How to Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

How to Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

“Uh-oh! A forest! A big, dark forest. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it.” – Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

That’s what grief feels like, right? A big, dark forest looming ahead of us? We live in a culture where we’re able to ‘Like’ and ‘Unfollow’ with the push of a button, and even have a multitude of apps and voice commands that make our lives easier. Google can give us the answers in a fraction of a second, and GPS can tell us how to get where we’re going and give us the fastest routes possible, even if it’s clear across the country.

In today’s culture, grief and all that comes with it is sort of treated like a primitive, archaic notion—something we don’t have time for, so can’t there just be a shortcut? A way around it, over it or under it? Can we just ignore it or unfriend it? I’m no expert in biology, physiology, sociology or psychology, so I can’t explain to you all the fancy terminology and concepts that have been studied around grief, but I can tell you with certainty that there are no shortcuts when it comes to grief. I am, however, somewhat of an expert in grief-avoidance and it nearly destroyed me. I hope my experience can encourage you, especially if you are a grieving parent. I encourage you to acknowledge and befriend grief, and give yourself permission to mourn.

When my husband passed away from cancer at age 34, I became a 28-year-old widow with two-year old twins and a two-week old baby. Believe me when I say the forests of grief were a terrifying thing and something I honestly didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to attempt to enter. So I just camped myself and my children out on the edge of that foreboding forest and…survived. For a whole year, we simply went through the motions of surviving.

I had to put myself on hold to grasp any kind of familiarity and normalcy in my family while caring for a newborn and twin toddlers, so I buried my sorrow and showed no outward expression of my grief, which is defined as mourning. I had no access to knowledgeable support sources to help me figure out what I was supposed to do with myself and my grief, and no personal time to figure it out. I had no income, so trying to get to counseling was like playing a game of chess by myself. Trying to figure out how to pay a babysitter so I could go to counseling, and trying to coordinate and schedule counseling sessions around the daily needs of my children was too exhausting. So I just didn’t do it. Grief support groups were either too late in the day, or too far, or not relatable.

One might say, “So should I only do grief work if it’s easy?” No. Grief is hard, exhausting work anywhere you are in life. Practically, as parents of young children we all know that scheduling ANY time for yourself, even taking a shower or peeing alone can present a challenge under the best circumstance, so parents who are grieving with young children are presented with an added stress—how can I grieve when so many people need me? Every loss is unique and different, but hopefully I can help shed light on the need to grieve and mourn. These tips brought about from my own experience may make dealing with loss and parenting at the same time a little more feasible, and less overwhelming:

DON’T isolate yourself and try to go it alone. A few months after my initial loss, I stopped asking for help because I felt like my “grieving time was up.” Being a naturally stubborn and independent person, I figured that it might be bothersome to others if I confessed how much I was struggling and how much help I really needed, but was not receiving. It was innocently assumed by people, perhaps, that I was “doing better” because I got up, dressed and fed my kids and got through each day, but I was in no way “doing better.” I felt like it was too late to ask for help or talk about my struggles, so I isolated myself and sunk into a deep, deep depression which left no energy to grieve and no energy for a proactive, blossoming relationship with my growing kids. Bottom line is, if you try to do it alone, you will burn out and that’s not helpful in your healing or the kids’ heightened needs.

DO give yourself the humility, strength and permission to continue to ask for help. Even though it’s been two years after the death of my husband, I still need help, and that’s a normal thing to need with a two-year-old and two four-year-olds. With the price of childcare, lack of income and still needing to keep it all together, any mom or dad who could do it with no sweat, they’d be my hero…but he or she would remain fictional, because it’s not possible. It takes a village to raise kids; it takes an army to raise kids by yourself, while also trying to tackle the wild beast of grief.

DON’T assume for others if they will or will not be willing to help. There may be many who can’t help, but through reaching out and being willing to honestly ask, there is ALWAYS someone who will find a way to meet your day-to-day needs. It may take some searching and some time, but they’re out there. No one can take away the pain, confusion, trauma, and many waves that hit you in your grief journey, but people can help practically by watching the kids once a month, grabbing something at the grocery store, shoveling your walk, fixing minor things on your car, researching affordable counseling or childcare for you, and the list goes on.

DON’T forego taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Coming from one who did all of the above, I can tell you that avoiding going to the doctor for check-ups, seeking a counselor, or other self-care basics like eating and sleeping, is a huge detriment. Because I didn’t or couldn’t do any of the above for so long, I suffered chronic illness, insomnia, terrible depression and anxiety attacks, and put so much stress on myself that I battled with adrenal fatigue. I landed myself in the hospital twice due to exhaustion and have had to pay for sitters many days because of my being sick and burnt out.

DO invest in yourself. It’s time and money well spent. Believe me, I know that even the thought of getting out of multiplicity the must-have magazine for all parents of multiples 59 60 multiplicity the must-have magazine for all parents of multiples bed and taking a shower can seem totally unreachable in the midst of grief, but I found that I would talk myself out of doing almost anything for myself because: I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t have time, the kids needed me home, and I couldn’t be away from them. With this mindset, I was digging myself into a bad place. Investing in yourself
doesn’t have to include taking a two-week vacation (wouldn’t that be nice!), or spending loads of money on counselors (with a little research there are affordable ones, even some that are free). Whether it’s getting an annual physical, a 20-minute bath, or foregoing a toy or brand name food item for the kids so I can get a massage once a month, reaps huge healing benefits—for my kids and me. In no way am I saying that any of this will make your grief easier, but it will help your body handle the stress of grief better. Take the time; it will give back to you in return.

DON’T try to protect your children from your grief. For a long time I tried to separate my grief from my role as a mother. I’d find tiny moments to “let it out” until eventually it was dammed up with apathy because there were so few moments to schedule my grief. Shutting my children off from my grief was doing a disservice to them, because they couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did and they had no example of how to grieve. This is something children desperately need to be encouraged to do.

DO grieve with your children and be transparent with them. If I need to cry, I cry in front of my children, even if it’s the fall-to-the-floor ugly cry. If I need to look at photos, I look at them with the kids. If I need to listen to my husband’s voice, they hear, too. If I need to be angry, they see that, as well. They get concerned, they cry too. They get angry, nervous and anxious, but I’m giving them a gift that will last for the rest of their lives—the gift of being able to outwardly express the emotions that come with loss, that it’s alright to feel and acknowledge it. Sure there are private moments that I need to be by myself, but by allowing myself to grieve with my children, the process has opened my eyes to a beautiful exchange. I’ve found my children are more in tune to grief and mourning than even I am. They can become your teachers on the subject if you let them. *If you find yourself escaping from grief with alcohol or drugs, please seek help from a professional to help you work through those things.

DON’T be afraid of grief. You’ve already met your worst fear—losing something precious in your life that you didn’t think you could live without. Now you have to actually acknowledge it? Forget it! It’s terrifying and exhausting, so just move on, right? Wrong! DO ignore well-meaning advice and your own self-talk and embrace grief. You may find yourself or others trying to give you a lot of “chin-up” advice: “Well, at least you still have [fill in the blank with something good in your life]” or “The best you can do is move on and try not to remember,” or “Just stay busy and keep your mind off things, it’s best not to go there…” While made with good intentions, all of these perceptions sabotage healing. Grief is a natural, innate process that, whether we like it or not, we all will have to go through. Our body knows to slow down and gives us many signals to do so, but our minds can impede the natural, albeit painful, process. Know you will never “move on” or “get over it” or forget your loved one, but by embracing it as a gift, loss is slowly transformed into something meaningful that you don’t want to remember. Grief can be carried through the rest of your life’s journey with dignity and honor.

DON’T dwell on the linear timeline of grief. It doesn’t exist. I often found myself saying, “Once it’s been a year, things will get better,” or “After this milestone, or anniversary, it won’t hurt as much the next time around.” I was trying to make grief chronological. I’ve come to accept that you can’t put a time limit on grief.

DO mourn as much as you need to, no matter how much time has passed. Grief is a friend that will hang around for the rest of your life. Grief is an internal response to loss; mourning is external according to grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt of The Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado. For example, putting flowers next to the grave site, is mourning. It took two years of me walking past all of my husband’s clothing and things before I could attempt to even look at it. I even went through and removed all the photos of him. In my mind, I didn’t want the glaring reminder that he was ripped away from me. Through the incredibly hard work I’ve done in seeking out counsel from authors, counselors and teachers, I embrace mourning because I know it will heal a wound that was refusing to mend itself.

Even though it’s been two years, I’m planning a life celebration party for my husband’s birthday because at the time he died, I had no clarity in how to plan the type of memorial service that I would have wanted. The photos are back up and I’m working on repurposing his things as special tokens of his life for my children. If it’s been a year or ten years, there’s always time to celebrate your loved one’s life.

Grief is like a dark forest, but in finding the courage to enter it, you will find its wilderness protects and shelters you until you reach the other side. I encourage you to take the first step and enter the forest; you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it. You’ve got to go through it.

Nicole Hastings
Authored by: Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a writer, a speaker and a widowed mom. She tells her story to advocate the gift of grief and inspire hope through tragedy and loss. She writes a blog called “Just a Mom” and aspires to create a space to give people permission to grieve, to hope and to be. She lives in Colorado with her four-year old twin boys and two year old daughter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *