By Kara LC Jones (GriefAndCreativity.com)
Though grief is as human an experience as joy or love, we often find we are not as skilled at dealing with loss and its aftermath as we might be if dealing with celebration. These pandemic years of human life have included a lot of adaptation, change, loss, and readjustment. And along with these experiences comes grief, even if it often goes unnamed and unaddressed. In our limited cultural idea of grief, it is often thought that grief is about a death and nothing else. Or it’s thought that grief looks like emoting with tears, and if you laugh at all, then it isn’t grief you are experiencing. Or grief is limited to stages or a particular timeline. These pandemic years have blown all those binaries, rightfully, to pieces.
We are fully into the third year of pandemic life and just now people in my life – friends, family, and clients alike – are beginning to express that they’ve lost a lot. They are questioning if they can call it grief, and asking how to address their losses, some of which are rather invisible to others. It is my hope that, through offerings like this column, we can begin to learn how to better hold space for ourselves and our loves as we integrate the full range of life experiences we’re having in this new version of the world.
One creative idea I’ve suggested to others with good result has been an invitation to go about meeting Grief as if it were a character in your life. Use your imagination and conjure up a character, as if your life were a play you are writing. Give stage directions. Have the character of Grief enter. Where does Grief come in? Suddenly from stage left? Does it climb in a window? Are you out taking a walk one day and bump into it on a forest trail?
As you notice the character of Grief coming into view, try and pay attention to it. What is Grief wearing? How does Grief move? What feeling(s) arise as you notice Grief? Is it a thought that first comes to your mind? Or do you notice something in your body? As you and Grief move toward each other to meet, is there anything that surprises you?
Once you get into the same space with this character, can you set the scene to spend a bit of time in each other’s company? Comfortable seats? Picnic blanket on grassy field next to a creek? At a tea table?
If you find yourself shallow-breathing at all this, take a moment. Let your eyes relax. Let your breath drop, breathe deep, down into your pelvic bowl, balanced at your center. Let your mind conjure a few questions for Grief.
Maybe ask if Grief has another name it prefers you call it by? Maybe start off by asking Grief if it has any messages for you? Or maybe you will notice that Grief seems to want to ask you something? Maybe you can ask Grief if it has any particular unmet needs?
If it helps to pull it out of imagination, try writing down your questions with your dominant hand and then try to auto-write replies with your non-dominant hand. Or try typing your questions with your eyes open, and then close your eyes and type Grief’s responses.
If Grief can tell you one or more of its unmet needs, try to stay with that part of the conversation for a few minutes. Maybe ask Grief what is important about this unmet need? Ask Grief if it has any ideas about how you might go about meeting those previously unmet needs?
It may be just a start to your practice of being with the fullness of life, both the grief and celebration. That’s okay. Sometimes exploring Grief’s unmet needs will give you a lot of spark for how to tend your heart and create a better quality of life for you and yours. There’s no particular right or wrong with this. It’s just a creative practice.
Kara LC Jones is the Creative Grief Educator and heARTist behind Grief + Creativity. She co-founded both the Creative Grief Studio and KotaPress. She’s a Carnegie Mellon graduate who interned 3 years at Mister Rogers Neighborhood back in the day, and has spent the last couple of decades exploring creative approaches to the grief experience.