A guide to navigating the path of grief
Airdre Grant understands grief and loss all too well. In the space of one year, she lost her long-term relationship, her cat, dog, father, and twin brother. Seeking solace and survival, she went on a life-transforming pilgrimage to Scotland and the Himalayas that enabled her to gain strength and wisdom from her journey of sorrow and loss. In her new book, Stumbling Stones, Airdre offers touching stories, poignant anecdotes, and inspiring advice to anybody traversing the painful and emotional landscape of loss and grief. Here Airdre, writing for Over60, shares the lessons she learnt and the wisdom she gleaned with dealing with a subject we rarely talk about – death and loss.
Everyone gets to walk the dark path of grief and loss at some stage during his or her life. It is unavoidable. Although we would rather avoid pain, there are, I believe, treasures to be found in the darkness. There are also some strategies you can employ, that offer a handhold or two, when you are trying to find your way through the swamp.
Here are some things I discovered as I travelled that rocky path:
- I learned the importance of sitting still and the value of withdrawal. There are times when it is a really good idea to stay home and pull up the drawbridge. It can be very uncomfortable to go out and a) try to be jolly, b) try to be invisible, and c) sit in a group, trying to join in while feeling out of step, as if a pane of glass were separating you from the event and other people. Say no. This doesn’t mean become a permanent recluse; it means respecting your sensitivity and your woundedness until such time as you feel ready for the world.
- Don’t wait. If you have a grievance or an unresolved issue with someone you care about, do something. Don’t get stuck on Being Right. If the person won’t talk to you or the matter is really stuck, this ritual might help: write a letter explaining everything you feel and then assume their position and write one back full of everything you think they feel. Then burn said letters. It can help to shift a hard nugget of resentment or pain and move it out of your head and heart.
- Use what works to give you comfort and consolation. I used poetry, stories. Others might use music or art. Drugs and alcohol also work – but only temporarily. They don’t resolve, they postpone, so be aware. (I turned to whisky for a while and it worked in the moment, but when I stopped all the pain was still there, waiting patiently for me at the end of my 3am bed.)
- Going into nature can help. Walk in the garden, sit under stars, stroll on a beach, wade a river. Go to remote and wild places, and soak up the tender gift of quietude. Such places hold healing, which works in subtle and powerful ways. You can sit by a river feeling ragged and come away with a fledgling tranquillity that can help patch you back together.
- Be with animals. They don’t ask for explanation. They don’t judge. They just are and all you need to do is be with that love. Dogs or horses lead you into being physical- walking or riding – when you may have been sitting in your puddle of sorrow a wee bit too long. Other creatures – maybe cats or an entertaining bird – can help draw your focus into the here and now, away from your unhappiness.
- There are mysteries and unexpected gifts to be had in the dark places and in that time of altered space. Know that this time of clarity and awareness, which won’t last, can provide insight and certain knowledge about what really matters, what is deeply important to you. You may not be fit for daily life, but in this space you might also be open to seeing and hearing things you could otherwise overlook. This is a time when you hear and see differently, when your hunches and your intuitions speak to you more clearly. Take heed.
- A pilgrimage, in whatever form it takes, can be significant, restorative. It can be far away or near. Moving out of the familiar opens you up to other worlds and other people. Going to sacred places can help connect you to the wonderful and the unfathomable that is the Divine. It can nourish your spirit, help heal a battered heart.
- Remember to eat. This might be a basic consideration, but it is often the last thing you feel like. Sustenance is a great emotional leveller. On the other hand, lack of nourishment can magnify nervousness, vulnerability, depression. When I couldn’t face food, a friend gave me healthy fruit-and-yogurt smoothies, like a meal in a glass. Those sweet, milky drinks go down easily and can keep you going, when nothing else tempts your appetite.
Airdre Grant author of Stumbling Stones, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $24.99