Midlife Crash Course- Grieving 101:
On the Heroine’s Journey we’re tossed out of our comfort zone, dragged down the “road of trials,” nearly drowned in the “belly of the whale,” provided with supernatural aide, eventually find the treasure at the end of our travels and return to a transformed life in order to share our wisdom with others. Whew! It’s not surprising that we don’t consciously choose to take on this heart-rattling adventure. But it’s helpful to believe that unconsciously, we’ve been a part of the design team for our greatest growth and development.
There may be times on your journey through midlife, as there were on mine, when you believe the darkness will never end–– when loneliness feels like you’ve been separated-out and banished from the tribe; when pain, physical or emotional, is so deep and intense it feels impossible to handle; when confusion reigns and the tentacles of fear blind you from having a positive vision for the future. This is your wisdom initiation––to experience the underworld of feelings- the grief that will allow you to shed your old identities, to re-create and re-establish and re-birth yourself. Midlife is the time to stand in the world with full power, creativity and wisdom. The old self must give way to the new.
I believe grief is the gift we’ve been given to process feelings that could literally kill us. Be aware of the various feeling stages of grief (not that we necessarily experience all of them or in some proper order) but so that you have a context or a supportive structure to honor this time of transformation- to know that your feelings are giving you important messages about your thoughts and beliefs. These sometimes hidden beliefs can keep you stuck on your path, or with awareness, open the door to move forward with guidance and resolve.
The phases of grief that Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross taught were Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Dr. Kubler-Ross was dealing with dying cancer patients, so I’ve adapted or expanded her terms to apply to every type of loss and disappointment. For example, during the initial shock of realizing a serious reversal in life, there are two other mental mechanisms in addition to denial that we use to buffer ourselves from traumas that could overwhelm us if the full impact were immediately felt: disbelief and dissociation are ways we go numb to a new reality that we’re not yet able to face. The stage of Bargaining I’ve changed to Obsession, as compulsive ruminations often rule the day when the mind is attempting to master a crisis of seemingly overwhelming proportions. Know that every deep dark feeling reflects a capacity for love and lightness.
So be in tune with where your time is spent: Is it in denial and disbelief, anger, depression, obsession, anxiety? Give yourself permission to be with the emotions (or lack of emotions.) Don’t judge yourself. Just notice the feelings. Write about them in your Wisdom Journal. Know that as you practice observing and documenting your feelings, you are honoring yourself and moving the energy to clear the system for gradual renewal and regeneration. Creativity isn’t often linked with grief, but clearing energy to allow your signature self-expression or even your life purpose to emerge is a creative act. And who knows what you might discover?
A new level of self-compassion is called for during this time. We bring compassion so easily to others, but now, we must soothe our “inner children”- reassure them that we can handle the life before us without ignoring or risking our own well-being. Find ways to bring more calmness and peace into your life. Schedule-in short times each day for meditation, breathing, prayer, or walks in nature. Establish rituals for releasing your grief, like burning special candles at special times, making journal entries about your feelings, and I encourage you to write about forgiveness- forgiving your self or another person for hurting or “abandoning” you. Be mindful that the word “forgive” in Aramaic means to “untie a knot.” In anger or resentment, we are “tied-up in knots” or remain tied to the other person. Choose to release the negative attachment and free yourself.
Consider a gratitude practice in order to focus on what you do have and what is working in your life. Gratefulness allows for the most important aspect of resilience to emerge and bring power and purpose to your life: optimism. The more present and grateful you are, the more you can accept life just as it is now, and at the same time, feel hope and possibility for the future.