Feeling my way through grief

You’re walking down the High Street when completely out of the blue something catches your eye and immediately you feel the grip of grief tightening.

It’s like a volcano in your chest; welling up towards your throat and any minute now it’s going to erupt through your eyes.

What do you do?

  1. Do you use every ounce of your willpower to push everything back down? You absolutely DO NOT want to feel anything, you believe that time is a healer so if you do this for long enough, you’ll be fine.
  2. Let the volcano erupt, there and then in public? Or
  3. Push the feelings down temporarily, knowing that you’ll feel everything later, once you have a safe space to do so?

So what do YOU do?

Out of these three, what do YOU do?

You can’t push it down forever

If you’re like me you’ll push everything you don’t want to feel back down. Firmly and tightly.

This worked well for me for many years. Until it didn’t.

And then, like all volcanoes it erupted at an inconvenient time and kept doing so whenever and wherever it wanted.

I realised I had to do something so recently I’ve been learning how to feel and to process the grief which had built up in me over many years.

And I thought I’d done all I needed to, I firmly believed ‘I’m okay now.’

Well of course you know that’s not true. Because grief is sneaky; it creeps up on you unawares just when you least expect it.

So it was with me.

I recently spent some time in the town where I grew up and everywhere has a memory or three attached to it, both happy and sad. I’ve been here before, many times since my parents died, and for some reason this time it was different.

And this time, when I could feel the pressure starting to build, instead of being annoyed at myself for ‘being weak’ and doing everything I could to push everything down, I welcomed the feelings and said to myself ‘ah here’s something else coming up for healing.’

A safe place to be me

Having said that, I absolutely DO NOT want to break down in public so I consciously held everything in knowing it was temporary and I had a safe place where those feelings could just be. For me this was my 1-1 yoga lesson, a wonderful space where I can be me, vulnerable and open.

Feeling it all in my body

My teacher, the lovely Emma is often heard to say that Yin Yoga is not about folding more, it’s about feeling more‘ and this time I REALLY understood what she meant, because there on the mat I felt everything.

I wasn’t thinking, I was feeling. I was open to whatever came up, not asking questions, allowing everything to wash over me because I knew that the feelings would come and they would go.

When anything popped into my mind I told myself that it’s just a memory, I’ve been here before; I lived through the event, and can live through this. And above all I kept reminding myself that ‘Tears are the rain of life, nothing grows without water (even me, or perhaps ‘especially me’).

When I was close to being overwhelmed my breath was my anchor, I slowed it down, noticed it moving deep within my body and observed the space and stillness between each in breath and out breath.

As we went through the carefully chosen sequence I could feel my energy settling and I became still, calm and peaceful.

The courage to let go

Even at the time I was glad this came up for healing, because it gave me an opportunity to let go of something else that wasn’t serving me and let in more of the things I want to feel.

I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t selectively push down feelings; as Brené Brown says when you ‘numb the dark, you numb the light‘ so by learning to feel I’ve also let in more happiness, joy and love.

It hasn’t been easy though, letting go of habits I’ve had for 50 plus years takes courage and as Ann Landers says it also takes strength.

With self-compassion and self-love

Self-compassion and self-love also important; I remind myself that habits don’t often change overnight.

And to nurture and nourish myself

I’m also learning to nurture and nourish myself, so I ask myself ‘what do I need in this moment, or ‘what will nourish me?‘ and then follow up on the answer.

So one afternoon, instead of sitting at my desk pretending to work, I took myself off for a walk whilst listening to some uplifting music.

And now

Now things have settled I feel different; I’m stronger, more grounded, calmer, and I feel more alive, I have a deeper relationship with my body, my feelings and my yoga practice. This is a ‘new normal’ and it’s wonderful.

I’ve learned a lot, mostly I know that grief will sneak up on me again, and when it does, I’ll be even better prepared.

What about you?

Where do you recognise yourself in my story?

If you prefer not to feel, what could you do differently?

Perhaps you could consider where your safe place could be. For me it’s the yoga mat, some I interviewed for my book found solace in writing or walking outside, others worked through grief by singing or dancing. It will be different for each of us and that is absolutely perfect.

You can read my previous blog Three ways to ignore grief (and what to do instead) here.

Please add your comment to help other women.

I discuss this and other topics in my forthcoming book, so if you haven’t done so already, if you sign up to my newsletter you’ll receive regular extracts and updates.


10 thoughts on “Feeling my way through grief”

  1. Thank you for admitting that you still get overwhelmed. So often, people write uplifting accounts of how they moved beyond the pain; it sounds as though they have worked through everything and moved on. This just makes me feel a failure – still getting regularly floored by my sadness. Your post brings you closer and I am so grateful for it.

    • Thank you for your comment & your support Harriet.
      Getting regularly floored by sadness is normal, and I’d add that it’s good that you’re allowing yourself to be sad. It’s better than bottling everything up and over time you will notice that it happens less often and with less strength.
      Be gentle with yourself,
      Hugs, Lesley x

  2. Beautiful Lesley! So interesting to read about your inner process via Yin – I can relate. These connected and nurturing practices, though challenging as many go against the grain of what we’ve been reared to believe, are extra crucial and important given the social disenfranchisement with which we deal. And I second everything Harriet said.

  3. A beautiful post, Lesley. Everything really resonated with me and my own situation. Through my own self-awareness practices and training as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner I have learned how important it is for our well-being to let the grief and sense of overwhelm ‘have a voice’. Over time this will build our own capacity and inner strength. And this all takes time, acceptance and a lot of work on self-compassion.
    Thank you!

    • Thank you so much for your comment Gail.
      As you say time, acceptance and self-compassion are key.
      And until your comment I hadn’t heard of Somatic Experiencing, I’ve read ‘Waking to Tiger’ and refer to Peter Levine’s work in my forthcoming book.

  4. Hi Lesley,
    I found your blog the day after the realization hit home that I would remain childless, just last week. It is such a comfort to hear your consoling and understanding words of not only encouragement but also wisdom. Being only 31 I know I have many years ahead to change my story, and with your help I feel confident I not only can, but also be positive during the process. Your emails feel like a friend checking up on me, thank you!


    • Thank you so much Laura,
      I’m so sorry – what you’re going through is tough and your positive outlook and realisation that you can change the story will really help you.
      be gentle and self-compassionate and do keep in touch.
      Hugs, Lesley


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