Tilling Our Soul Garden – What is Grief and how to let it stop ruining your life.

In my humble and layperson’s opinion, grief is the top emotion that ruins lives.

Ironically, grief comes about when there is a substantial loss in a person’s life, essentially ruining the existing life of the person who has suffered the loss.  When these two diametric opposites collide, then what?

How is it possible to have one’s life completely ruined or destroyed while simultaneously feeling a burning desire to want to live life to the fullest?  The emotions of grief and joy cannot exist in the same moment. Grief will stomp on joy like a professional entertainment wrestler stomps on an opponent during a cage match.

The challenge is to recognize when grief turns into a cycle of negative thoughts and feelings that prevent us from moving forward. We do not exist to be miserable and in pain throughout this journey of life and death.  Grief was meant to be a temporary phase to go through, not something to be carried around much like a box full of old photos.

Many cultures put a time limit on grief, usually one full calendar year.  At the end of that year, everyone gathers around and brings gifts and food for a traditional Feast.  The community turns their grief and pain over their loss into a celebration of new life and hope for those left behind.  

That was a very generalized statement that I just made as those types of cultures have very complex traditions and ceremonies linked to these events, but the essence is the same.  Everyone has one full year to grieve, cry, hide, process and deal with whatever form their grief takes. At Day 365, the one that was lost is honoured and the ones that remain celebrate and prepare to let go and move forward.

Many people are deeply attached to their grief.  The initial pain and acknowledgement of the great loss turns into something much more, which continually holds people back from joy and love whether they consciously know it or not.  Grief takes over and causes all kinds of needless pain and suffering, but it can be stopped.

Brutal Honesty Question #1:  Who told you that you have to feel guilty, ashamed, hurt, abandoned, unloved, etc for the rest of your life?  No one.

Not one person wants you to suffer endlessly for the rest of your life.  Not the person who died or the person who moved on with their own life. Certainly not your friends and family – those who truly care about your well-being; they only want what is best for you, the same as you would want for them.  The only person who is causing you to needlessly suffer is you.

In order to truly be able to let go of old emotional baggage and negative thoughts or feelings is to truly identify what the grief is actually all about.  

If your automatic reaction was to panic and start thinking “She’s nuts! She has no idea what I have been through! I can’t let go of my grief!  Doesn’t that mean I don’t care? I’m a horrible human being and don’t deserve to feel happiness. I will carry this burden forever to prove I am worthy, guilty enough, strong enough, etc”.  All of those things are the exact opposite of joy, love and peace and cannot exist in the same space.  There can only be one winner – grief or joy.

When you feel yourself panic over giving up an emotion that no longer takes you in the direction of light and joy that is a big red flag that negative emotions are running, and probably ruining, your life.  Here are a few tips on how to address, process and let go of grief.

Reasons to Grieve:

  • Death or loss by abandonment of a loved one.
  • Divorce or dissolution of a significant relationship.
  • Severe change in lifestyle.
  • Childhood trauma suffered at the hands of an adult or friend.
  • Loss of a job.
  • Betrayal of trust on any level.

Each of these things are painful on their own.  Add any level of complexity whether it be loss of a child to death or divorce of a relationship whether it was healthy or not, loss of a job whether it was a good work environment or just a paycheque.  

People will attach different emotions and experiences to their grief and that’s okay. Do your thing. The point here is to recognize when grief has turned into something else.

The mind blowing part is this….all of those things happened at some point in the past. The event is over and dealt with so why do we carry the other residual emotions around like buried treasure?

Residual emotions result from grief: Long standing grief is never about the loss itself.  

Think about it – your husband/parent/family member/child/friend died sometime in the past.  The event itself is over. The death happened. The shock and disabling grief happened. The final ceremonies were scheduled, announced, attended and completed.  That person who passed on is long gone and they don’t have a care in the world. So why are you still in so much pain after all this time? Why can’t you get on with your life in a more meaningful way?

The problem with being a human is that we attach more emotions to our pile than we should or can handle, especially during times of great loss and pain.

Let us suppose the death was of a parent.  Whether the relationship was good or bad, the results are the same: the person left behind all of a sudden doubts every single moment in time spent or not spent with that person.  This results in some nasty thoughts and emotions coming to the surface. Thoughts and emotions that were never an issue before. So, why now?

I had the fortune to be able to have a terrible relationship with my mother for the first 24 years of my life and then a wonderful and healing relationship with her for 10 years before she passed on.

When my mother became institutionalized due to a tragic car accident injury, it changed everything for us.  Her brain injury turned her into a different person. She was kind, thoughtful and caring. She experienced immense joy at the simple act of getting visitors, where before the accident she probably couldn’t have found joy in a dictionary.  She told me she loved me all the time, as opposed to hardly ever, which was my former experience with her.

During the 10 years between her accident and her death, I was going through my own troubles.  

Just before my mother’s accident I made the decision to give up my 9 month old son.  My father offered to take him during the adoption process, which was started, but not completed.  My father and his wife decided to keep my son for six months in order to allow me time to regroup.  They didn’t let me see him for 18 months. My son never returned to my home. My father and I became estranged and I suffered horribly for years because I didn’t stand up and fight for my son.  Ironically, I spent many years fighting to have a relationship with my father.

My marriage at the time was fun; full of good friends, lots of laughs and daily drinking.  I used alcohol to disappear into this other self I became after 3 to 5 drinks. I liked that version of me.  She was funny, adventurous, sociable, interesting and great to be around.

After drink 6, she was no longer fun and turned back into depressed, emotionally broken me but now completely plastered and a nightmare to deal with.  I had turned into my mother without seeing it coming.

Those 10 years spent on a bar stool caused a lot of ‘grief’ for me – mostly trying not to beat myself up over all the other things I could have been doing with my time and money.

When my Mom died on Thanksgiving Day in 2002, the first thing I felt was relief.  She was finally able to go to love and peace instead of the horrible physical existence she suffered daily.  I have never felt guilty for feeling great that she finally got leave her broken mind and body. What I did feel guilt over was all the would’a, could’a, should’a items that plagued me for years.

  • I should have spent more time with her instead of at the bar getting drunk and wasting money.
  • I could have done so much better for her.
  • I would do it so differently if I could do it over again.  (Think about how insane this statement is – so, what am I really saying?  That I would put my mother through all of her pain and suffering again so that I could treat her better to make myself feel better?  Whoa! That’s just nuts.

My ex-husband said the most beautiful thing to my mother right before she took her last breath.  He bent down over her pillow, took her hand in his and whispered, “Thank you for having me in your life.”  I was completely blown away and speechless at the simplistic beauty of his statement! So blow away, in fact, that I missed her end and now can’t remember what my last words to her were.

For years, I carried around the guilt of not being able to come up with something equally or more moving to say to her!  Does my mother care? Not one bit. She would say, ‘I am grateful that you took time for me, at all. I am grateful we found love together.  Nothing else matters. Stop beating yourself up for things that didn’t matter then and don’t matter now. I know you did your best and I love you.”

We are our own worst enemies when it comes to guilt.  Guilt is what we carry around, not grief. Guilt becomes a crutch.  It holds us back from joy, love and laughter. It is a self-imposed emotion that is so powerful, it feels like it rules our minds and hearts.  Remember – emotions are temporary feelings that you control.

Sit down and think about what you are grieving over.  I will bet you dollars to donuts that what you identify as ‘grief’ is more about your own feelings of doubt and your perception of your own self-worth and has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the loss itself.

Dig deep into your Soul Garden and identify how you truly feel about yourself.  Picture the ones you hold dear in your heart smiling at you, reaching out to you and spreading love to you.  Isn’t that the message you are trying to send to them? Why would they want anything but love and joy for you?  Why can’t you give yourself the allowance of love and joy?

A good start to letting go of grief is to be kinder to yourself.  It is okay to let go of old pain and move towards joy and love. Forgive yourself and know that you did the best you could at the time.  Give yourself a hug and a pat on the back for just getting through it all.  Today, just for one day, deny your guilt and grief and live to experience love, joy and laughter.  

Really, I promise you it’s okay to feel good about yourself and enjoy the day.  Identify old feelings or belief you are carrying and let them go. They serve no purpose to your true life.  Try it out and let me know your perspective.

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