This article focuses on the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of grief and compassion. A second article will focus on how we can compassionately and lovingly take care of our physical body.
Few events in life are as painful as the death of a spouse. The feeling of abandonment and loss is one of the most agonizing feelings we experience. The grief is overwhelming and you may feel that you may not have the strength or the energy to take the journey. For many, it feels as if your heart has been ripped out. This is a common feeling… you are not alone. This article will give practical steps to help you through your journey of grief, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
The most important tool you need for your new journey is self-compassion. Compassion is a deep awareness and desire to help a person who is suffering. We are taught to be compassionate for others and most of us are not taught to be compassionate to ourselves. This is the time that it is essential for us to be compassionate to ourselves. If we turn the definition around, compassion is having an awareness of our needs and trying to fulfill the ones we can and being willing to ask others for help. In addition, compassion also means being gentle, kind, patient, understanding and unconditionally accepting of ourselves. Awareness of our own behavior is important, but criticism, condemnation or judgment of the self can be destructive.
Compassion is allowing yourself to mourn. Your wife or husband has died. It is normal to feel a rainbow of emotions, and it’s to be expected. There will be many feelings you may experience that are common to widows and widowers and these include shock, numbness, panic, generalized fearfulness, abandonment, sadness, loneliness, guilt, anger, ambivalence and depression. These emotions are normal and healthy; allow yourself to learn from these feelings. Compassion is allowing these feelings to arise and be released. Emotions are energy just needing expression. Find someone you trust so you can share these emotions with them. Sometimes it feels that if we allow ourselves to fully experience the emotion, we won’t be able to handle it. But sometimes you just need to allow the emotions to pass without trying to stop them — like the way you simply endure an intense rainstorm because it’s obvious that you couldn’t stop it if you tried.
We come to learn that we have the courage to cycle through the grieving process and that the only way out of the sadness or any of the other feelings is through it. As you accept your thoughts and your feelings in the moment, a surrendering and an opening occurs because that feeling, thought or intense physical or emotional pain has been recognized. Just as it is in nature, after an intense storm, a rainbow appears.
Compassion is not judging where you are in the journey of grief. You can’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. Your journey is unique. Your grief is unique because no one else had the same relationship you had with your spouse. There are many variables that affect your mourning process:
- The quality of your relationship with your spouse
- Your attachment history as a child
- How your spouse died
- How many other losses you have experienced
- Your support system
- Whether you were able to say goodbye
- Your resiliency
- Your financial situation
- Your cultural and religious background
- Your strengths
- Your anxiety level and ability to be alone
You will grieve in your own special way. For example, you may want to keep your loved one’s belongings and not give them away, whereas another person may want to give their spouse’s belongings to charity within the first couple of months. You may want to keep your wedding ring on, whereas another widow or widower may choose to take off their wedding ring early on. There is no right or wrong. Don’t force yourself to take steps when you’re not ready. You will be ready when you are ready. You are like a rose: you will bloom in your own time. Be gentle with yourself. Listen to yourself and trust your own inner rhythm.
Anger may recur again and again during the time you are grieving. It is important to be compassionate with yourself by being gentle and accepting that this is part of the process of grieving. After the shock and numbness wear off and denial can no longer be maintained, anger naturally arises. This is the next stage in the journey of grief. Feelings of rage, resentment and jealousy are normal reactions to grief. You may be angry that you are not a couple anymore and you feel envy and anger towards others that they have a spouse. You may be angry that you will never be able to hold him or her again. You may go through a stage where you’re very critical of everything and everyone who is related to the loss. It is natural and normal during this time to want to blame others like the doctors or God. It is a way to attempt to understand why things happened. We may doubt our once-held religious or spiritual beliefs and spiritually we may feel lost. This is normal. We may be angry and blame ourselves — “I should have,” “if only I had done…” Guilt destroys the fiber of our being. If any of us had the power to have changed anything we would have but we could not. Compassion is accepting we could not do anything.
Compassion is being kind and patient with ourselves when we are suddenly and unexpectedly thrown into turmoil because we are reminded of our loss. This is known in the mental health field as being triggered. You may be triggered by a sound, smell, song or memory and it feels like you have fallen back to an earlier stage of grief. Know that you haven’t and that this is the normal process of grieving. This is the time compassion is so important because this is when the self-judgment and self-criticism take place. Talk it out and experience it with another person that you trust. The sudden moments that take you back are quite normal and short-lived. The emotion only wants expression and release.
Our soul will need to be nourished at this time in order to reconnect to ourselves. Here are some ways to reconnect:
- Enjoy being in nature — allow the sun to beam down on your head
- Sing or listen to music,
- Take time to play
- Exercise — practice yoga, walk or run
- Meditate or pray
- Contribute to or participate in a cause you believe in
- Read inspirational literature
- Nurture others
- Nurture yourself by taking a warm bubble bath or treating yourself to something special
Here are tools that you can bring into your daily life to awaken compassion on an emotional and psychological level:
- Find a support system
- Spend time with others whose company you enjoy
- Identify and seek out comforting activities, objects, people, relationships, places
- Write a gratitude list, noting all the things you are grateful for. It can be small or obvious like the sunshine warming your skin or your ability to physically see, touch, smell and hear the laughter of others
- Every night before bed, write down or say out loud three things you did today that helped you grow and move forward. It can even be small things like paying three bills
- Write in a journal — consider talking to your spouse in writing
- Find things that make you laugh – laugh out loud. It is okay to laugh — you’re not dishonoring your spouse. On the contrary, it honors the memories that you shared with one another
- Put your arms around yourself and hold yourself as you go to sleep
- Make time for self-reflection
- Seek professional help if you feel you’re not making the progress that you desire and if the pain of the grief is too intense
- Take some time to play with animals or children
- Spend time in nature. Nature can heal the soul
These are only suggestions and you will find others that soothe you. Listen to your own voice.
Many people think, this pain and sadness will never go away. It does. What never does go away are the memories and the love that you shared with your spouse. The love lives on forever. With time, patience and compassion, a new redefined self will emerge. Just as the Phoenix arose from the ashes, you too will rise and soar again.