The River Of Grief
“A broken heart is an open heart.” – David Kessler
Recently, I was listening to a discussion about grief between my mentor, Katherine Woodward Thomas, M.A., MFT, author of the transformational New York Times Bestseller Conscious Uncoupling, and David Kessler, one of the world’s foremost experts on healing and loss, and the discussion was profoundly impactful to me.
David discussed grief as a river that will take you to your healing, if you allow it. Whether the grief is from a death, trauma or the end of a relationship, “all tears count” and the river of grief applies. That once in the river, your work is to go with the flow of pain and emotions, through the twists and turns, allowing yourself to be “in it” until you reach your healing at the end.
Don’t Fight The Current
Many people try to get out of the river too early, which is understandable given the immense pain that grief often brings. But if you climb out too early and avoid feeling and healing the pain, you will continue to carry it with you and be weighed down, unable to completely move on, walking alongside the edge, always fearful of falling back in.
Others fall in and allow the river to overtake them, getting twisted and turned, disoriented, not knowing which way is up, fighting and struggling against it, swallowing water and unable to breathe. But you can’t fight the current, it will take you down and you will drown. You must be still, stop struggling, and look for the light. Allowing your breath to lead the way, following the air bubbles up to the surface.
And still others fall in and feel so much fear and pain that they pull others into the river with them, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident, feeling that their pain is so great that they cannot possibly bear it, projecting it outward in hopes of releasing some of their burden, or feeling like they must “do something” with it. But spreading pain will never reduce it, it will only multiply it.
You Must Feel It To Heal It
“The only way out is through.” – Robert Frost
Healing is only able to occur by feeling. By being fully present to the pain, allowing the emotions to fully move through your body and be released – by tears, by breath, by speaking, by writing. By allowing the river to carry you through each stage of emotion, at whatever pace and in whatever timeline it flows. Understanding that your river may not flow like anyone else’s but there is always an end. That it won’t always hurt this much and that you will be able to find joy again.
The Cleansing River
“Those who grieve well, live well.” – David Kessler
David also discussed the deep healing of old wounds that are possible within this process – healing old wounds in the midst of new grief. By tuning into the feeling, or what I would call the story, behind the grief (“I am alone”, “They left me”, etc.) you can trace that feeling or story back to its origin. Katherine calls this a “source fracture” – a deep wound from childhood that shades the experiences throughout your life.
During the grieving process, this old would often comes up to be healed, a childhood version of yourself asking for help and healing.
By allowing yourself to go where the river leads, and fully be with this pain, both old and new, you can heal wounds beyond the current loss and create new life out of this death. Whether it be the death of a loved one, a relationship, or another form of loss, it’s all a form of death and healing is always available.
Don’t Stay Underwater
David states, “Pain from loss is inevitable, suffering is optional.” He talked of pain being a reflection of the love and loss and the suffering being caused by what your mind does with the pain. You can let it take you under, and you can spend the rest of your life under the water, or you can hit the bottom and use it to kick off, to propel you forward, back to the surface, back to the light.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t still have moments of sadness, that the “hole” will ever completely go away, or that you will ever be happy that it happened (although in some cases outside of death, you may realize it was the best thing that ever happened to you). Grieving allows you to find life beyond the death, to live in a way that honors the love that still exists.
Fully grieve so you can fully live. Go down the river. Get help to keep your head above water and let it carry you out the other side.
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