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Grief, Fuel for Transformation

Live Like You Can

By Janis McDonald

Last August I trained to be a Certified Degriefing: Integrative Grief Therapy practitioner, Level 1. I completed an on-site 40-hour intensive course. Initially, I was hesitant to join this combined US/San Miguel group of somatic healthcare workers due to my clouded vision on how to use the teachings and the tools in my practice as a fitness trainer and wellness coach.

As I have traveled through my lifetime career, I’ve lost several dear friends who were long-time clients. Some moved away and others succumbed to various causes of death. Some were a complete surprise; other losses embodied a quiet knowing that the time was drawing near and the time was most probably soon.

What I remember was the shock, sadness, and then ultimate acceptance that came more easily and rather quickly regarding those whom were sick or disabled. Yet when someone healthy died from an accident or needlessly from an act of violence, the initial shock, disbelief, and then complete outrage at the injustice of it all was harder for me to learn to live with.

When a recent event took the life of someone dear to me, I found myself angry and incredibly heartsick and finding myself reliving other past losses. Any past loss and accompanying grief can be triggered by a sight, sound, smell, thought, a touch, or a memory.

Sudden occurrences of emotion and physical sensation are called STUGS* (sudden temporal upsurges of grief (*Dr. T. Rando). It’s the body naturally releasing held tension and the pain of grief. Waves of grief rising to the surface creating turmoil; we acknowledge that bereavement is a powerful emotive time possibly resulting in signs and symptoms felt in the body.

During my course, I was exposed to many types of losses that did not involve death. In fact, loss of youth, money, dreams, independence, vision, hearing, friendship, trust, and the list goes on. Our personal history of loss is often re-experienced and exacerbated with new grievous occurrences, thus creating a fragile time in which self-care is vitally important.

Using the energy of grief as fuel, we have an opportunity to access new, old, and seemingly forgotten repressed grief by choosing an activity. Employing the grief as “fuel” is transformative and can effectively produce authentic personal expression, a renewed sense of self with deepened clarity, more vitality, and a sharpened focus.

One quick and always available skillful tool is nostril breathing (very slow in and out breaths through the nose only) while making a mental note of where the feelings are being felt in the body. Connecting the mind and body with awareness and naming the feeling can help disperse the intensity.

Taking good care of ourselves in honor of our losses, we must acknowledge that unaddressed grief and sorrow can accumulate in the physical body. These feelings can show up as physical illnesses, mental emotions, physical pain, depression, exhaustion, confusion, and absentmindedness, to name a few. Not attending to our symptoms can lead to isolation, negative thinking, rumination, and unhealthy and distracted behaviors.

A few choice tools for tips on self-care during bereavement are: run your hands under purely cold water, write, draw, journal, exercise, paint, meditate, take hot baths or showers, soak at the hot springs, create a collage, and design your own personal meaningful ritual to honor losses. Loss is a fact of the human condition. It is how we treat ourselves in the face of separation and change that can encourage exploration that deepens the meaning of our experience here on Earth.


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