Handling Grief, Loss, Sadness, Pain

How To Deal With Grief
By Jon Terrell, M.A.

- For immediate practical tools for handling grief go to:
Help For Those Who Are Grief Stricken. -

All of us have difficulty coping with grief. Grief can be like a spear into our hearts. Its pain can feel overwhelming. We may try to avoid it because grief hurts so much.

Yet, if we let it, grief can open us up to a whole new world. It can tear our hearts open.

When we let ourselves fully grieve, tears come welling up. We enter a process of transformation. Our heart breaks open, we become vulnerable, accepting, present and, in time, serene.

"What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul."
–Jewish proverb

Hiding From Grief

Most of us don't know how to deal with grief, to consciously work with deep sadness. We try to deflect it, avoid it, and distract ourselves from it. We hide from it, we try to escape from it.

We may have learned this behavior early on, from the way our parents handled grief.

At our society's core is an effort to deny pain of all kinds, to avoid handling grief and anything unpleasant. We are taught to ignore, deny, and cover up loss. Instead we run to addictive behaviors...food, drugs, shopping, etc., as a way to salve the pain. We look for "quick relief" from all that ails us.

We're told to "put on a happy face." But many of us have a mask of deep pain underneath that phony face.

We may be grief stricken, but try to hide it with a smile. The last thing we want is to be caught in grief. We're afraid of it...and don't want to be stuck in it.

Our society teaches that emotions are irrational and unmanly...that they are feminine and inferior. When a woman has a lot of feelings, it's "her hormones."

Women may be closer to experiencing and expressing the pain of loss than many men, but they pay a big price in loss of status and in the projection of craziness.

Thankfully, our world is changing, and both men and women are learning to accept and even honor the expression of genuine feelings. If you find yourself hiding from your grief, begin to turn inward, breathe and open to it.

Stuck in Sorrow

But too often we get bogged down and stop handling grief or delay the grieving process. We're sad, but we don't fully feel grief. Many of us have stuffed it down into our bodies, we've swallowed our tears, pushing them down into our guts, our bellies. We end up with a big wad of pain there.

Sometimes, when we have a loss, all the accumulated, stuffed pain comes up to the surface and we can be overwhelmed by it. We then have a choice...do we stuff it back down or bring it up into the light of day?

We can work through the big bag of suppressed grief that so many of us are weighed down by. So it doesn't block out the joy of the present moment. And so we don't feel overwhelmed by it.

My Grief Journey

In my family, for example, we never spoke of grief or sadness and tears were not acceptable, at least for boys. Boys were to be strong, closed down, protected. When I did occasionally cry, I was called a "cry baby" and added shame to my grieving. I learned that "boys don't cry." We stuff our pain deep down. We swallow our tears, and go numb. We learn to "keep a stiff upper lip."

Many years later I never felt grief, except perhaps at a sad movie or when reading a sad story. Then I could let myself cry a bit. A few tears would well up in my eyes, and I'd get temporary relief. But mostly I was stuck in a numb pain–my grief had gone into hiding.

Over the years I tried to deal with this sad numbness through psychotherapy and various forms of meditation and release work. Nothing really worked for me until I went through my grieving, starting at a retreat.

My life began to change as I opened up. I learned how to cry and grieve. I learned to reach into my body, especially my heart and belly, and clear out that which was stuffed down there. I learned about handling grief in the present moment rather than letting it build up, as it had. There is more to go on my journey, but I'm on my way.

And now I am helping others in their grief journey.

The Wonder of Grief Transformed

"What is at first a cup of sorrow,
becomes at last immortal wine"
–The Baghavad Gita

When we fully experience loss, it and we go through a transformation: Grief slowly becomes joy.

There is a deep wisdom in that joy. The heaviness of deep sadness becomes a lightness, an aliveness, that is grounded and rich.

We remember the people in our lives who have done their grieving work...they are easy to spot. They feel safe to us because they've been through the fire of grief to the other side. They know the pain and suffering and yet are somehow light and open.

"When Love is my only defense, I am invincible."
–Tao Te Ching

I lead grief recovery retreats to help people deal with loss. Go to Grief and Loss Retreat for more information. 

These retreats are accelerated emotional therapy, where people can find deep relief over a period of days.

The other side of pain is an open space, safe in its vulnerability, alive to the treasures of this moment: joy, peace, compassion. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has written extensively on handling grief. She worked with grief stricken people, those suffering deep loss and their caregivers, in grief and loss workshops called "Growth and Transition Workshops."  I've written a page on her perspectives called Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief.

For more information about handling grief, healing emotions and deep emotional transformation with Jon Terrell, M.A., contact him using the form below. Jon leads Grief and Loss retreats and Breaking Free of the Old Story retreats in western Massachusetts and in upstate New York. Jon is a psychotherapist, energy healer and meditation teacher. He has a private practice in New York City and Northampton, Massachusetts. 

Go to Grief and Loss Retreat

Watch This 13 minute YouTube video on grief: We The Bereaved

Return from Handling Grief to Healing Emotions Page

Go to Help with Coping With Grief

Go to this article on Extreme Grief

Go to Fear of Intimacy

Go to Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief

Awakenment Wellness Home Page

Photo Credit - Grief/Joy by Lee Hicks

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Recent Comments

"I came to the retreat to learn how to cope with the sudden loss of my beautiful wife of 35 years  who passed away suddenly in late August.  It seemed  impossible to go through life now without the love, joy, fulfillment and laughter that we shared. It was a beautiful union!

Jon, you, the group and the process helped me realize and believe that I can give love, be loved, have joy and be happy again. I could not imagine any such possibility before the weekend and before we started our journey.  Exchanging  stories and getting to know everyone opened up my heart and drew me closer to them. 

It is such an overwhelming feeling to receive and give the love and support we all need so desperately. There were tears not only for sorrow but as we went along, I think they became tears  for hope and optimism.

Being back in the real world for a few days now, I can truly say that I miss the group! I still feel the intensity of the weekend which often makes me well up with emotion and makes me miss everyone even more.

Although I still have much pain, after we all hugged and kissed goodbye on Sunday afternoon, I left with hope and a  vision of better times.  

Thank you again for helping me."

 Ed DeJesus, Shelton, CT

“It’s  impossible to put into words the huge change that the retreats have made in my experience of emotions, way of thinking and realizations I have come to.  

"After many years of therapy, primarily to treat an anxiety disorder, I still felt stuck in anger/grief, etc., and had a vague sense  of unease--an inability to "be myself."  Through participation in Shalom Mountain and Star Dance retreats, both facilitated by Jon Terrell, I was able to experience blocked emotions in a very physical and visceral way, in a comforting, supportive, and safe environment.  The relief I now feel and the knowledge I gained through participation in the retreats is invaluable.  I look forward to attending another so that I may continue to learn and grow, enabling me to move forward through this amazing path to health."  

Vicki, Rochester, NY

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