Living With Loss: 10 Exercises
Mourning the loss of someone you love, adore, respect, hate, despise, or have any combination of feelings towards, takes time and attention, but you don’t have to just sit there and take it.
Sometimes grief can cause such lethargy and exhaustion that it may seem impossible to “do” anything other than getting through the day. The irony is that once you get moving, emoting, or acting it usually increases your motivation, energy, and health.
Once you have taken the time to acknowledge your loss (whatever it may be), feel it’s full impact and the changes it is causing in your life, you can then find ways to relieve, release, expel, create, explore and/or honor those feelings, sensations, thoughts and beliefs.
Though there are thousands of ways to release the pressure cooker of emotion and suffering that death can cause, here are a few possibilities.
You can duplicate these actions in your own life or use them as a catalyst for your own unique creations and manifestations of grief.
The only precaution is that you do them in a safe environment and/or with people you trust (where you don’t have to censure yourself) and that they do not cause others or yourself harm.
1. Scream, wail, moan, sob, laugh hysterically, play music, sing, howl or cry out loud, in the shower, on the floor, into a pillow, at the beach, in the woods or with a trusted friend. After the death of his wife, a friend of mine said he would face the ocean and cry and scream for a few minutes every day where nobody could hear him.
2. Walk, run, swim, workout, hike or bike at least two to three times a week by yourself or with others. A man whose sister died in an automobile accident said running every day is what saved his life and made his loss bearable.
3. Play, listen to and/or dance with music to release and let go of emotional pain and get outside of your ego and transcend your mind. Music and/or dance, in whatever form, can bring you into the moment and decrease thoughts of the past or worries of the future.
4. Breathing exercises, visualizations, relaxation, stretching and yoga have all been shown to relieve stress, anxiety and positive endorphins to help the body heal. After my uncle committed suicide I found that deep breathing and yoga helped give me more energy when I felt sad or depressed.
5. Meditate, chant and/or pray using whatever practice, tradition or belief system you have or hold. Many women and men I know have found that looking at their inner life closely and honestly and surrendering what they see to something (a higher power, god or consciousness) outside themselves, reduces stress, anxiety and sadness and provides deeper acceptance and meaning.
6. Relax in a hot tub, hot bath, shower, sauna or sweat lodge and let the emotions seep from your pores and evaporate with the steam. A colleague whose mother had died suddenly said he attended numerous sweat ceremonies and found that he was transformed with new release and understandings each time.
7. Put together a collage, altar, memory book, picture frame, treasure box, video or audiotape/CD about the person who died. One family made a video of their father/husband before he died, which brought them great comfort in later years. A child I know routinely goes to the memory book she made after her father’s death.
8. Write, talk and/or have a verbal conversation with, too or about the person who has passed away. Many people find that talking to the deceased helps soften the effects of their physical absence and supports them in maintaining an ongoing (though different) relationship and connection with the person who has died.
9. Create a memorial, plant a tree, make a donation, volunteer, or dedicate an event, an action or your life to the loved one who has died. Some folks I know have created organizations or make a point of helping a neighbor or relative in honor of the person who died. To do so helps them keep the person’s memory alive by embodying the attributes they admire and wish to hold onto in their own lives.
10. Time does not heal all wounds, but time and attention can help transform the pain of loss. Take a close look at all the facets of your life that have been and are being affected by separation and loss and remember that who you are is not defined by your suffering or past experiences. You are not your stuff.
Don’t let this list stop you from finding your own way to act, walk, crawl, run, jump or dance on your unique, individual journey of living with the reality of loss. You don’t have to ignore or try to “get over” grief and mourning by avoiding or suppressing it. Use it as a catalyst, as fertilizer, as an open door for change, growth, and transformation.