Yes, grief is good. But when you stuff down emotions because you have been told to do so or you are afraid of others’ reactions or your own reactions, the grief gets stuck and then you get stuck.
I know this because it’s my story. My two sisters died a year apart from each tragically and suddenly. I was their younger sister and was just learning to be an adult at 21. I felt as if my legs had been cut off. I had no idea what to do. I went to groups and therapists seeking help. When I told one that I suffered from feelings that would surface uncontrollably she taught me how to drink water so I wouldn’t cry. Swallow your feelings, she taught me. And so I did.
We just don’t know what to say to someone and the message we get is, keep it all in. “Oh, wow, I couldn’t survive losing my sister.”
“She is in a better place now.”
“Everything is meant to happen it’s karmic (God’s plan)”
“You need to pull it together, you are upsetting people.”
It’s not just other people’s comments that taught me to stuff them, it was my own fear as well. Joyful memories bubble up in the strangest places but are quickly overcome by a tsnaumi of painful emotions. Pushing them down kept me in a dry, dusty desert working overtime just to survive.
At first, not helped by any sort of group or therapy, I dived into physical activity. I rode my bike 100’s of miles a day, I ran, I boxed and I practiced a sweaty intense yoga. It was helpful to keep my spirits from going south but I also used it to exhaust myself so I couldn’t feel any more. Later on, my better self led me to a practice that was more mindful and strengthened my nerves, body and mind. I’m deeply grateful that I was led to a practice that could help me with the ups and downs of life that were to come. Each subsequent loss or a tragic scene in a movie were land mines for all the unresolved grief. And when my life as I knew it completely flipped over, I knew how to ground my physical body and support my nerves to uplift my mind and spirit.
I recently started a process to express all the unsaid things, all the emotions that have filled me with guilt and shame and celebrate all the beautiful memories without fear of pain. I’ve been skeptical of the idea of moving beyond grief and feel guilty that somehow to move beyond is to forget. But I’m beginning to feel some movement. Like yoga, I think it’s a process.
Yoga is an emotional subject through which we can touch the deep embedded memories and release them. Yoga has made me much more sensitive to myself and more resilient in the face of storms.
I’m embracing this idea that you can move beyond, integrating, not forgetting and move towards a verdant, green life.