When you experience grief, it feels like the world stops. Only it doesn’t. Instead, it’s existing and moving forward around you while you’re at a standstill. At first, it feels fine but as time progresses you may find that you’re tired of hiding in the dark and ready to move past the grief you feel.
In order to move forward when you’re grieving, you must go through all of the stages of grief, sure. But there’s more you can do.
In Episode 14 of Fork in the Road, we had a chance to interview a grief resilience coach who provided a framework for doing more than just putting an end to your grief. But instead, allow your grief to fuel you to your next greatest potential.
Our guest, Alison Pena, struggled with grief after the loss of her husband and decided that she would use that grief to fuel her next big move in life. Now, she’s sharing everything she knows.
Here’s everything we learned from Alison about identifying, healing, and finding your purpose through grief.
How to Identify Grief
The thing about grief is it doesn’t just happen when you lose a loved one. You can grieve the loss of pets or tangible things that are of enormous significance to you - like a home. But grief presents itself in many ways and sometimes when you’re grieving things that you feel you shouldn’t, you may not recognize it at first.
Here’s what Alison had to say,
“So it's when you get those moments that spark off tears or that spark off a moment of reflection, there might be times or places or sounds or smells. All kinds of things can spark up this feeling of grief. And the thing that's important to recognize is there's nothing wrong. There's nothing wrong with grieving what we're sad about and in the treating it like there's something wrong, that's the problem because that isolates us. “
You could find yourself confused about why you feel such immense pain toward the loss of something outside of a person close to you, but it’s important to remember that there is more than one type of grief-producing event. And more than one way to grieve.
Why It’s So Hard to Be Normal When You’re Grieving
One thing we know for sure about grief is that it can be isolating. Often, those who are grieving struggle with reacclimating to the world and those around them. They struggle with getting back out there and enjoying things the way they used to.
It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes this resistance outside of the pain one may be feeling. So, we asked Alison for her take on why grief can be so consuming.
“So grief has this ripple effect. But we're taught that it's a personal experience. It's a personal experience. It's also a universal experience. So why does it catch us up? And why do we have such a hard time? Because people who are grieving feel ashamed to be less than they were before, less capable, less able to make decisions, less sure of what actions to take.”
Alison goes on to suggest that grieving people are often treated like they are broken and people that are broken feel ashamed about that. This can lead to reluctance to seek help and confusion about what you may really need.
For that reason, many people get stuck here. That’s when it is time to start reflecting and slowly going through the steps toward pulling yourself back up.
But Alison cautions against the assumption that a person should be over their grief too quickly.
“One of the things I really recommend is that if there's a community of people supporting that person, they will need support, robust support for at least two years. And grief, in reality, the hardest part of grief lasts five years. But we're not taught that. At the end of a year, you're expected to have bounced back, gotten back to normal.”
In order to circumvent the view of grieving people as broken and something to be fixed, there should be more education and training around negative emotions and mental health. The first step is realizing that there is no shame in grief. Then, you can begin seeking the help and community you need.
How to Move Past Grief and into Your Purpose
We’ve identified grief, we understand why it can keep us stuck, and we know that a mindset shift is necessary to start to eliminate the stigma around grieving people. Now, we have to decide to stay there or move past it.
If you’re reading this article, then you’ve already started the work. But there’s more that you can do and according to Alison, it goes beyond the 5 stages of grief we’re familiar with. Instead, she offers 5 of her own frameworks.
Step 1: Reconnect
Once you lose something that causes grief, it feels like your life has completely taken a turn. Things that you thought would be a part of your future may no longer be attainable and you may find yourself confused about where to go next.
The first thing you must do is reconnect with yourself. Alison offered this advice,
“...to do that, you figure out, where is the place that I feel most myself, grounded in myself, outside of any role, any responsibility? Is it at work? Is it in one on one relationships, increasing self-care, or is it leaning into community?”
For Alison, it was a community and that is how the Bad Widow was formed. She built a community to help others who were experiencing grief the way she was to find a better way to go through the journey. That allowed her to reconnect with where she felt safe and more like herself.
That’s an example of how you can begin to think about your own connections to what makes you feel empowered. Reflect and consider what fuels you and what makes you feel like you are in a place where you belong again.
Step 2: Re-Engage
If you’re grieving or have been around a grieving person, you’ll notice that the first thing that happens is you pull away. Grieving people tuck away from the world for a while. It is a natural reaction to experiencing pain because we do need time away or alone to heal.
So, when you’re ready, your next step is to re-engage with the world. You’ve figured out where you feel most like yourself. Can you push yourself to start joining those spaces again?
That is how you will re-engage with society. But it’s important to remember that it may not be exactly as it was, and that’s okay. Reengaging is the first step to figuring out your wants and needs.
Step 3: Reinvent
This may be a more difficult step because people closest to you may expect that once you re-engage, you’ll be back to normal or who you were before. You may have that expectation for yourself, too. But grief changes you and you may find that you are someone else after you come out on the other side. Here’s what Alison had to say,
“There are ways that grief raises up, and this is the incredible thing about grief, raises up what really matters. It escalates love and longing. It resurfaces the things that you may have given up. And there's a real “ I will not settle for less” when you hit that point. “
Re-engaging with society and reinventing yourself coincide because as you begin to get back out into the world, you’ll start to notice that things you were doing before no longer work for you. This could be your job or friends or hobbies.
This step will take monumental strength because you’ll have to begin asking the tough question, “ Who am I now?” And begin walking in that direction.
Step 4: Rebuild
Reconnecting, reengaging, and reinventing can not be done without having a support system by your side. But the truth is, many of those closest to you may leave when you’re going through your stages of grief. The unfortunate reality is that not only will not everyone get it, but you may even be the one to push many away.
“They might leave because they no longer have a role. They might leave you because you burst into tears or got angry at them. They might leave because they were afraid of you, that your grief might be contagious to them. So there will be some people who will step up, some that will step back, and some that will leave," says Pena.
Alison goes on to say that in order to begin filling the holes left behind by those that wandered, you must be intentional. Be proactive about who you choose to come into your life and ensure that they are adding to it.
Don’t wait for nature to take its course, instead, seek out beneficial relationships.
Step 5: Reset
After all is said and done, it is time to look ahead to your future. Time moves and life goes on and whether you want to or not, you must eventually choose to move forward. The work that you do in steps 1-4 will set you up for identifying what your future self looks like outside of loss and grief, and instead of who you were before.
“So you now know, you're now re-engaged into the world. You know who you are. And what that does very often is it changes the trajectory of your life. It might have you interested in focusing in a different direction in your career, living in a different place, go closer to certain people that you care about. So it will reset your life, ” Alison says.
Though grief is painful, it can push you toward a greater purpose. If you allow yourself to go through these stages and really figure out what it is that you care about most, you’ll find a truer version of yourself.
But there is no rush and it’s okay to be stuck for a while. Alison suggests that you’ll know when it’s time to start taking these steps toward self-discovery so that you can move forward when you are grieving "when your longing to get your life back exceeds the fear of the pain of what you’ve lost."
You can listen to the full Episode 14 right HERE.