Holding space for grief

Holding space for grief

To say the past month has been difficult seems to be an understatement. I’ve watched as our world has been thrown into a whirlwind of change and uncertainty. We are being bombarded with information, updates, statistics, government responses, directives and advice that seem to be updated minute by minute. The world is responding so rapidly and life, as we knew it, is morphing and changing in ways we could never have expected. Beyond the ‘in the moment’ response to our individual, current situations and thinking about the long term, my biggest concern at this stage is how we, as a society and individuals, are dealing with and supporting each other with processing grief.

We often think about grief as it relates to very specific experiences, such as when a loved one passes away. The end of life responses, significant loss, that we are called to process in our hearts and minds. As a Western society, we have processes in place to support people in these times of loss and we gather at funerals and wakes and move through a series of rituals and ceremonies for mourning our loved ones and saying goodbye. This loss is shared loss, grief felt by many members of a family, community or wider network. Yes, there is always space for improvement as a society on the way we deal with death and grief in this sense, but we have a fairly good grounding for how it goes.

What I feel we are not well equipped for in our society is supporting individuals and communities in the processing of grief on a more regular basis. Grief that comes from loss of different elements in our lives, changes to our daily routine and individualised personal experience. We struggle with how to identify grief and to name it!

In this time of change, loss is happening in many different forms. We need to be aware of the need for supported grief processing on a daily, more individual, basis.

We all experience and deal with loss and change in our own individual ways. Our response to grief is varied and often dependent on personal circumstance, personality, support structures and overall experience of past loss. Some people grieve in private, holding emotion close to themselves. Some people are more expressive and open with their grief and freely share this with the family and friends.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been witness to my family and friends experiencing loss in a myriad of ways. We’ve seen cancelled extracurricular programs such as dance classes, sporting commitments, music and community events. We’ve seen lock-downs of nursing homes and aged care facilities. Schools have been through various levels of ‘closure’ as we see more and more students engaging in learning from home. As a community, a country and even on a global scale, we are seeing friends and family members self-isolate and a constant barrage of opinions on the need for state-wide quarantines. And so much more…

Here at Educated by Nature we have noticed the impact of sudden closures and change in routine. We have needed to end our programs prior to the final sessions, and we have seen the impact on the children who have missed out on the opportunity to say goodbye and find closure. For this reason, we offered an online check in/catch-up session for each after school club, so the children had the chance to ‘meet’ as a group one last time for the term and complete the cycle of the term.

Here at Educated by Nature we are keen to support our community in providing opportunities to ‘Hold Space for Grief’ and we are inviting you to do the same.

Holding space for grief looks different for different circumstances, but the purpose is the same – supporting the people we care deeply for to find acknowledgment and acceptance for their feelings. As community members, parents, uncles, friends, neighbours, employers, colleagues and human beings, we need to support our kin in this time of turbulence.

I would like to offer my humble list of recommendations or steps that have helped me process grief and deal with loss in various forms over the last few years. The ideas below are drawn from my training in Rites of Passage work and Nature Connection mentoring, as well as my experience working with children and communities.

  • Acknowledge grief and loss.

Firstly, it’s important we acknowledge loss and the presence of grief. If possible, say it aloud. Allow your body and mind to hear it spoken as a way of recognising its presence in your life.

  • Share your story with others

Gather (virtually, if needed) a core group of friends or family members and share your story. I’m a strong believer in the old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. By sharing your pain with others, you release small parts of it.

  • Hear stories of personal experience and empathy

Through sharing your story with others, you open the communication stream to connect with their stories too. By opening that doorway, you find similarities and give others the opportunity to empathise with your current situation. By sharing common experience, you can work through new scenarios, explore common reactions and simply sit together in these feelings.

  • Scream, cry, shout, laugh, sing

Our bodies often need very physical methods for processing grief and moving emotions through our system. Find your body’s release valve and scream, shout, laugh and sing!

  • Acknowledge change and ask children for help

Involve your children in the processes that need to occur in your household to make way for new ways of being, ask for their suggestions and work on new routines collaboratively. (See Maggie Dent’s blog for suggestions).

  • Provide stability and normality

Where possible, hold on to the elements of your ‘family script’. What can you maintain as status quo? If the family is all working and schooling at home, maintain your start of day/breakfast routine and especially hold strong with a familiar bedtime routine.

  • Build rituals

Explore the rituals your family currently uses and build some new ones together. (Toni Christie & Memory Lyon’s, ‘Rituals‘ is a wonderful resource).

  • Connect with Anchors

Anchors are those people who you can go to when you need deep connection. Keep an eye out for a future blog coming soon on the Importance of Anchors.

  • Remain open to the opportunity for growth

Reflect on grief in terms on the new perspective it shines on your life and use this to identify new opportunities for growth. With change, comes challenge; and with challenge, comes growth.

A dear mentor of mine, Dr Arne Rubenstein from the Rites of Passage Institute, has described what we are currently experiencing as a global ‘rites of passage’. Communities all over the world are in a state of transformation; we are embarking upon a journey or transition through one of the biggest challenges of this generation. There is a sense of hope that exists with framing the experience as a Rites of Passage. As with all experiences that challenge us, we will emerge on the other side as changed individuals, changed communities, a changed society and, hopefully a changed world.

The way we respond to life will be different. The way we interreact with and respond to each other will be different. The way we see ourselves, our sense of self-identity, will change and we need to accept and be aware of that change in others. This is a time to accept grief, acknowledge change, come together as a community to support each other and a time to develop resilience and grit!

For more information on what grief looks like and the various forms in which grief appears, we highly recommend this blog – ‘That discomfort you’re feeling is grief.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing grief and needs extra support, please reach out to one of the many incredible support services available through this link.

By Daniel Burton