The Balancing Path: No Wrong Way to Grieve

The Balancing Path: No Wrong Way to Grieve June 2, 2020

I once read that grief was love with nowhere to go, and that phrase has stuck with me because it is so very true.  Grief is love that can no longer be expressed and celebrated in the ways we are accustomed, because the subject of that love is no longer in our lives, but we still feel love.

There is a lot to grieve right now, from the loss of loved ones, to cherished role models, jobs, businesses, friendships, cherished activities, and so much more, with no end in sight anytime soon.  Whether you have personally experienced very few losses, or an overwhelming number of them, it is more than likely that you will experience a great many more before the COVID-19 mess is over.

This article gives some insight and advice around grief and the grieving process, and offers full and new moon rituals to help with processing your grief.

No one chooses to grieve. It just happens. Image by RichardMc via Pixabay.

We Grieve Regardless

No one chooses to grieve.  Whether the subject of grief is your favorite pen which just broke, a beloved pet, a cherished friend, a home, a potted plant, a car, a relationship, or even a daily routine, if you are going to grieve it, you will grieve it, whether or not you want to.

By the same token, you can’t make yourself grieve just because you feel like you should.

Grief is an involuntary emotional response to the loss of something or someone you love.  Denying it, ignoring it, and burying it doesn’t make it go away.  Attempting to do so crams it into your shadow self where it will fester and disrupt your overall emotional wellbeing.

There is nothing strong about stuffing it all down and pretending nothing is wrong.  What is strong is continuing on even as you grieve, while allowing that grief the space and time it needs.

The Stages of Grief

It is generally accepted that there are five main stages to grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

What is often overlooked is that the stages of grief are usually not a clean progression.  Some people will experience the stages one after another, but it is also common to bounce around between them.  You might accept a loss immediately (you knew it was coming and accepted before it happened), or you might both accept and deny a loss at the same exact moment (I know it was time, but I still can’t believe they are gone).  You can move from depression to anger to denial to acceptance and back to depression, and so on.

It is good to acknowledge the stages of grief, because it can help you keep an awareness of how you are currently doing with your personal grieving process.  It can act like a compass to give you your bearings, and help you stay grounded and working through your grief.

It can be harmful to try and hold yourself to the stages of grief in a linear fashion.  Your grief will be what it will be, and there is no wrong way to be in it.  If you try to force yourself to stay on a linear path, it can lead to denying or ignoring aspects of your grief when your natural emotional state is somewhere different from your artificial expectation.  That denial will only prolong the most difficult parts of your grief, and can prevent you from fully accepting the loss.  You can’t work through grief if you deny it.

If one day you find yourself angry, and the next fully accepting it, only to then move back into anger over the injustice of the loss, that is fine.  No one can force emotions, and steps and stages are rarely a clean path.  The most important part is to let the various stages be what they need to be, when they need to be there, and through accepting your process, slowly work your way towards feeling acceptance of the loss more often than you don’t.

There is no Time Limit on Love

No one chooses who or what to genuinely love, or for how long.  Love is an involuntary emotional response.  It just happens, and it tends to stick with us long after the subject of that love is gone.

If there is no time limit on love, there is no time limit on grief.  If you love what was lost for the rest of your life, you will grieve what was lost for the rest of your life.  Acceptance is the “final” stage of the grieving process, because when you are “done” grieving, it means you are able to stay in the acceptance stage.  It is never truly over, but when we have fully processed and accepted a loss, we can be at peace with that loss.

I choose to see that as a beautiful thing.  It means that the love was true and sincere, and that it brought incalculable value into our lives.  The longer and more deeply you grieve, the more value the love has, and the more it should be treasured for what it provided and how it enriched our lives.  Even when something or someone is gone, that value remains.

Grief is proof of how deeply we love. Image by Andrew Martin via Pixabay.

Let Grief Happen in its Own Way

Grief is different every time, because each love is different.  It might be a constant dull ache, or it might lead you to break down in tears when you least expect it.  You might think about it daily, or you might not think about it for months, only to find yourself slammed as if the loss happened just that day.  It might bring you a fond smile of melancholy remembrance, or it might make you want to curl up in a corner of the couch with a tub of ice cream and bottle of wine.  It might make you want to scream into the void, or it might pass in silent sadness.  It might be a melancholy peace for months after the loss, and then hit hard at unanticipated times.  It can make you want to retreat from everyone and everything, or run and embrace them with all the force you can muster.

When grief hits you, if at all possible, let it be exactly what it wants to be.  Natural grief is more likely to be cathartic and healing, and denying it can create damaging emotional baggage which will require painful shadow work down the road.

Grieving is Painful

It is understandable to want to avoid grief, because grief is painful, but avoiding it only leads to more pain in the long run.  Try to balance expressing your grief, and engaging in other joys and loves so you don’t drown in your grief.

Love is not a limited commodity, and you will always have more of it for new people and things unless you allow fear of grief and pain to take over your life.

The biggest tragedies in life don’t come from the losses we suffer, but from denial of grief, and fear of more grief.  When we allow fear of grief to take over, we deny ourselves future love, and all the wonderful things that come with it.  When we become crippled by fear of grief, we deny ourselves the experiences that make love and life worthwhile, because someday, inevitably, it will lead to grief when those new experiences are entirely in the past.

If you accept grief, there can always be more good experiences, and more love to know and experience.  When you fear grief, you are dooming yourself to always live with that grief at the center of your experiences, with no respite.  Fear and denial make the pain stronger.

It is easy to feel like we are losing ourselves in grief. Image by ShiftGraphiX via Pixabay.

It may not always feel like it, and some people do succumb to suicide during grief, but grief is imminently survivable, and we can even thrive after.  If your grief is making you feel like you are drowning and heading towards your own death, it is particularly important to address and accept your grief in order to keep your head above the water.

When You Grieve the Living

Grief doesn’t necessarily mean that something or someone is dead.  It means that they are no longer a part of your life, or that their role in your life is dramatically different or reduced.  You can even be simultaneously happy for changes that benefit someone else, but also grieve when those changes mean they are no longer in your life, or far less in your life.  Empty nest syndrome for parents and caretakers is a form of grieving.

During this time of social distancing, it is particularly easy to grieve the living, because we cannot do our accustomed activities with friends.  We cannot express our love in the ways we normally would.  If this describes you, reaching out across social media or through meeting apps is probably a good idea.  You can send each other letters or care packages, or do art trades.  Find new ways to keep in touch and to express your love, and the grief will be easier to ride out.

You can also use effigies or photos to represent people and events which are not dead, but you are unable to see or attend.  Just don’t put the living on your ancestor altar, please, even if you are grieving them.  It’s generally considered bad luck to include the living on an altar dedicated to the dead.

If there are too many people to fit on your working altar, you might want to create a new altar just for the beloved living.  If you are so inclined, a cork board with photos and cheerful decorations might be another way to go.

If you grieve a place you cannot reach, or an event that is postponed, you can pay tribute to it even across great distances.  Use effigies or photos to represent the place or event, and make dedications when you are grieving.  Do workings for its continued wellbeing, and to commemorate the happy memories you have of being in that place.

There is so much love to have during and after grief. Image by number via Pixabay.

Create New Avenues to Express Your Love

If grief is love with nowhere to go, you can create new avenues to celebrate and reconnect with past love.  This can give deliberate expression to your grief and provide a way to commemorate the ongoing value and impact those experiences have in your life.

Exactly what that means is going to vary depending upon what you are grieving, how you grieve, your religious views, and your interests.  There is no wrong answer.  If something feels like it would be a fitting tribute or commemoration, go for it.

These are some ideas, but it is by no means a comprehensive list.  Many of them are probably familiar advice for dealing with the loss of a loved one, but most can also be used when you are grieving treasured objects or changed circumstances.

  • Create a tribute art piece, poem, quilt, etc.
  • Hold a wake with friends (if in-person is impossible, use an electronic meeting app).
  • Avoid social media and the news for a bit to give yourself a break.
  • Take a ritual bath in honor of your grief, and to cleanse the pain.
  • Place a photo or representation on your altar where you can talk to your beloved lost.
  • Give offerings daily, weekly, with the moon cycle, or whenever you find yourself grieving.
  • Do something that would make your beloved lost proud.
  • Pick a physical activity to provide an outlet for any emotions you are holding in your body.
  • Make or buy a rag doll or stuffed animal to cuddle when you grieve. You can put dried herbs in the stuffing if you are so inclined.  This can be done either while you are making it, or by pulling a seam, stuffing the herbs in, and sewing it closed again.
  • Conduct a ritual with the goal of finding peace with your grief or celebrating the time you had.
  • Allow yourself to be open to new love. A new cat is never going to be a replacement a cat who has passed, but you can love them just as much regardless.

If you associate a smell with the lost person or thing (favorite perfume or cologne, favorite food, flower, environment, etc.), you can use that to connect with your beloved lost more easily.  Incense and essential oils can be used to evoke various flowers, herbs, plants, and environments.

Find joy and celebration in your grief. Image by aaron son via Pixabay.

My Animism is Hanging Out

Because I am animistic, I see spirits and souls in objects and places.  When they leave this life, their souls can be reached in ways very similar to contacting the dead, meaning that a beloved car can be represented on an altar, and can be contacted posthumously.

If that doesn’t make sense for you and your worldview, feel free to ignore any animistic advice I give.  It most likely won’t provide you peace to make offerings to a dead computer if that action doesn’t mesh with your worldview.

The full moon is ideal for celebrating joys and fulfillment, even past joys. Image by Robert Karkowski via Pixabay.

Full Moon Grief Ritual

This can be done at any time of the month, but the full moon is a time of manifestation and fulfillment, making it ideal for celebrating the joys and benefits which were had in the past, and continue to affect your current life.  The goal of this ritual is to acknowledge that grief comes from the loss of something valuable, but the memories and other remnants you have represent something that can never truly be taken away as long as you still live.  They are, and always will be, a part of you.

I cannot say how long this ritual will take.  It might be as little as fifteen minutes, or it might take hours.  Grief isn’t predictable, so be sure to do this in a place and time when you can give it all the time it needs.

Most importantly, this ritual is not immutable.  Feel free to alter any and all details to suit your needs and your practice.

Preparation

Have some tissues and a waste basket handy, and use them as often as you need to.

You will need a blank note card, some paper, or a journal.  Have handy whatever writing and drawing tools you prefer, and paints or other art media if you are so inclined.

You will need a couple feet of string or ribbon.

Have an effigy, photo, or other representation of your beloved lost, along with an offering for them.

If you have strong associations between your beloved lost and music, food, or smells, be sure to have the right music playing, a favorite dish handy, or something that gives the right smell.

Have whatever candles, incense, and other tools feel appropriate for your practice and what you are grieving.

Optionally make sure you have a drink and snack handy for yourself, especially if you expect this ritual to take a lot of time.  They can be anything which you feel is appropriate.

Use whatever candles, incense, and other tools feel right to you. Image by klimkin via Pixabay.

The Ritual

Open your ritual by whatever method you prefer.

If you have food and drink for yourself, consecrate them with the moon, to cleanse, ground, and purify you, and to provide you with peace.  If at any point during the ritual you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or lost, take a few minutes to slowly and deliberately drink a couple sips and eat a couple bites.  Let it ground and center you, so that you can find stability and reorient yourself in your grief.

If your beloved lost is dead, and it is part of your practice to work with the dead, connect with them in your accustomed way.  If they are still alive, or you do not normally work with the dead, trust that your work will reach them wherever they are.  They have ways of receiving our messages even when we don’t directly invoke them.

Sit in silence for a bit, focusing on the representation of your beloved lost.  Think about how they came into your life.  When did you realize how important they would be to you?  How did they enrich your life?  How long does it feel like they have been gone?

While you start to gather your thoughts, light any extra candles or incense you chose for this ritual.

Take your string or ribbon and set it in front of you or hold it in your hands.  Dedicate it to holding tight all the good things and beloved memories which came out of the time you had with your beloved lost.  Allow it to be infused with your love and grief as you continue the ritual.

Allow your mind to wander and contemplate the different hills and valleys of your grief and love.  Don’t fight it if you find yourself laughing, crying, smiling, or frowning, especially if you are doing all at once.  You are feeling the love which has been building up as it finds a release.

When you feel the time is right, present your offering to your beloved lost.  Do it in whatever manner makes sense to you, be it silent, poetic, sung, danced, through a rain of tears, or something else entirely.

When the waves of grief have settled a bit, bring your focus to the enrichment this beloved lost brought into your life, and how that still enriches your life and memories to this day.

Get out the note card, paper, or journal, along with your writing, drawing, and painting tools.  Address the page to your beloved lost, and write to them about the thoughts and feelings you are having right now.  It doesn’t need to be poetic, or even grammatically correct.  Write down everything you want to tell the beloved lost about how they brought love and joy to your life, and how that love and joy continues to express itself even now.  Jot down any stories you wish you could reminisce over with them.

Write a letter to your beloved lost. Image by Free-Photos via Pixabay.

Add doodles, drawings, sigils, or paintings wherever on the paper you choose.  If you enjoy scrapbooking, break out with those supplies as well.

You can do this in silence, by speaking out loud as you write, or by reading what you have written after it is finished.  You can allow your tears to fall on the page(s), or not, as feels right for you.

When you have written down everything you wish to at this time, be sure to sign your letter to your beloved lost.  If you used a blank note card, be sure to write the name of your beloved lost on the envelope before putting the card away.

If you used a card and envelope, tie your string or ribbon around the envelope using a bow.  If you used loose paper, fold it nicely and tie it with your string or ribbon using a bow.  If you used a journal, tie it closed with your string or ribbon using a bow.  Know that your love, and the value your beloved lost brought into your life, will always be securely cradled in your heart.

Place your writing and art respectfully alongside your offering, and give thanks for all the wonder and beauty which your beloved lost brought into your life.  Acknowledge that grief is painful, and that pain is representative of how important and wonderful your beloved lost was in your life.  The pain of grief is the real sacrifice we make for all the benefits of loving, and those benefits are always worth it.

If you have any food and drink left, split it with your beloved lost, and eat and drink your share to ground yourself.

Close the ritual by your preferred method.

Leave your letter with the representation of your beloved lost, that they may know how much they still mean to you.  You can untie it, read it, and re-tie it anytime you wish, or you can leave it where it is.  If you feel drawn to burn, bury, or otherwise destroy the physical form of your letter, wait and do it on the next full moon or new moon.

You can write as many letters to your beloved lost as you would like, or add to the journal until it is full and you need another.

The new moon is ideal for banishment, healing, renewal, and shadow work. Image by Ponciano via Pixabay.

New Moon Grief Ritual

This can be done at any time of the month, but the energies of the new moon are suited to banishment, healing, renewal, and tackling shadow.  That makes it an ideal time to soothe overwhelming grief and resolve to heal, move on, and love again.  The goal of this ritual is to ease the pain and hold of grief, especially if you are experiencing fear around loving again.

I cannot say how long this ritual will take.  It might be as little as fifteen minutes, or it might take hours.  Grief isn’t predictable, so be sure to do this in a place and time when you can give it all the time it needs.

Most importantly, this ritual is not immutable.  Feel free to alter any and all details to suit your needs and your practice.

Preparation

Have some tissues and a waste basket handy, and use them as often as you need to.

You will need a stack of small pieces of paper, and either something safe to burn them in, or a bowl to put them in as you fill them out.  You will also need a pencil.

You will need a small glass, bowl, or vial.  Any small vessel will work.

Have an effigy, photo, or other representation of your beloved lost, along with an offering for them.

If you have strong associations between your beloved lost and music, food, or smells, be sure to have the right music playing, a favorite dish handy, or something that gives the right smell.

Have whatever candles, incense, and other tools feel appropriate for your practice and what you are grieving.

Optionally make sure you have a drink and snack handy for yourself, especially if you expect this ritual to take a lot of time.  They can be anything which you feel is appropriate.

Use whatever candles, incense, or other tools feel right. Image by Harry Strauss via Pixabay.

The Ritual

Open your ritual by whatever method you prefer.

If you have food and drink for yourself, consecrate them with the moon, to cleanse, ground, and purify you, and to provide you with peace.  If at any point during the ritual you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or lost, take a few minutes to slowly and deliberately drink a sip and eat a bite.  Let it ground and center you, so that you can find stability and reorient yourself in your grief.

If your beloved lost is dead, and it is part of your practice to work with the dead, connect with them in your accustomed way.  If they are still alive, or you do not normally work with the dead, trust that your work will reach them wherever they are.

Sit in silence for a bit, focusing on the representation of your beloved lost.  Think about how they came into your life.  When did you realize how important they would be to you?  How did they enrich your life?  How long does it feel like they have been gone?  How did they leave your life?  How did their leaving impact your life?

While you start to gather your thoughts, light any extra candles or incense you chose for this ritual.

When you feel the time is right, present your offering to your beloved lost.  Do it in whatever manner makes sense to you, be it silent, poetic, sung, danced, through a rain of tears, or something else entirely.

If you are going to burn the papers, light a safe fire or piece of charcoal in a fireproof vessel large enough to prevent burning paper from escaping.

Allow your mind to wander along the hills and valleys of your memories and grief and love.  Allow your grief to express itself in whatever way it needs or wants to, be that through laughter, tears, smiles, or frowns, or all at once.

Catch some of your tears in the small vessel throughout the ritual.  You won’t catch them all, and that’s fine.  Just a few will be enough.

Grab one of the pieces of paper and write a short phrase representing how you feel about the loss.  It can be as simple as “I miss you,” or it can be a long letter.  Catch some of your tears on the paper before you fold it, crumple it, or twist it closed.

Either burn it, or place it in your holding bowl for later disposal.  Focus on acknowledging and accepting the pain and then letting it go along with your wishes and hopes and dreams that can never be fulfilled.

Burn or dispose of your papers, acknowledging and accepting the pain, and knowing it will pass with time. Image by Pexels via Pixabay.

There will probably be more pain welling up behind it.  Let it come.  Grab another piece of paper and write down something that represents that pain.  Fold it, and either burn it or place it in your bowl.  Be sure to focus on acknowledging and accepting the pain and then letting it go.

Repeat this as many times as you need to.

You may find yourself invigorated or exhausted.  In either case, you will probably reach a point where you have cried yourself out and are now staring at a blank piece of paper unsure what to write.  Draw a heart on that paper, and put it in your pocket, purse, or wallet to represent the love you still carry with you every day.

Acknowledge that the grief does not end today, but it does not have to rule your life, and you will love again.  Grief is proof that love is possible, and it is proof of the value of love.

If you burned the papers, either extinguish the fire or sit quietly while it burns itself out.  Keep in mind the acknowledgement of grief and future love.  If you find yourself thinking about the good times with your beloved lost, sit with that and appreciate the fresh perspective on the joys you still hold from having known and spent time with them.

Set your vessel of tears beside the representation of your beloved lost, to symbolize that your love had nowhere to go, so it turned to grief.  Let the tears evaporate naturally, representing that the grief which spawned the tears does not rule your life, and like those tears the waves of grief will always pass, no matter how intense they are at times.

If you have any food and drink left, split it with your beloved lost, and eat and drink your portion to ground yourself.

Close the ritual by your preferred method.

If you used a holding bowl for your papers, leave it on your altar until you can dispose of them by your chosen method at your chosen time.  While they are on the altar, they represent your acknowledgement and acceptance of the pain and grief, no matter how difficult that is.  When you remove them and dispose of them, it represents that grief is transient and cyclical, and that when we allow grief to work naturally, in its own time, it is not a constant presence.  It also represents that no matter the intensity of grief we feel, we always have more room to love.

As long as remember our beloved lost, they will always be with us. Image by Tumisu via Pixabay.

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About Sidney Eileen
Sidney Eileen is a non-binary, asexual, animistic, polytheist witch and artist. They acknowledge divinity and unique natures in not just the gods, but in all manner of ephemeral and supernatural beings, spirits, living beings, and the souls that embody the physical objects and spaces around us. Their practice is lifelong and of an intuitive nature, seeking fulfillment through mutable asymmetrical balance. You can read more about the author here.

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