Moving Through Grief with an Open Heart

By Lorraine Faehndrich

My sweet, beautiful 18-year-old kitty passed over the rainbow bridge this weekend, and needless to say, I am grieving.

From the day I brought Stanley home eighteen and a half years ago, he has filled our home with his sweet, wise, gentle, playful presence. He did such a good job loving and taking care of us. I feel immeasurably blessed to have been loved by him, and of course, it hurts like crazy to let him go.

And, though I know he is watching over us, and will continue loving and watching over us always…..

Knowing this does nothing to ebb the flood of emotions I’ve been feeling.

I wanted to share some of how I’ve been getting through this with you, because if you’re in the midst of any type of transition yourself, it’s likely that you’re also in the midst of a flood of emotions, whether you’re aware of them or not.

And if you have a tendency towards Mind Body Syndromes or TMS, it’s very likely that your body’s unconscious and automatic patterns will suppress those emotions as much as possible.

That’s my body’s tendency and I’ve been doing this for years!

Learning how to allow your emotions – grief, sadness, fear, and anger – whether over the loss of a loved one or beloved pet, or around a move, a diagnosis, a change in career or relationship, or any of a number of other transitions that we live through as humans on a regular basis, is an important part of healing….and moving through these experiences with an open heart.

Making space for your emotions, and becoming aware of when and how you are suppressing them is the key to relieving chronic pain, and to staying connected to yourself and others when things feel hard. And believe me, especially when emotions get big and threatening, your brain and body are going to do their best to suppress them.

So here’s what I’m doing to make sure I allow my emotions right now rather than getting stuck in patterns that create stress, tension, pain, and anxiety…….

Make lots of space

For me this looks like slowing down, checking in with my body a lot, creating open spaces in my calendar where I can just be, and getting lots of sleep. I’ve been taking naps, snuggling with our other kitties, and overall just taking as many things off my calendar and To Do list as I can.

When you’re grieving or going through any transition it is so important to make quiet time to sit, breathe, be, and do nothing….to make space for your emotions to flow. And sleep. Emotion feeling takes energy. Sleep allows you to keep your emotions flowing.

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Stay alert for tension and other physical stress

Since the minute I sensed Stanley would transition soon, my jaw was clenched painfully tight. In fact I noticed the jaw tension before I was fully aware of the choice I needed to make – and there was not a thing I could do to make it relax. For me that is a huge clue that I have some BIG emotions present that I am not feeling.

The body suppresses emotion with tension and other physical symptoms.

For me this is often a clenching jaw. I think I’m fine, not feeling anything, but my jaw is clenched. For some women it’s an increase in pelvic symptoms or anxiety. Whatever it is for you, whether tension, pain, anxiety, or other symptoms, these are the ways your body suppresses emotion. And they are a big clue that there is emotion present that you are not feeling yet.

Once you know what your suppression mechanisms are, when you notice them you can simply create some space for the emotion to flow.

You do this by stopping, quieting your mind, bringing your attention into your body, and breathing nice slow breaths into your low belly. Create space for the emotional energy to flow when it’s ready.  Often all it takes is to stop for a minute and breathe. Other times you may need longer. Be patient and present for yourself.

When I caught on to what was behind my clenched jaw, I made space. When I stop, sit and breathe for a few minutes I inevitably end up feeling…mostly sadness and grief right now. After a good cry, my jaw is relaxed, then a couple hours later it’s tense again. Yesterday it tensed up while I was sitting in Panera and I decided to sit and breathe and allow tears to flow there. I felt much better after I did.

It’s natural to want to avoid that pain and messiness, but allowing your emotions to flow is what brings true peace, and allows the tension to relax and the symptoms and anxiety to go away.

Get out of the story

Another way our brain can suppress emotions (or keep us unaware of them) is with thought – specifically obsessive, critical, catastrophic thought. Thought that keeps us really engaged in our mind, and keeps emotional energy stuck and held in the body.

Over the past few days I’ve observed as my mind has gone from one terrible feeling story to another. First I was obsessing about what I should and shouldn’t have done (“I should have called the vet sooner or used a different one.” “I should have paid more attention to him over the past month”, and on and on). Then my lizard brain began making negative predictions about how Stanley felt, or what might have caused his pain to increase so much so quickly – and how I was responsible for it. These thoughts felt really really bad (they make me hold my breath even now as I write them) but they were nothing more than another attempt by my mind to protect me from the big scary emotion of grief.

Once I noticed the mental activity I simply set it aside, reminded myself it was distraction, and turned my attention to my breath and body again. Same as before. I stopped and created space and the emotional energy flowed. Once the wave of emotion washed over me, my mind was quiet again. The stress was gone. My body relaxed.

Give it time

And on and on this cycle continues – as I do my best to stay present with it.

Emotions are not always comfortable, but they are much more comfortable when we give ourselves permission to feel them. The key is being willing to feel.

Not think, feel.

Not figure it out or move on, feel.

Not get over it, feel.

And every day the waves of sadness decrease.

As I learn again that the key to allowing emotions to help us through the many transitions in our lives – is to make space and be willing to feel the sensations of them.

It’s pretty simple actually, even though it sometimes doesn’t feel good.

I always sensed that Stanley’s job was taking care of my heart. And knowing that I’ve been extra committed to caring for my own heart as I grieve. Rather than resisting and shutting down, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to open my heart even more – as an opportunity to receive one more gift from him. My emotions are helping me with that.

Change brings emotion. Loss brings emotion. It is the emotion itself that helps us through the experience and even allows us to grow from it – to open even more to life and it’s blessings.

Don’t be scared of your emotions. Embrace them. All of them. Even when they are uncomfortable, they bring you home to yourself.

Sending you lots of love in the midst of your transitions.

And Stanley…. I love you to the moon and back.

With love, magic, and possibility,

Lorraine

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