If you haven’t read part one of the blog yet you can find that here https://unityphysio.co.uk/grief-loss-in-persistent-pain-other-health-conditions-part-one/
What Can Help
We need resources to help us in the grief process, resources help balance the challenges & vulnerabilities that arise. A really important inner resource is compassion which I think this is foundational in many things including in grief & loss. Other resources include the process of learning itself, the support of others, perspective taking, being able to connect to safety and trust, and mindfulness. If someone is under-resourced they are more likely to need some support from a counsellor or psychologist. Also this can be needed, for example, if the grief triggers into previous traumatic experiences, which I think it often does, especially if someone is under-resourced and it’s still needed sometimes even if someone is well resourced too. It’s important to recognise when help is needed and also remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
One way to identify what could be supportive for you to nurture is to ask yourself:
What’s challenging for you?
What would help if it was more present in your mind? (for example, compassion, love)
What would it help to connect to in your body? (for example, love, kindness)
You can then nurture what you identify would be helpful, the more we practice and work with something the easier to is to access as it becomes more hard wired. There may be a time when growing what’s nurturing creates more sadness, it’s important we listen to the not yet and reassure ourselves it’s ok to feel these things and see if it feels ok to continue the practice. A practice where you can nurture what you identify as supportive could be one like this one, to nurture what’s supportive in the body:
Our self-talk matters, as mentioned in part one of the blog our self-critic can get over active and we take the losses and grief and turn them into a big stick to beat ourselves up with, when this happens the compassionate self can help. Let’s look at a couple of examples and some compassionate reframes: “I need to stop wallowing and get on with living life”, perhaps you could notice how this statement lands in your body and what state of mind it’s associated with? The self-critic’s view is not very helpful and doesn’t acknowledge the impact, that it’s normal to not feel ok and settled after a loss/losses for a while (how ever long that while is). Here’s a compassionate reframe example, “my grief reminds me of how much I’ve lost, it’s completely understandable that I’ve been struggling and how I’m feeling is normal, everyone grieves and experiences losses and it’s not easy to navigate this.” How does that land with you? Here’s an example that combines guilt with the self-critic, “if I had worked harder to get rid of this pain I wouldn’t have lost my ability to walk further than I can, do the garden and the housework, I really should have stopped it happening, I just wasn’t strong enough to do it.” Wow that’s harsh isn’t it, how does this land with you? Let’s look at a compassionate reframe here, “this has been really hard to manage and I did my best to maintain my function and do what I needed to. I had no control over how things have turned out and I’m doing my best to find what’s helpful for me.” How does this land in your body, what about your mind?
Being aware of where our attention is automatically resting is helpful, pain and losses take our attention automatically and become a default until we become aware and start to change this habit (it doesn’t mean ignoring the pain and losses). We have tricky brains in that they are wired for protection and survival and so have a bias towards things that are perceived as a threat. If, for example, we rest in anger, anxiety or pain all the time it becomes a habit and what we are growing. Also, when we do this we are functioning from our sympathetic nervous system way too much which impacts us in many ways. Being mindful of where our attention is, acknowledging what is present and learning about it, then unhooking from this and choosing a more helpful place for our attention is part of creating space around pain and loss. In this way we can learn from what’s showing up and deepen our awareness without being hijacked by it.
When I did Rick Hanson’s Grief and Loss course recently (linked at the end of this blog) he mentioned that Peter Levine talks about being like a pendulum swinging into the intensity and discomfort and back out. The rhythm of the pendulum and how long it stays with the discomfort can be whatever is right for you, perhaps this could be helpful in being with the losses and grief and how it’s showing up without feeling overwhelmed. Over time we can swing into the grief and discomfort and stay a little longer if it’s helpful. If someone can’t create space in their pain and time and time again they get pulled into it, or maybe even are stuck in it, reaching out for help may be needed.
Dr Rick Hanson also talks about even as the storm passes through the mind for your own grieving there is a place inside, a knowing that a small part isn’t swept away and is alright, even if it’s a tenth of 1%. Can you notice this? This basic alrightness as he calls it can be a place of refuge, a soothing place to rest and grow. Keeping returning to it and building this indestructible, trustworthy, reliable, unshakable core, as Rick says, is helpful.
It’s important to acknowledge the losses through pain or other health conditions, honour them and when we are ready create something meaningful, something that’s helpful for the self and others. A ritual can be part of this, for example, drawing something, creating a memory scrapbox or memory box, lighting a candle, planting a tree or other plant, writing a letter, getting a group of people together to acknowledge & honour the person that once was with compassion and love.
Here’s a list of other things that help, I’m not talking about them all else this blog will be way too long (this is not an exhaustive list, there are many more things):
- Compassionately being with the grief – being with people who understand and can hold space for the grief. Also you being with your grief when you can start to do this (noticing how it’s showing up in the body, for example)
- Having a community to connect to and a sense of being connected to the wider view, to common humanity
- Be mindful of where your attention is resting and choose what’s helpful
- Being mindful or your self-talk and reframing what’s not helpful for you
- Being in nature, we are part of nature and it helps to feel part of something bigger. Nature has many benefits for us
- Be kind and forgiving towards yourself
- Be your own best friend, get on your own side
- Self-compassion practices
- Meditations, including loving kindness
- Compassionate letter writing and/or putting a short compassionate message somewhere you will see it regularly
- Explore how grief and other emotions are showing up in the body
- Connect to what your inner wisdom is telling you, what does your body tell you
- Movement, this can be mindful movement like yoga, walking or anything that feels helpful
- Noticing what you’re embodying, how does your body posture reflect the grief? (For example, maybe you’ve been hunched over protecting yourself and maybe it’s not helpful now)
- Creative writing and journalling can be helpful
- Getting enough good quality sleep
- Connecting to the love and genuine care that’s around you and within you. The love and care for yourself and others and from others to you
- Understanding your values (it’s ok not to be able to be able to act on them right now)
- Practices and activities that are grounding, soothing & nurturing
- Nurturing feeling safe within ourselves, this is helpful for a few reasons including that it helps us reflect inwardly. It could include noticing and reframing self-talk, the beliefs about ourselves, not judging sensations as being a threat
- We are social creatures and need to feel we belong, keeping connected to a sense of belonging and a community we feel safe with is important
- Finding what supports your quality of life whilst still feeling sad, for example, even if it doesn’t necessarily make you feel better
- Creating what’s meaningful that serves you and others when you are ready
- Seeking help from a suitably trained psychological clinician if needed.
A few resources that may be helpful (there are many more)
- You can find some helpful compassion & values practices in Ann’s book Dancing Through Life: A Guide to Living Well https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dancing-through-Life-Guide-Living/dp/B08P1CFDNW/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=TVML4LUNL7Z5&keywords=ann+parkinson&qid=1662061805&sprefix=ann+parkinson%2Caps%2C75&sr=8-1
- Tara Brach’s work, including the R.A.I.N practice and her book Radical Compassion
- Joan Halifax’s work
- Dr Rick Hansons Grief & Loss workshop, I found this helpful when I did it recently, https://courses.rickhanson.net/courses/grief-and-loss and his other resources
- Prof Paul Gilbert’s work, including his book The Compassionate Mind
- Kristin Neff’s books & there are lots of self-compassion resources on her website https://self-compassion.org
- The Compassionate Mind Workbook by Dr Elaine Beaumont & Dr Chris Irons
- The Compassionate Mind Approach to Difficult Emotions: Using Compassion Focused Therapy by Dr Chris Irons
- You can find some meditations, including a loving kindness one and a nurturing what’s supportive one on the Unity Physiotherapy & Wellbeing meditation page https://unityphysio.co.uk/services/meditation-lincoln/
- What’s the difference between grief support and grief therapy https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/navigating-the-serpentine-path/202211/whats-the-difference-between-grief-support-and-grief
Grief and loss in health conditions is a massive topic, I tried to keep it short but that didn’t work very well and even splitting the blog into two parts each is still a little longer than intended. So, here’s a brief summary.
Remember that there is no right or wrong, no combination of things, no script or fixed framework. Grief is individual and it’s important we do what feels right to us and learn to be with the grief in doses that aren’t overwhelming. It’s a very vulnerable place to be where we are needing to learn about ourselves, others and how the world works again. Safety, compassion and trust form a foundation that can support us in the re-learning and creating something new that’s meaningful too. Losses are tangible and intangible, the intangible losses are linked into feeling isolated and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Keeping connected to people we feel safe with, who can be with the grief without trying to fix it is essential, it helps prevent feelings of isolation and brings a sense of soothing and healing. It’s important to remember no-one is broken and there is always a sense of basic alrightness, as Dr Rick Hanson says, even if it’s a tenth of 1%. Connecting to compassion, love and care are essential in supporting healing. Keep retuning to compassion, love, safety and trust in whatever way you can.
When I decided to write this blog I doubted I could and wasn’t sure that I could offer anything of benefit to people, turns out that I had a lot to say, I’m hoping it’s been a helpful read.
(Some images are the authors own, others are as follows from stock.adobe.com: man watering plant on head is Orapun, hand on shoulder Pixel-Shot, heart in hands RedPixel).