Updated: Mar 16, 2021
By Theresa Anthony, author, My 13th Station
In recent years we have heard a lot about the benefits of mindfulness, or the training of our minds to focus on the present moment. The idea is that by reining in our distracted thoughts and centering them squarely on the present we will gain a better sense of control over stress and worry. Instead of endlessly ruminating over past events and coulda, shoulda, wouldas, or fretting about some perceived upcoming calamity, mindfulness helps us to harness all that wasted energy and pay heed to the moment in which we are currently living and breathing.
For me, practicing mindfulness has become an integral component in managing grief.
As readers of my blog know, about five years ago I lost two very special loved ones within nine months of each other. Five years did she just say? Yep, the grief journey is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when you think you are good to go, a big, nasty grief bomb lands on you with absolutely no warning, no notice. Just SPLAT, and there you are smashed flat like a pancake…again.
And mindfulness helps…how, you ask?? After all, what if the now isn’t pretty? Don’t we default to the past or future to avoid facing the now? As upsetting as the past might have been, or as terrifying as the future looks, those may be preferable to the unbearable present of gut wrenching grief.
However, it is a mistake to assume that the purpose of mindfulness is to avoid the distressing thoughts of past or future events in favor of a blissful present moment. On the contrary, mindfulness actually forces the mind to address the present no matter what it happens to look like. This practice helps us to acknowledge our existing emotional state, to honor it, accept it, and to attend to its needs.
In fact, I sat down to write this post because just the day before yesterday a major grief bomb dropped on me, out of nowhere, and just took me right out. This one was triggered by something sentimental that started a cascade of memories, longings, and a deep sense of sorrow.
So, I played my mindfulness card.
I allowed myself to admit that I was sad. Too often in the grieving process we try to push those feelings aside thinking it is a sign of weakness or lack of resilience. We cover up our pain with a big fake smile, mostly for the sake of others that we don’t want to drag into our Debbie Downer pity party. But now I am getting much better at tuning into the present moment, even if that moment is unpleasant. I have learned how to say to myself, Okay, you are feeling it right now. You miss him, and him. You are freaking sad.
Once I acknowledge these truths I give up the ghost. I stop trying to dodge the emotional grenades exploding all around my heart and just allow myself to simmer in the sadness. Not for extended periods, mind you, but just allowing for an afternoon or evening of pure, self-indulgent mourning. This usually involves engaging in some self-pampering—a nice hot bubble bath, some form of chocolate, a chick flick, an extra glass of wine. And I CRY. That’s right, I let the floodgates fly open and allow the tears to flow. When I am all cried out I begin to realize that this, too, shall pass, and then slowly begin to feel better.
But for me, mindfulness also means pausing and acknowledging that I am not alone in my sorrow. I take a minute to feel the presence of God, the warm embrace of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and my guardian angel sitting there next to me, right there in the present moment. Doing this little exercise helps me survive the grief bombs, knowing I am a beloved child of Jesus and He has not abandoned me.
While we all deal with loss in our own unique way and on our own timetable, I have adopted a few coping skills—those unconscious adaptations we make to manage intense emotional pain. And no, I am not talking booze or pills here. For me, healthy ways of coping, in addition to practicing mindfulness, have included:
Cultivating my relationship with Christ. This cannot be overstated. Loss deepens the need for connection with Jesus, so I have run with it. I begin my days with a page of Scripture and stay connected to Him all day long through spontaneous prayer.
Setting new career goals. This has involved working my keister off to not only achieve these goals but to also fill the void left by these two souls. Keeping crazy busy might be an avoidance behavior, but, hey, at least it has been a productive use of time.
Rediscovering my passions. When life was centered on caregiving (my man) or damage control (my son) all the little things I enjoyed had to take a back seat. Now I dance my heart out at Zumba classes and make artwork to rekindle my spirit.
Nurturing my relationships. What loss teaches you is that we must never take it for granted that a loved one will always be there. This has led me to cultivate deeper connections with my daughters, my grandchildren, my family, and friends.
As much as we would love to dodge the grief bullets in life, eventually we will all take a hit. Unfortunately, loss is just a natural part of the human condition. Hopefully, by sharing the coping methods I have developed over these five years I can help others who are newly wounded, their pain raw and unrelenting in the early stages of the grief journey. I know that pain. But as I try to remind myself when the grief bombs hit, as much as it hurts, this too shall pass.
If you liked this blog, I think you will also enjoy this one: Going With the Grief Flow