The Purpose of Grief

This week, I had a plan to write about getting rid of old clothes that no longer fit and finding some new stuff that made me feel good, as being an amazing act of self care. However, my recent mood and the contents in my head that I'm ruminating over have prompted me to write about something that's a little heavier, but that a lot of people can relate to - grief. Because this week, grief caught me totally off guard and smacked me right in the face.

Last year at this time, I lost somebody very special to me. It was sudden, unexpected and excruciatingly painful. And although I was aware that this anniversary was coming up, I was unprepared for the wave of grief that ambushed me and took me down with it.

Grief is unpredictable and sneaky. Sometimes it doesn't give you any notice except when it's already standing in front of you, leaving you unprepared and vulnerable. It can come quickly or excruciatingly slowly. It can come in waves, each one more powerful then the last. It can linger for what seems like forever, or it can leave as suddenly as it arrives. It can leave you feeling drained and empty and numb.

Because of it's unpredictability and raw power, grief can be scary. Terrifying even. It can make us want to do anything we can to avoid it. It can make us want to run away when it arrives, or use our most reliable coping strategies to take the edge off or numb our feelings completely.

Grief can present itself with so many different faces. It might be the loss of a loved one or pet. It could be the end of a relationship or marriage. Earlier this month I wrote about how hard it is to accept the fact that as we age, our bodies inevitably change, and the sense of loss that this evokes. 

Many of my clients find that doing the hard work of rebuilding body trust and healing the severed relationship with their bodies and food is incredibly rewarding and empowering. But before that good stuff arrives, they find themselves having to grieve the loss of their ideal body and weight, and all that this has represented to them over the course of a lifetime. They grieve the loss of their belief that once they inhabit their desired body, their lives will change. Everything that weight loss promises - confidence, self esteem, improved body image and sense of self, love and respect, the ability to navigate through the tricky and painful areas of life - does not automatically occur. Most people find  this to be a tremendous blow, and the loss of a part of them that they felt was rock solid. In order to move on to the next phase (the awesomeness of realizing that we can do all of those things and make our own dreams come true irregardless of what our weight is) they need to morn the loss of the happy ending that weight loss and the perfect body guaranteed.

The common thread in all of these situations is that grief is a natural and necessary part of letting go and moving on to new beginnings.

I don't have any answers for the best way to cope with grief of any kind. Like most things, I doubt that there is a clear-cut answer or step-by-step plan to follow that applies to everybody. For me, what seems to help is to let myself cry, and to give myself space and permission to be alone with my grief. Jann Arden once wrote a wonderful and eloquent post on dealing with the grief of having a parent with Alzheimer's, and one part of that has always stayed with me:

"Let fear and grief sit at your table and talk to them. Give them a cold drink and a sandwich. They simply want to be acknowledged and not ignored. When you ignore them, they just hang around."

Whenever and wherever grief meets you in your life, I hope that instead of trying to push through it, you offer yourself a ton of love, patience and compassion, just as you would to your closest friend.