"It's such a secret place, the land of tears."
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
You're feeling extreme grief. You've had a major loss, a relationship has ended, a death of someone close, you've been diagnosed with a serious illness, or some other crisis. You don't know what to do.
Here are a few suggestions that may help you at this time. They won't immediately lessen your pain, but they will help get you through.
First, for immediate emotional first aid go to this page: Grief Stricken First Aid Tools. Then, come back here.
"Grief is the price we pay for love." - Queen Elizabeth II, in an address to a church congregation after the 2001 9/11 attacks.
Grief is a cleansing process to help you deal with loss. In this difficult time, tears are your friend. Extreme grief is wet.
Tears are helpful...tears bring a release that purifies our hearts and minds. If you can't or won't cry, please get help right away...a therapist or counselor can help you lean into your grief and let the held back tears flow.
Create a loving space to welcome your tears. To help you through extreme grief, find a place where you can take care of yourself and shed tears without worrying about other people's needs. You need some time and space for yourself, to open up to the extreme grief.
This is not the time to try to shut it down or avoid it. You need to attend to your feelings, and let yourself shed healing tears.
If possible find a place where you can be enclosed, warm, and feel safe. A cocoon for healing. And be close to the floor if possible. Grief is heavy and when we are grieving we feel the weight of gravity more intensely. Lying down in bed is good, with lots of blankets to support you in letting go. Have plenty of tissues nearby.
One of the gifts of grief is grounding. As we work through extreme grief we connect more closely to the earth and earth energy. We become more grounded. This connection to the earth is healing for ourselves and others. When we are in grief we look for someone who is safe for us to be around, and this is often someone who has done his/her grief work and is connected to the earth.
Sometimes what works is to sit in a small space with a wall to protect your back...on the bathroom floor, in a large closet, a small room. The small space can feel protective and safe and grounding, making it easier to feel our feelings.
This is a time to feel your grief, bit by bit, moment by moment. Suppressing it, avoiding it, or medicating it can all delay and subvert your process.
(Of course there are times when we need to do one or more of those things. Each of us needs to find our own mourning path. If we have truly taken some time to grieve, we may need a break, a "breather" before we can go on. Or if we are just stuck in bed and not getting on with our lives, or feeling depressed, we may need help from others...see the section below.)
If you are feeling your extreme grief it may sometimes seem like you are stuck, because grief heals slowly. Grief work takes time.
You are truly stuck when you avoid your sadness. When you avoid its pain and suppress it, grief just goes below your awareness and comes out in other forms...as depression, anger, anxiety, and other feelings.
Sometimes those other feelings are part of our grief. Some people express their grief as anger, in lashing out at others.
You may get caught up in all sorts of thoughts, trying to figure grief out. You may get stuck in asking why...why me, why him, why now, etc. But "why" is not the way to understanding and healing. It will only take you up, into thoughts, and away from your feelings.
By being with your grief, giving it your loving attention, you are digesting it, transforming it. This alchemical process is not easy, but in time reveals its gold.
And grief's gold takes many forms...a new groundedness, a deeper appreciation for life in all its forms, and, eventually, a new joy.
Our thoughts can take us many places, and some of them are not helpful to healing. Many of us get caught up in thoughts that pull us away from our feelings. Sometimes we do need a breather from our feelings, so we can take care of ourselves, but if we make escaping feelings a habit, we just avoid the work we need to do.
Many times our thoughts go in directions that are not healing. If you find yourself having destructive thoughts (suicidal thoughts or thoughts of violence towards others) seek immediate professional help. The suicide hotline number is 1-800-784-2433.
As you journey with your extreme grief, it begins to change...becoming more bearable. You are learning to "carry your grief."
You may feel more energy again, feel more "normal."
Talking can be helpful...being with friends, talking about your feelings with other, sharing your experience. Not all people are comfortable with feelings...some may avoid you. (They may be avoiding their own grief!)
(And if you are avoiding your grief and just going to others as another way to escape really feeling, you may find people avoiding you, as well...because they can't do the work of feeling for you. They may feel burdened by feelings that you need to bear.)
You may want to seek others who have experienced extreme grief and grown from it. A grief support group can be helpful.
Talking to someone who has done their grief work can help. These are often people who feel safe who can listen without freaking out at your pain, who can help ground you. Sometimes an older relative can play this role.
It can also be helpful to talk to a therapist, like myself, who specializes in grief work. I often recommend that people who are experiencing extreme grief attend our intensive Grief and Loss retreat to make their journey easier and more fruitful. For over twenty years, our retreats have helped hundreds of people heal from the pain of loss.
Jon Terrell, MA, leads retreats focused on Grief, Loss and Other Difficult Emotions. For more information or if you have a question, contact him using the form below.