I have been asked to write about my experience with grief and how I was resilient through my grief. Let me be clear that my grief has not disappeared, but the intense emotional waves have reduced in intensity and frequency with time. There are some action steps I took early following my sister’s death that have definitely improved my emotional state surrounding the loss. Was this a conscious effort? I’m not sure, but I did know I could not stay where I was feeling forever.
The first year following my sister’s death, I lived in a fairly constant state of shock, anger, sadness and loneliness. Everything seemed difficult to do including getting out of bed, making breakfast and starting my day. Grief is by far the heaviest and intense emotion I have ever felt. It dominated me for at least a year. I don’t exactly remember due to my loss concentration and focus for that period of time but days/months went by and I was simply going through the motions. I rarely wanted to talk to anyone or do anything and life was dull. I wasn’t enjoying life and then I decided I had to do something, the heaviness was slowly killing me (that was my thinking at the time).
I think my resiliency began once I was able to meet and connect with other people who had experiences with grief similar to mine (unexpected, sudden etc) and in talking about what it is like (the emotional rollercoaster). When something like this happens, you find it difficult to relate to others who have not experienced something similar. This connection proved to be a source of comfort. The first Christmas after my sister died, I attended group therapy with other families who had lost a loved one. I remember walking into the room looking into the eyes of the people in attendance thinking I don’t have to say a word, they just know (and what a relief).
Over time, I looked for any form of treatment that would help me to feel better physically. Grief, being that intense emotion is also a feeling that weighs very heavy in the physical body (of course they are connected to mental state) so I decided I would do float therapy regularly. Even to this day, I credit float with saving me from my hardest grieving days. I remember my first float after my sister died, bawling my eyes out in the tank for 90 minutes. It was a natural response that occurred and I knew that my body/mind was telling me that the emotions had to come out. Exiting the tank, I felt 100 x lighter, less grief and more relaxed. I made a point of booking floats anytime grief weighed heavy on me.
The more I floated, the lighter/better I felt. Today, I float regularly as part of a self-care program.
Additionally, I felt compelled to learn about grief. I sought out articles, journals and resources to learn about this intense emotional state to ensure what I was feeling was “normal.” To be honest, there were times I could absorb information and other times I could not (grief is exhausting). I did subscribe to lots of resources; often they came at the right time when I was in the crux of an emotional rollercoaster. Reading the material, helped me to feel “normal” with respect to what I was experiencing in the moment. I felt this yearning to understand everything I could about this emotion and how to deal with it. My goal, find any information/tools that would help shift me from the most intense pain.
I have learned that grief is not something that ever goes away. It is an emotion that is quietly stored inside and you never know at what moment it will express itself. I remember one incident of driving by a video 99 store in Toronto that my sister and I would rent movies from and having an instant moment of “falling apart.” By that, I mean overwhelming sadness and missing my sister. I pulled over, sat in my car and had a massive cry. I didn’t stop the tears from flowing, I instinctively knew to let them fall. I cried until there were no more tears to cry, wiped the makeup off my face and continued on my way. So while these moments come and go, what I have learned is that I can manage through these moments each time and that learning to ride those waves is how you survive it. - Robin B.
Thank you so much Robin for your honesty, your resilience and the reality that deep, deep grief is soul wrenching. It is not 'drama' which is the judgement of late in mainstream society. It is gut wrenching, hard and can get triggered by anything at anytime, which leaves the griever feeling exposed to the judgement that our culture has that if you are composed, thinking and doing, then you are OK. If you are collapsed into your feelings, then you are 'not OK'. The truth of the matter is that we are all vulnerable and powerful our whole lives. We need to be able to think AND feel. Whenever situations are overwhelming people will have a tendency to collapse into either thinking OR feeling. Most isolate for fear of judgement of their feelings or behave in ways that help them to distance from the enormity of their feelings. I'm impressed by how Robin discovered that finding the time for letting grief express itself (through using the float tank) allowed her to feel lighter and gave her back access to her frontal cortext, which she would lose when things got too 'backed up' or heavy. When things are this hard it is important to learn the skill of 'toggling' between the hard grief that you are walking with and being mindful of being in the present moment. If you don't learn how to 'toggle' then you will miss out on your life while grieving the people who are not present to share it with you anymore.
Here's a beautiful song by Beth Neilsen Chapman about grief and how alone we are in our grief. Even if others around us are grieving too, we must process our own grief and make choices about how to 'walk with it' ourselves.