with your favorite blanket and have a good cry. If you need help crying, find a tearjerker movie to help those tears start to flow.
Think back to some cherished times with your loved ones. Call a dear friend or family member and talk about some memories. It’s important to relive some of your fondest memories of them and maybe cry some more. Reliving those memories is also celebrating your loved one’s life and everything that they brought to your world. By taking time for yourself to bask in those memories you are honoring yourself and your loved one’s life.
Reach out for help. Sometimes, even years after our loved ones have died, we realize that we are lost in our ocean of grief and that we need help finding the shore again. Here are some resources that are available to help you navigate your ocean of sadness:
- Contact a grief counselor;
- Talk to your doctor;
- Find a grief support group;
- Reach out to your religious community;
- Ask for to be on a church’s prayer list;
- Seek out the counsel of a spiritual guide or coach; and/or
- Treat yourself to a massage or a Reiki session.
Lastly, be patient with yourself. This is your journey through grief, no one else’s. Even years later, when the grief surprisingly returns for a visit, maybe triggered by a sound, a smell, a word, a cherished possession, that’s ok.
For me, my grief returned while spending time with my relatives that had been so integral in helping me navigate the complex business side of my mother’s death. After returning home from our visit, I was flooded with so many memories of my mother, those relatives and their focused support, other relatives and their gentle emotional support, and even our whole wonderful family history. I allowed myself the time to reminisce and to cry.
After honoring my grief, it gently dissipated, leaving me warmly cherishing my mother’s life. There are times when I think of a funny memory of my mother and it’s almost like I can hear her laugh loudly as she relives that memory with me. There are other times when I tell my daughter stories of my father and I will hear some of his favorite sayings in my head for the rest of the week.
Our loved ones, and their brilliance live on in our memories and in the stories of them we share. I believe they are grateful when we celebrate their lives rather than mourning them for the rest of our lives. As I write this blog, I have tears blurring my vision; the feelings are not just of sadness but also of gratitude for all the wonderful memories I have to cherish and to share with my daughter.
I would be honored if you feel drawn to share how you celebrate your loved ones’ lives years after they have left your world. You can always ask for your comments to be kept private.
If you do get pulled all the way out into the ocean of your grief, remember to be patient with yourself and that those very waves will eventually carry you gently back to shore. If you simply want a gentle hand to guide you back to shore, we are here to help you.
Shedding the shyness of my youth, I cheer exuberantly for my daughter, her teammates, and even the opposing Field Hockey team! Their pride & heart filled smiles beam in appreciation regardless of the final score.