Posts In: Death of a family member

Dealing with Grief

January 5, 2016
grief mindfulness

How we deal with grief is unique to each of us.  Here’s my story of my own experience with grief and how mindfulness helped me to manage this difficult period. Grief, gratitude, mindfulness and purpose can lead to transformation.

Four days before the start of 2014 I received an unexpected call from my father’s partner. She called to say she had rushed my dad to hospital with severe gastroenteritis. She told me he now only had a few hours left to live! Dad was in Palmerston north hospital and I was in Kuratau on the South Western shores of Lake Taupo, two and a half hours away from Palmerston North. It seemed like some bad taste joke or a call for attention. Dad had been gardening with his grandchildren only a few weeks prior.

Dad held on to his life long enough for my brother and I to make it to his bedside to watch him struggle with disbelief and pain in his eyes as he took his last few breaths.

As a life coach and mindfulness teacher I have helped many people cope with the overwhelming sadness and disorientation that comes with grief. My mindfulness teachings were really put to the test when coping with my own experience.

Below is a list of what helped me the most:

1. I approached my grief with kindness and curiosity and dismissed the popular notion that grief was something I had to rise above or get over. The experience of grief is similar to that of love in that it is totally unique to every person and every situation. It is also a completely natural part of being human.

2. After dad died I noticed my breathing had become very shallow so I had to consciously remind myself to breathe deeply. Shallow breathing keeps our flight or fight response triggered and makes it difficult to sleep, digest food properly, relax or react wisely (as well as impacting our health). I would pause for a moment and check in with my breath then I would inhale deeply and feel my tummy and lungs expand. I would notice the subtle pause at the end of the inhale and the delicious release on the exhale. I repeated this as often as I needed.

3. I spent a lot of time journaling. My mind wouldn’t stop but by writing down my seemly endless thoughts I felt a sense of relief and I also gained valuable insights by rereading what I had written. I also wrote down all of the things I should have told my dad but never managed to. That felt really good.

4. I found mindful walking helped to ground me in the present moment, and balance my emotions. I would walk consciously engaging all of my senses. I was fully aware of each step I took and I focused my attention on all that I could see, hear and feel as I walked and walked. When I noticed my mind had gone back to its usual ruminating I would gently, non-judgementally return my focus to my walking. Slowly my mind and body would unwind and I would find a sense of ease.

5. Through desperation rather than wisdom I became courageous enough to let others see my vulnerability and to let them know what I needed, and how they could help. This was one of the most challenging of all the mindful teachings to follow when I was feeling so raw emotionally but it helped immensely. It also worked a lot better than expecting people to intuitively know exactly what I needed and exactly when I needed it and being disappointed or angry when they didn’t!

This article written by Cheryl Strawbridge was originally featured in Good magazine