2016 – The Year Of Our Collective Grief

2016 has been a hard year.

We have grieved loss after loss after loss. Most of them unexpected and shocking.

I’m looking at you, David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen – and so many more.

We’ve had so much recent experience with it, you’d think by now we would immediately recognize grief – and collective grief – when we feel it.

When Mr. Donald J. Trump won the US Presidential election, most of the people I know were shocked and sad, viewing this not only as a loss their candidate and party experienced in a presidential race, but as the potential loss and reversal in many areas in which we thought there had been a lot of progress.

If he is true to his words, we could see changes that take us back decades on environmental protections, equality rights, immigration, freedom of the press and trade – to name a few.

You’d think that most of my people would have been angry. Ready to fight. Ready to start the long road to take back government representation.

But that’s not what I mostly saw in my newsfeed.

And it’s not what I felt at first, either.

What we all seemed to feel was the stinging pain of loss.

Grief.

And only a few of us were recognizing it as that.

And that’s one of our problems with grief.

We’re not good at it. We want to be stronger than it. We believe that we only grieve the loss of human loved ones – and that we only grieve for a set time.

We never want to admit how much loss hurts.

What if we looked at grief in a different way?

Instead of considering it something we need to get over and heal from….what if we thought about grief as our path to healing the pain of loss?

I’ve spent the last few years mulling over grief. What it is, when it happens, how it feels, how we change through it.

I’ve been called over and over again to write about grief.

Much of what I have learned and experienced about it continues to incubate. I don’t feel that I have the full message for you.

But I can see grief and pain in so many people, I had to start now. Today. Where I am.

Because we all need it.

First – let’s admit when we feel grief.

It isn’t only when a person (and when I say person, know that I also mean fur-kid) we know dies. It can be the death of an artist whose work touched us. It can be separation from someone we once loved. It can be a loss of mobility or health – in ourselves or in someone we love. It can be loss of a job, a house fire, the sudden end of a friendship – really, any big and difficult change.

There are so many more things we can add to this list – like these election results. Take a moment to think of some things you have lost that have felt particularly painful for you. Some of those were surprising, right? And many of them you didn’t want to admit you grieved.

Second – get ready for the ride that grief will be.

We know there are stages – denial, anger, bartering, depression and acceptance. Most of us who have experienced significant grief know that these are rarely in any particular order and we often revisit stages more than once.

Grief is usually a wildly bumpy path. Other than knowing we are going to feel a range of emotions in ways and intensity that we may never have experienced before, there’s nothing predictable about grief.

Third – you’ve got to let it happen.

Consolation Essence Mandala with butterflies and tulips.And you’ve got to find some support through it.

When we experience an unexpected loss and are thrust into grief, we might be surprised and we might try to deny it. But our best strategy is to accept that it is where we are and think of how we’d deal with grief in a more understood scenario.

If a person close to you had perished, you would expect to feel a lot. And you would be wise to make some allowances for grief. Take some time off work or reduce your commitments. Take care of your body with good nutrition, gentle movement and lots of fluids. Find your flock – reach out to the community where you know you’ll find the most support, whether that is family, friends, or a spiritual community. Notice how you feel and allow yourself to feel it. Spend a little bit of time each day finding something beautiful or joyful or focus on.

…Like these butterflies I put together for you with tulips and the Essence Mandala “Consolation”.

Fourth – have faith in the process.

Know that you are resilient enough to heal. Understand that grief can change us, and that change is ultimately good for us. Remember who you are and who you want to be. Be kind and generous and loving – to yourself, but don’t forget others.

This might change you significantly, but it doesn’t have to turn you into someone you don’t want to be.

For myself, grief was the key to compassion. With the first significant loss in my adult life – when our Yogi dog died of cancer – I began to understand what hurt really is and to notice more keenly how those around me might feel and how they might wish to interact.

I feel as if I’m always learning more about grief and compassion – because that’s what life is.

This is life.

Life is beautiful, then awful, then scary, then wonderful, then mundane, then beautiful, then awful and so on for our whole lives.

Grief is a testament to the complexity of human emotions – often evoking profound gratitude in the deepest depths of our pain.

And grief is something we all experience – it is not exclusive to the widowed or orphaned.

If there were just one thought I’d like us all to move forward with it’s this:

We are in a time of collective grief. It’s messy and unpredictable for each of us and for all of us together. Some of us will move into action sooner than others. It’s not a race. It’s not a time to push each other through faster than we are ready. Grieve as you need to grieve and let your heart expand with the pain and loss and love that it feels so we are stronger and more compassionate as we move forward.

Be kind to each other. This might take awhile.

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