The strength to be gentle in grief
By Leanne Billiau
Grief is as unique to each of us as our own fingerprint. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but I often hear people describe how their grief process is not meeting their own expectations for themselves or the expectations of those around them.
When someone you love dies, well-meaning people (this has been all of us at one time or another) use all kinds of clichés, often in an attempt to comfort. Unfortunately, these statements often do not help and can at times even emphasize feelings of loneliness and isolation when the statement does not match the reality of the griever. “Be Strong” is one of these clichés.
What does it mean to “be strong” in the face of fresh grief?
Different cultures have different ideas of strength. I subscribe to the Native American proverb: “The Greatest Strength is Gentleness”.
Being gentle with yourself while grieving can be very healing. This means adjusting your expectations and perhaps allowing yourself to not do certain things that are too painful or require energy that you may not have while you grieve. It means accepting your emotions as they arise and being present to them without judgment. It also means carving out space and time for things that bring you a sense of peace and calm even though these may not always be the same things that you previously enjoyed.
We tend to be our own harshest critics. Being gentle with ourselves can be difficult. People who are natural caregivers may also feel they are being selfish. But just like flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others, you must care for yourself first or you will have nothing to give to anyone else.
Caring for yourself is not selfish. It is a strength. You are the only person who will be with you every moment of every day for the rest of your life. So treat yourself with gentleness, kindness, tenderness and compassion. Your own gentle, non-judgment toward yourself as you grieve can be a reminder that your personal journey through grief is also your path to healing.