5 Ways to Turn Grief into Growth


“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?” – Kahlil Gibran.

Sometimes, life can seem hard. Unfair. Sad. 

Image: jingkay2008 (creative commons, flickr)

(This is a guest post from Alana Shereen of AlanaShereen.com. Want to write for Your Life YOUR Way? I’m looking for contributors! Get the deets here. – Tia.)

Have you ever moved through a day feeling raw, powerless or just plain numb?

This is particularly true when grief comes knocking on our door. A guest no one wants to invite in, and yet…. an essential piece of being human.

She’s tricky, grief.

She can come and go, a fair-weather friend. She can be a constant companion. She can show up years later, with a party hat on and a big sign that says, “Surprise!” when you thought you were long done.

We are not prepared in our civilized, western culture, for what grief does to us.
We don’t talk about it much.
We don’t study it in high school.
We distance ourselves from the reality of death and our own mortality by using terms like “passed away” or “lost”.

We have unwritten rules about what’s acceptable to grieve and what’s not, leaving many of us feeling like we don’t have a right to our experience.

The truth is, most people feel like they are doing grief “wrong”.

Instead of fighting her, let her bring her gifts. When your heart is broken, let pain be your teacher and sadness your guide.

Grief is an opportunity to burn away what is not working in your life.

A fire that will leave you standing like the phoenix on the other side, reborn from the ashes of what you thought was true.

How you take care of yourself and the quality of your support system can make the difference between grief feeling like a never-ending struggle that leaves you a shadow of yourself, living life in the half-light of unrelieved sorrow, and it being a devastating but valuable growth experience. 

Here are 5 ways to turn your grief into growth.

1. Give yourself space.

Grief is transformational.

It’s impossible to enter into an experience like the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the loss of a career, or a major medical diagnosis, and emerge unchanged.

Grief can’t be separated from life.

Giving yourself space to grieve in whatever way feels best is essential. It’s not possible to deny your pain and still fully experience joy. In attempting to numb one emotion, you begin to numb them all.

  • It might mean clearing your social calendar, or delegating some tasks at work.
  • Taking an extra day off twice a month…
  •  Or arranging for a sitter so you can give yourself the attention you deserve.

Give yourself an uninterrupted 15 minutes (or several hours!) on a regular basis – simply be present with yourself and keep grief from coming out sideways as anger, fear, or depression, or negatively impacting those you love.

2. Let your judgments go.

It can take years to find your new normal after a major loss. It can also be surprisingly quick. Everyone’s experience is unique.

There are some general truths:

  • The first year or two tend to be the hardest
  • Grief is often triggered by special dates such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays
  • It can return when we witness others grieving.

This is one reason for major outpourings of emotion when public figures die, or mass tragedies happen.

It’s also possible to not feel as devastated as you think you should. It’s possible for a sense of grace and acceptance, or renewed purpose to quickly take the place of sadness.

The trick is to stop judging yourself, or anyone else, for how grief shows up.

3. Listen to your body. 

It could be a competitive game of two-on-two basketball, a hike in the woods, a walk around the block or dancing in your living room.

The bottom-line is, your body needs to move.

Aside from the obvious physical benefits, movement helps shift mental and emotional states.

Get quiet, take a few deep breaths and ask your body what it wants. Let the answer come instead of struggling to figure it out.

If you’re physically unable to move much, put on music and let your hands dance or do some gentle stretching. Your body is wise and listening to it will teach you about yourself.

Make your body your ally instead of your enemy by honoring its needs and desires.

4. Use your words.

Recent studies have proven what anyone who journals regularly will tell you – putting your feelings, thoughts and experiences on paper can help you feel better.

When you allow yourself to write freely, without editing what comes out, it can have significant impact on your life physically, mentally and emotionally.

The ability to take a situation, look at it from different angles, and explore it gently also increases your chance of gaining a bird’s eye view.

Like an eagle soaring overheard, you begin to see the bigger picture. You might begin to recognize how patterns are repeating themselves, or how repetitive thoughts keep you feeling like a victim.

The page (or the computer screen) can be a safe place to release emotion and be completely honest.

5. Honor yourself.

In western society we tend to look at one way of grieving as the “right” way, the way it should be done.

If someone isn’t crying openly, or talking about their feelings, people begin to shake their heads and whisper about denial. But grief can look like almost anything!

  • You might experience it largely in your body – in that lower-back pain that just won’t go away or exhaustion or a racing heart.
  • You might have a burning need to understand what happened.
  • Or to solve a problem the loss or change has caused.
  • You might need to cry.

Whatever it looks like for you, honoring your needs and finding what works for you is what matters most.

See if you can open to your feelings, noticing them without judgment .

Notice what it is that you want to do – eat, drink, smoke, sleep, watch TV, have sex, work with your hands, scrub your house, or go for a run.

Notice what seems driven by thought (or the desire to escape the thought) and what is a whisper from your soul.

If you feel the need for community and a safe space to cry, you can seek out a support group, a therapist who is trained to work with grief or spend time with a friend who is willing to be a listening ear.  If talking about your feelings leaves you cold, begin to notice what it is you do want.

It could be to work with your hands, or get involved in a volunteer opportunity, or play the same song on your guitar a hundred times. People often find themselves driven to do something, without fully understanding why.

Trust that there is a reason, then give yourself permission to act. The more you listen to the wisdom of your body and spirit, the faster you’ll move from feeling powerless and victimized to recognizing the strength and beauty of your own soul.

There is always gold to be found when we stop being afraid of our darkest moments. You have permission to be you, in your life and in your grief.

Do it your way. Find yourself. Find your gold.

Would love to hear from you – how do you deal with grief? Please like/tweet/share with someone who needs this. Thank you for sharing! 

5 Ways to turn Grief into GrowthAlana Sheeren is a grief coach and emotional alchemist.

The stillbirth of her son transformed her life and allowed her to become the person she’d always wanted to be.  She now supports women who wish to use their grief to uncover their most brilliant, powerful selves.

Registration is open for the next 5-week Picking Up the Pieces Tele-Retreat and her free Picking Up the Pieces Guide is available for download here.
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About Tia & Your Life YOUR Way:

Life Coach / Awesomeness Inciter + Inner Sparkle Activator Tia Sparkles offers tips, advice, community hug-a-thons to ignite your Inner Sparkle — that shimmery part of your spirit that says YES to courage + connection, and NO WAY to ‘shoulds’ + restrictions.

She loves Nutella, New Zealand, Yoda, & Sparkles.

 

Plane image source: google.com

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Comments

  1. says

    This is a great post – I lost my both of my parents within a 4 month period earlier this year – pure coincidence as they hadn’t been together for 37 years – but both had had physical issues and neither came as a surprise. Their passings were both fairly quick and I am very thankful for that. I miss them terribly and definitely have some down days or days when something triggers a childhood memory and the floodgates open but I just try to go with the flow without letting it overwhelm me.

    My mom passed Jan 1 but it was still Dec 31 out here so I just looked at it like that was how my 2011 ended. On March 23, one week before we were having my Mom’s memorial – my dad passed away. I was a Daddy’s girl my whole life and this was just beyond heartbreaking. I really thought I would breakdown at the first holiday but I didn’t – my siblings have just rallied around each other and it’s awesome. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day looked to be devastating until I realized that these would be the first times that my parents could celebrate with their moms and dads. Once I started looking at things from that perspective I started feeling better, less like there is some impending doom when a holiday looms near. I miss my parents but the burden of knowing they were not doing well when I was so far away is now gone and for that I am grateful.

    Grief is hard but I try to keep the following in mind – it really seems to help.

    Those we love don’t go away;
    They walk beside us every day,
    Unseen, unheard, but always near;
    Still loved, still missed and very dear.
    - Anonymous

    Thanks again for the post!!

    • says

      Dear Adriana,

      It sounds like you are handling your grief beautifully – honoring it and slowing down when you need to, loving and remembering your parents while living your life. It’s wonderful to hear that your siblings have come together too as that’s not always the case. Thank you for sharing your story – and the lovely poem – here.
      Take good care of your heart.

      • Adriana Vidal says

        Thanks Alana,

        People like to talk about the 7 stages of grief but I just never felt any but the acceptance one! Your post is the first one I’ve seen about grief that made sense to me…not that I looked at very many because I just didn’t think I needed it. Mostly I am thankful that I had my parents for 50 years and that I have wonderful siblings (even a younger half sibling who was there for the rest of us when our mother passed) who have just bonded even more closely since this happened.

        I am blessed and I know my parents are at peace.

        • says

          Yes – the Kubler-Ross stages of grief were developed for people who were dying themselves. They got painted across grief with a wide brush stroke but they’re more myth than truth. They imply that grief is linear, which it isn’t, and in the research, acceptance is often what people come to first. They still have sadness but they don’t fight the reality of the situation. Wishing you continued blessings.

  2. says

    Grief is a natural part of life and often occurs when we least expect it. For me, one of the most powerful steps in dealing with it is to simply accept it. This can be excruciatingly hard, but it’s what helps me move forward.

    • says

      I find that I go through stages.. circling back to some of the steps in the process till one day I wake up and the memory no longer has the same charge and I can smile about the good things. That’s acceptance huh :) Thanks for sharing, Kent!

    • says

      Kent – acceptance is powerful. It’s what we do with the feelings that grief brings up in us that can make the difference between finding peace and staying stuck in the pain. It sounds like you have found the best way for you, which is my hope for all of us. :) Thank you for joining the conversation.

      • says

        Alana…absolutely true.

        I learned a little equation (E+R=O) from W. Clement Stone and Jack Canfield that I use a lot. It means Events + our RESPONSE = the Outcome. The only thing we have 100 % control over in this equation is our Response, so that’s the variable that matters most. Bottom line, I really try to be intentional and proactive about my Rs.

  3. says

    This was beautiful, and very helpful. Thank you, Alana, for writing it, and thank you, Tia, for sharing it. It came along at just the right time for me — I’m grieving the death of my mom and also the loss of my five-year relationship this week, and I will take all of your suggestions to heart. I’m finding #1 to be especially crucial right now. Thanks so much.

    • says

      Oh Lynn… sending you extra love, light, and sparkles to soothe your soul and hold you as you go through these huge life changing experiences. The dance of life .. how utterly fragile and amazingly strong all at once. Xoxo my friend!

    • says

      Dear Lynn – sending big love to you. Grief on top of grief is a huge challenge. You are in the midst of the fire…keep trusting the phoenix-self that will begin to rise. Take extra special care of your heart.

  4. says

    So beautiful… One of my professors recently passed away, so this article was very timely. My boyfriend was very much affected, and I’m hoping that I can show him to honor and express his own grief. Thank you so much for writing this! Also, I featured it over at my blog, Actually Allie.

    • says

      Thanks so much, Allie! For sharing your thoughts + linking to this post. I hope it helps your man as well. Truly a soulful piece of writing and such great advice. Lots of love! Tia

      ps: The article was written by Alana Shereen, not me so could you change the credit to her please, gracias chica!

    • says

      Allie – Thank you for sharing my words on your blog! Professors are hugely important influences on students – big love to you, your boyfriend and all those touched by your prof’s life and death.

      If you or your boyfriend have any questions about navigating this experience, please feel free to email me at support@alanasheeren.com.

  5. Karen says

    Thank you for this article, Alana, and for posting it on your site, Tia! Family disputes that result in estrangements and relationships that end abruptly are very difficult for me to grieve. I cannot understand why good people cannot agree to disagree and yet maintain a cordial relationship with each other. Why the estrangement? Why if a relationship cannot become a marriage does it need to terminate completely with neither of us ever seeing each other again rather than continue as a friendship? These types of loses are very difficult for me to grieve and live with the losses. After reading your article, I now realize why I’ve been so exhausted for the past few weeks. My grief has left me feeling defeated mentally and physically. All I want to do is turn off my brain and sleep for a week or more! I’ve tried to reach out to the estranged parties with more than an olive branch. I’ve traveled far and offered to pay their transportation and other costs to meet with me. However, I’ve met with complete silence and indifference. There is no way for me to understand why or what is going on for them. As far as I know, I have tried my best to understand their circumstances from their points of view, but I’ve received no communication from them in return. Yet, I continue mailing them Thinking of You cards and emailing ecards. Nothing in my life has prepared me for grieving my loss of living relationships! I have found it much easier to accept the passing of my mother and friends than the estrangement of family members. I will do my best to start with your advice and work my way from there: “Give yourself an uninterrupted 15 minutes (or several hours!) on a regular basis – simply be present with yourself and keep grief from coming out sideways as anger, fear, or depression, or negatively impacting those you love.” Thanks again for this article!

    • says

      Dear Karen,

      Sending you a huge helping of love. Sometimes the finality of death can be easier to wrap our heads around than the need to let go when the person we love is alive. Being met with silence and what seems like indifference is heart-breaking. Take good care of yourself and your tender heart.

  6. Sofy says

    My grandmother died this week, and I am grieving her death. I am actually finding the process uplifting; I have been following my heart in my activities and listening to where I need to be at particular moments. I am feeling more connected than usual to family members, particularly as they are also mourning my Nana’s death, and it feels amazing. It is a powerful energy; a gratitude and generosity that I wish were present all the time. I am actually grateful for the experience of loss. Also, I have been grieving the end of a bad marriage for the past year and a half. That kind of grief has been so heavy that this present passing of a close relative feels comparatively light and easy. I agree with Karen; estrangement from the living is MUCH more difficult to accept than actual death. I would like to propose that this is because estrangement is indicative of a closed heart while death is leaving the limitations of the human form to open to the energy of the multiverse.

    • says

      Sofy – you sound like you’re in such a beautiful place with your process. My wish is that, knowing it contains many ups and downs, every single human on the planet is able to experience that sense of gratitude and connection through grief. Thank you for sharing it here!

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