Making Sense Of The Mess

Changing Messy Thinking

5 Ways to Navigate Through Grief

As I walked into the room, grief silently waged within. I heard the rhythmic sound of the respirator. A familiar beat, my eyes  responded immediately. I missed the IV pole with its bags of medicine, and the monitor that tracked his vital signs. Instead, his swollen arm and hand became my surreal fixation. Time stood still as my heart raced and I struggled to breathe. When I finally moved my gaze towards his face, I realized where I was. This was not my son Scott’s hospital room six and a half years ago. It was my cousin John’s. He was the one fighting for his life. 

Grief’s Surreal Moments

Surreal moments like these happen without warning. No matter how much time has passed since Scott’s death, my unconscious mind brings to life past memories.  Once alive, I experience emotions and responses I hoped I’d never revisit again.

I have learned grief is an ongoing battle. While the intensity is not as strong as in the beginning, the battle still exists. Because of this, I look for ways to navigate these moments of grief.

Here is a method I use.

5 Ways To Navigate Through Grief

Because I am a concrete learner, I tend to use acronyms to categorize and quickly retrieve information as needed. Here is one I developed to help me through: “G-R-I-E-F”.

1. “G” – Give Yourself Time

Google “timetable for grief” and we find the same warning: there is no timetable for grief. Because we are all unique, our individual experience of grief will differ from others.

Grief forces us to navigate uncharted territory, led by unpredictable emotions. Outside forces seem to demand we move forward, while inside constraints keep us stuck. Outwardly, some may appear to move faster than others. Yet, inwardly, their journey may tell a different story. As we attempt to move forward, we quickly realize, there is no “one size fits all” to predict our time of grief

Yet, research reveals stages of grief that may help us understand our grief experience. In their book, On Grief and Grieving, the late Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler explore the five stages of grief made famous by the late author’s original work on grief in dying. Kessler explains their collaboration this way:

“The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order. Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of grief ‘s terrain, making us better equipped to cope with life and loss.”

As we recognize these stages in our grief experiences, we give ourselves the time we need to weave in and out of them as we learn to live without our loved one. We discover time is on our side.

2. “R” – Refuse to Make Judgments

We all wish we could change the past, especially when we feel we are at fault, or could have done more. Thoughts of guilt create self-judgments and can cripple our ability to move forward.

One way to deal with these thoughts, is to acknowledge them, not ignore them. When we do this, it gives us time to feel and process the emotion, and then let it go. As we switch our train of thought, it moves us towards self-compassion. Instead of self-judgments, we accept our imperfections and continue to heal.

Equally important are the judgments we make towards others. Whether these judgements center around their past involvement or their present lack of involvement, our need to blame harms our ability to move forward. Our present perceptions are often skewed by the emotional pain we experience. It’s important to process these thoughts and let go of any judgments that will potentially stifle our own growth.

3. “I” – Intuitively Follow Your Path

The web is jammed with articles and books on how to move through your grief. Family and friends offer their own suggestions as well. We learn to pick and choose what may or may not work. At the same time, we find our own unique ways.

When surreal moments occur, I look for Scott. He always shows up. This may sound strange to some, but it doesn’t matter. His presence is real to me.

When I visited my cousin the other day, I needed to leave the room to compose myself. I walked down the hallway and stood before a window with a view of downtown Chicago. The tears stopped as I recalled the yearly summer excursions there when visiting family. I hugged myself in self-compassion and felt Scott’s famous embrace. I let myself melt into it. He would always help me along the way.

4. “E” – Expect the Unexpected

So many dates stir up emotional loss. Our loved ones’ birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are met with anticipated waves of grief. To lighten the sting, we may plan activities ahead of time to get us through their absence.

While we may plan ways to face these significant dates, we still encounter unexpected moments.  As life goes on, we encounter the dreams that will never come into fruition.

As I follow Scott’s friends on social media, and occasionally see them in person, I catch glimpses into their lives. Successful employment, life partners and their new roles as parents are constant reminders of events I will never celebrate with Scott. Bittersweet emotions erupt as I feel happiness for them, and grieve what will never be.

I tell myself to see these milestones through Scott’s eyes. It enables me to celebrate their lives as he would. I face the unexpected with my “expected helper”, Scott.

5. “F” – Forgive, Forgive, Forgive

Forgiveness, like glue, can bond together broken hearts and relationships. As we grieve, our willingness to forgive ourselves, the loved one we lost, and others will help us heal.

    • Ourselves – As stated above, some of us carry guilt and self-blame over what we did or failed to do. We need to forgive our mistakes or perceptions whenever these thoughts arise. 
    • Our Loved One – None of us want to lose those we love. In our grief, we sometimes experience intense emotions aimed at the one who died. We may blame them for not taking better care of themselves or for leaving us alone.  Or, we may harbor anger or resentment, especially in situations of overdose or suicide. Emotional reactions or responses such as these may help to temporarily numb the reality of the permanence of our loss. Eventually, we need to embrace these accusing emotions and forgive them to heal. 
    • Others – It is hard for some people to understand our grief. They may fail to reach out to us when we expect them to. For instance, significant dates may go unnoticed. They rarely if ever, mention our loved one’s name. Or, when we mention them, they quickly change the subject.  If we extend forgiveness for these painful infractions, it will keep our hearts open to heal.

Closing Remarks

When we realize everyone’s experience of grief is different, we give ourselves and others permission to grieve as individuals. We exchange our expectations for an attitude of acceptance, patience, and deep compassion. By doing so, it empowers us all to navigate through our own moments of grief.

How do you navigate through grief? How do you handle the unexpected? Is there anyone you need to forgive?

As always, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

About Pamela Parker

I am a writer. I love spending time with my family, especially my grandchildren. My passion for learning shows up in reading and taking courses on topics that help bring positive change in my life and hopefully those around me.


4 Replies

  1. Maryalice Kelley

    Love you Pam

  2. Very true Pam. You live it and now help others to heal too.

  3. Beautiful and heart-full <3

    1. Thanks, Nina!
      I like that – “Heart-full”

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