Ink-Dipped Advice: Working Through Grief

Life hits us all with the unexpected; sometimes the emotion is grief.

Much as we want the world to stop while we grieve, it doesn’t, so we have to learn to balance our needs with our responsibilities. Because we will never be hit with grief when it’s “convenient.”

At the same time, we have to deal with our feelings, or they will come back to destroy us at an even worse time.

This statue captures how I’ve been feeling lately. Frankly, I find it more helpful than the Kubler-Ross model.

But then, I believe art is one of the best ways to express, share, and heal.

I have two ways to deal with grief — I’m either immobilized or I bury myself in my work. Since I never know which mode will strike, I do the following to try to keep things balanced:

–Acknowledge that I’m grieving. To myself and to others. I don’t want anyone to think I’m “mad at them” when, in reality, I’m trying to handle my own emotions.

–Rearrange my schedule. If I know I’m going to need time off (whether it’s to provide care, comfort, help in arrangements, attend a funeral, etc), I rearrange my schedule. I tell the people to whom I have responsibilities what’s going on. I finish what I can/have to. I ask for extended deadlines when necessary. I hand off work where appropriate.

–What I don’t do is simply disappear without a word and not do anything. I communicate. I build myself a space where I can grieve. Time and space that I can inhabit without causing difficulties for those around me or harm to friends and colleagues. Because, as much as my grief is MINE, the entire world and the entire process is not just about ME. The entire world does not stop, even when you feel your world has stopped.

–I accept that while the rituals happen within a finite time, the sense of loss and the recovery is a process. There will be good days and awful days. I must acknowledge, honor, and deal with my feelings while still being fair to those around me. That’s not always easy. Again, communicate. “I need this time.” “I need a few more days.” “I’m going to finish X, and then I need Y time before I can take on something else.” I build in more time to do things I know will help me heal, and work harder not to take out fluctuating emotions on others.

–I accept that people may say the wrong thing, but most of them are doing the best they can. Grief can terrify the bystander. It brings their own fears and mortality into focus. I doubt most people who put their foot in their mouths all the way up to the knee and chew intend to cause more pain. They’re doing the best they can in the only way they can. Even if it’s in a way I can’t or don’t want to deal with, I attempt to accept it with graciousness and then vent or purge any pain or discomfort in my own time and space.

-I hold my boundaries. In spite of the above, some will try to turn your grief to their advantage. I don’t allow it. If they are persistent, then, yes, I break the above suggestion and speak up.

–It always finds a way into the work, in surprising and positive ways. I don’t necessarily sit down and state that I’m exploring grief in x play or y novel. But it often works out that way. And I learn something I wouldn’t have otherwise known, and can apply it the next time I’m grieving or working. My best work often comes from deep pain or deep joy.

–Self-care does not mean inflicting harm on others. Too often, people forget that. You can take care of yourself without harming someone else. They might be inconvenienced; they might hem and haw and try to make you feel guilty. Don’t.

–Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help if you remain overwhelmed. There are grief professionals, healers, energy workers. Find someone with whom you can work to heal. Because surviving the process takes work.

Remember, it’s a process. Eventually, instead of the pain and the loss as central, the joy from before the loss will take place of pride again — if you let it.

Blessings to you all.

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