Ungrieved losses take a toll on our hearts and deaden us to life. We think we can avoid the pain of loss if we keep busy or close our hearts. However, the losses accumulate, and we shut down from life, from one another, and from ourselves.
Suppressing our grief affects our relationships and compromises our aliveness. Grief can show up in symptoms such as chronic physical ailments, overworking, addiction, social isolation, compulsive behavior, and depression. In this state, we cannot effectively respond to life’s challenges. This is a big price to pay for not tending to unresolved grief.
The question is, how can we grieve in the midst of our full, busy lives? We may still have to work, tend to family, attend classes, and participate in our communities. How can we grieve in such a way that we are not so overwhelmed as to be unable to participate in our everyday lives?
As a psychotherapist specializing in grief, I have observed over and over that what helps us heal is regular daily, short, contained sessions with grief, not prolonged periods of grieving that may overwhelm the nervous system. To address this, I created a strategy for grieving that enables clients to grieve daily in a safe, contained space in their home for just 10-20 minutes a day—I call this the sanctuary for grieving. Many of my grieving clients have told me that the regular use of the sanctuary saved them.
1. Create a space in your home that you can dedicate to your grieving. This can be a corner of your bedroom or a spare room, a closet, a bench in the garden or even a chair next to a window with a view that inspires or comforts you. You need a place to sit comfortably, a place where you feel safe and will not be interrupted.
2. Place a photo of your deceased loved one there, along with a candle, flowers or whatever feels right to honor and connect with that loved one.
3. Set aside just 10-20 minutes daily (preferably around the same time) for your grieving in your sanctuary. Sit down, look at that photo and take in the full impact that you are here because this loved one has died. It takes a while for the psyche to fully absorb that this loss has taken place. This process of sitting in the sanctuary and turning toward the grief helps to take in the reality of this loss.
4. Close your eyes and feel how that grief is showing up within you at this moment. Don’t try to change anything. Feel where it is in your body, what feelings are arising. Embrace the experience of grief just as it is. Everything is welcome. It’s a revolutionary moment when you realize nothing else needs to happen—all you need to “do” is to trust how life (and your grief) is unfolding at this moment. To meet yourself fully in the sanctuary is an act of love.
5. At the end of the 10-20 minutes, tell yourself that it is time to now let go of this grief, to turn toward your daily life. You will be here in the sanctuary tomorrow to embrace this grief. Now is your time to turn toward your daily life. Go take a walk, get a cup of tea/coffee, call a friend, go to work.
You’ll discover that the days flow better after you’ve spent even a short time in the sanctuary. This is what often inspires clients to use the sanctuary daily. For more guidance and suggestions for using the sanctuary to grieve, refer to my book Honoring Grief.
Using the sanctuary, the rhythm of turning toward the grief and then letting it go, builds confidence in grieving that allows us to grieve without feeling overwhelmed. It enables us to go deep enough to heal. It invites us to embrace life fully as we grieve.