Pathways for Coping with Loss and Grief
Jeanne Cacciatore, a Zen priest and bereavement specialist, offer sound advice on the process of loss and grieving. In her book, Bearing the Unbearable: Love and the Heart Breaking Path of Grief (2016), she presents the process as a series of contractions and expansions; contractions are the inward path of attention and energy as the physical environment shrinks (vulnerable emotional tightening for self-protection), and expansions are self-compassionate allowing of safety, exploration, curiosity, willingness, and renewed connections. Over time subtle shifts of improvement occur. Over time we begin to live again. Breath as a metaphor serve this view well; the earlier short, shallow, chest breathing in and out changes into a slower, longer abdominal breathing in and out. As we normalize expansion, the pain and suffering of loss remains but it is no longer overpowering and overwhelming. We re-learn how to function and experience hopeful pleasure and joy once again. We notice that we have some gratitude for our life just as it is now.
What are some important things to do when one is in a state of loss and grief? Here is a list.
- No matter what you do, the normal process of loss and grief will occur. The issue is how do you want to experience it. It can be devastating and long-term, or it can be devastating but less long-term.
- We need to stay with the process to find our way through it. This takes time and courage.
- Use all spiritual and religious beliefs you have that are helpful. Heaven, reincarnation, no-self may all be helpful to you in your process of grieving. If helpful, seek spiritual support from others.
- It may help to use creative rituals, rites, and alters in your personal process. Rituals can be one very powerful healers, but they can also be very powerful reminders of your loss.
- Sit in meditation and/or prayer. Use whatever content seems to help you cope better emotionally. Some people find meditation in a cemetery can be both challenging and helpful. Be with it all.
- Share your grief with the right people, at the right times, and in the right places.
- When others try to help you, tell them what you need. This often includes combinations of quiet listening, basic presence, kind actions, direct assistance, and social-emotional supports. Pure silence may help.
- For those of you who may be more spiritually involved, respectful kneeling and prostrating may help.
- Holding a yoga posture in prayer pose can strengthen your capacity to deal with the suffering.
- Reading spiritual texts can be helpful and lead to new insights about loss and grief.
- Learning to place birth and death into life’s context reminds us of the impermanence of all things.
- Spend time in natural environments and allow the soothing power of that environment to heal you.
- Practice as much compassionate self-care as possible, although this may be difficult at first.
- Do whatever comes to mind to commemorate and respect the loss loved one. Your stronger physical actions in this area (lasting tributes) may reduce the emotional suffering of grief.
- Last, allow time to heal, and recognize the thin line between grieving and depression. If you become stuck in the depressive “dark nights of the soul” get professional help quickly.
For more information refer to Cacciatore, J. (2016) Bearing the Unbearable: Love and the Heart Breaking Path of Grief. Boston: Wisdom Publications. See also Healthbeat (2015). Coping with Grief and Loss. Boston: Harvard Medical School.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness