A few days ago, Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan (the month of fasting). Visiting family is important during Eid. Since my family is back in Egypt, I usually spend a nice chunk of Eid calling my family instead. For a couple of days, I could not shake off the feeling that there was someone I was forgetting to call. Then it dawned on me. That someone was my grandmother. This was the first Eid without her. The wave of grief that had subsided for a while, hit me again and I was knocked off my feet. Again.
It is important to shift our perspective about grief. As Megan Devine says, “grief is not a problem to be solved; it’s an experience to be carried.” We do not like to experience pain, or what people call “negative” emotions. Our culture encourages us to push everything down for the sake of “productivity,” to not make those around us uncomfortable, and to “get over it” quickly. But there is no timeline on grief. Grief can turn our world upside down. Life just isn’t the same anymore. We aren’t the same anymore. It will take time to find a way to live with this new reality, and that is okay. They say that “time heals all wounds.” It doesn’t. Being intentional about our healing, however, does.
Each person’s grief may look different. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Here are a few suggestions that may help as you process your grief:
Write letters to the person you lost. Share with them everything that you want to say to them. For more on journaling and grief, check out Kathleen Adams’ article: Managing Grief through Journal Writing.
Consider creating a collage
Go through a magazine and cut out pictures or words that stand out to you. Don’t overthink it. Once you are satisfied, look at the pictures and words and try to see what story wants to be told through them.
Faith traditions usually have rituals that need to take place when someone dies. However, rituals aren’t only limited to faith traditions. As Evan Imber-Black states in her chapter contribution, titled Rituals and Spirituality in Family Therapy, in Spiritual Resources in Family Therapy, “authentic rituals are generated by individuals, families, and communities. It may be deeply anchored in a people’s history or created suddenly to respond to extraordinary circumstances.” You may create your own rituals that help you feel connected to your person through places and times that were special to both of you. For example, cooking someone’s favorite meal on their birthday. Or it could be something that is symbolic but means something to you. Imber-Black reminds us that death ends a life but not a relationship.
Spend time in nature
Walking in nature has been linked to physical and psychological well-being. Some examples of the benefits of being in nature: it lowers your stress, improves your mood, and improves your attention.
Not everyone will get it
People mean well but sometimes they say/do hurtful things. If you have the bandwidth to explain that it is not helpful for you in the stage that you’re in, then do so. If not, then sometimes giving yourself the space that you need and surrounding yourself with those who are receptive to what you need is better.
Only say yes to things that will nourish you
If possible, put things that will exhaust you on hold. Your capacity to do things may have decreased. It will take time to increase that capacity again. Be kind to yourself.
Educate yourself on grief
A couple of good resources are Megan Devine’s books It’s OK that you’re not OK: Meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t get it and How to Carry What Can’t be Fixed.
Grief can be a lonely experience. The goal of counselling isn’t to hurry the process, but to support people as they grieve in their own way and in their own time.
Megan Devine points out that our aversion to pain and hardship keeps us from experiencing love, connection, and kinship. If we numb the painful emotions, we invariably numb all other emotions too. Although I was caught off guard with the fresh wave of grief during Eid, I noticed that I was also able to hold other emotions alongside the grief. Gratitude. Joy. Hope. Something that was unimaginable for me during the initial days of grief. But this was only possible because I gave myself the space to be present with my grief. To go at my own pace. To practice self-care.
I would like to end by sharing one of my favorite quotes about grief from the TV show WandaVision: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
Olfat Sakr is a Registered Therapist (Qualifying) with College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. One of Olfat’s areas of interest includes grief. Olfat uses evidence-based modalities and an integrative approach in order to help her clients receive treatment that is personalized to their unique needs.