10 Things I've Learned About Grief
By Jon Terrell, M.A.

For the last 21 years I’ve helped people transform grief, anger, anxiety and other difficult emotions at our retreats. I've learned a great deal about how grief affects us, and how we can move through our grieving and find joy again.

Here is a list of some of the things I have learned about grief, whether it's from the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job or something else dear to us.

1. Grief is not a problem to be solved.

Grief is a feeling to be felt, not a thought.

We live in our thoughts so naturally we want to solve our problems by finding a solution. But feelings are in a different realm than thoughts. They come from our body, not our head.

Grief is not a problem, although it can be an uncomfortable feeling. What can be a problem is the avoidance of grief. This avoidance can drive us to a standstill as we get trapped in the past and neglect the present.

2. Suppressing, avoiding or distracting ourselves from grief postpones our pain and slows down our healing process.

We heal our grief as we get past these strategies and feel our pain. But sometimes, the pain of grief is unbearable, and some suppression is a necessary defense so we won't be overwhelmed by it.

Yet when we habitually suppress our feelings, we end up trapped in pain rather than moving through it. 

Addiction starts with avoidance of pain as a way to distract or numb us.

So how do we safely feel our grief? Our emotional healing retreats are an ideal way to enter into the feelings we've avoided. At our retreats, participants first experience a depth of loving connection, so they can face the pain they are holding back. They experience support, safety, and a step-by-step process that encourages and supports emotions.

As we move through our grief, it changes, and we change. We feel better, lighter, and freer. We find relief.

3.  When we suppress our pain we also suppress lots of good stuff.

Pushing down the pain of grief (or any feeling) reduces the amount of awareness and life energy we consciously have. Suppression makes our world smaller!

We become less aware and have fewer options.

Suppression is, at best, a temporary solution. The problem is that most of us have unconsciously suppressed so much feeling in our bodies that we have forgotten what freedom feels like. We live in our heads and abandon our bodies.

We carry the weight of these feelings around with us, as excess physical weight yes, but especially as a kind of novocaine to life.

So what's the "good stuff" we've suppressed? It depends on the emotion suppressed of course. (For more on specific emotions start with this page) With grief it's joy, sensitivity, fluidity (the water element, related to tears) and groundedness.

4. Grief is a natural response to the loss of someone or something we loved.

At the retreats we all experience that as we feel our grief our focus gradually shifts from the pain of loss to the joy inherent in love. We grieve because we loved, and that loss of what we loved is painful. 

Yet we are here to love, not to grieve endlessly. Grieving as a feeling is a process, and we don't need to get stuck in the process. Grieving helps us let go and finally experience and honor the love.

That love becomes a living part of us. Grief transforms us all the way through, down to the ground of our being.

5. Here are some of the ways grief affects our bodies and consciousness: 

  • While there are exceptions, grief is usually heavy and slow. We slow down and feel weighed down. 
  • Grieving is a lot of work. It is tiring!
  • We seek dark enclosed spaces and dark colors. 
  • When grieving, we often feel closer to the earth, lying on a bed or the ground. That's a good thing and worth practicing.

I remember a time of loss for me. I intuitively moved from my large, sunny bedroom to the smallest, darkest room. It felt the safest, most enclosed, most inward. Then, after a few months, I was ready to return.

  • When we grieve, we often cry, and the wetness of tears brings relief. Grief is wet

As noted above, one of the gifts of grief is a depth of grounding, of earthiness. Grief is the heaviest of feelings. 

The safest people in the world, the ones to whom we want to run when we are in pain, are the ones who have done their grief work. We sense their steadiness and truth holding. They don't try to fix our grief! They know to love us unconditionally.

6. Many of us, especially men, have been taught not to cry.

We may feel that crying is somehow feminine, weak, or babyish. We were told, "Don't be a cry-baby" or "Boys don't cry."

We may have felt shame like this when we were young and so have suppressed years of grief. Shame can make it challenging to acknowledge our suffering, let alone cry, except maybe in the dark, like at the movies or alone in our homes. We crave that healing wetness.

As we reclaim our capacity to grieve, we reclaim parts of ourselves we may not even have realized were ours—tenderness, compassion, sensitivity, warmth. We develop an intimacy with ourselves that can grow into deeper intimacy with others. We open our hearts again.

7. Suppressed grief can lead to feelings of depression. 

We can often alleviate this type of depression by working through past grief. When people work through grief at our retreats, they often experience the weight of grief moving out of their bodies. It's not uncommon for participants to remark how much lighter they feel and how much relief they experience.

8. Current grief often triggers past, uncompleted grief experiences.

One of the reasons grief is hard to work through is that past experiences of loss often compound our present loss.
Many of us experience the weight of a lifetime of loss and don't realize it. 

Some of these may seem trivial or minor, although they weren't insignificant to us when we experienced these losses as a young person. 
As we age, we can lose much of our life force and joy because we've suppressed our feelings. We push these feelings down into our bodies, which leads to tiredness and physical pain. Fortunately, we reclaim that energy and freedom as we learn to transform these feelings.

9. There is no set timetable for working through grief.

Grieving a loss does take time. But how much time? Each situation, each person, is different. I trust people to know when it's been too long a process, and they need help.

At our retreats, we encourage people to take "the next step." But what that step is is different for each person, as we are all unique.
10. Grief is closely connected with other feelings, particularly anger.

At our retreats, people often start with one feeling, but as they delve into it, another one appears. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross pointed out in her Stages of Grief, anger is closely related to grief. We can be angry about our loss and blame others for it.

Fear and anxiety are also connected to grief. We can be afraid of being overwhelmed by grief and by anger. We can be afraid of being engulfed by grief. Many experience fear of what will happen to them.

All feelings are welcomed and encouraged at our retreats. As we express our feelings, we work through the stuck places in our lives. We come alive again as we heal the deadened places within us. 

Grief is difficult. Loss is painful. But grieving offers us amazing gifts. We grieve because we've lost someone or something we loved. The gift of grief is a reclaiming of that love. It is a deep, internalized experience of love as joy in the present moment.

Jon Terrell leads Grief, Loss and Difficult Emotion Retreats several times each year in western Massachusetts. He also offers it in Florida in the winter. To contact Jon use the form below.

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