Grief is a very flexible pain; it forward folds and back flips around our life, stepping or hopping away only to roll back into us again.
We’ve talked a little about the stages of grief, but today’s focus isn’t on how grief affects us, but how we can affect grief.
Extending from our opening bendy metaphor, we can use grief by leaning into it. Rather than grief dancing around us tapping us on the shoulder and rolling away, we can reach out and grab it. Remember, on this blog, we talk about grief as a general term for a lost relationship. Grief can come with change, breakups as well as someone passing away. We can even grieve for ourselves.
Now, grief isn’t actually an extremely flexible dancing pound of mass, so how do you reach out and grab it? Answer, by owning the grief and reminding yourself that it’s valid.
Crying in Aldi because they used to love beef tomatoes: talking about them in present tense: croak-singing along to songs that remind you of them (on repeat): crawling into bed at 6pm. That’s grief. It can be ugly, messy and smelly or it can be awkward, fake and lonely. It can be avoiding places that remind you of them: getting frustrated at people for reminiscing in front of you without telling them how you feel: working extra hours to keep your mind busy.
You might experience both types of grief, but the second one can only ever be temporary- we can only hide or repress our grief for so long. There will come a time, it may take longer than you think, where you feel a shift. The shift always happens in ugly grief- in the times where you talk about them to strangers or cry to friends or spend the day watching films that they loved.
This shift isn’t grief leaving; to be honest, I don’t think it ever really does. It’s a scary thought at first, when the grief seems like a painful abyss, but in some way it can be quite beautiful. It means that even after years, when you can’t always remember every feature of their face, or what they’d order from the chippy or what advice they would give to you about a certain topic; a trace of them is always there.
The shift is the moment that the grief is no longer the main thing you think about every day. It isn’t a screaming stabbing pain, but a duller ache- kind of like DOMS (that achy muscle feeling after exercise). And, just like DOMS, it’s a reminder of our hard work, progress and growth. After the shift, you can try out productive grief. Just like other grieving processes or stages, this will look different for each person: but, put simply, it is leaning into your grief and creating something positive. You lean in, hold hands and guide your grief to where you want to go.
One way that I grieve productively (because I just love productivity) is by writing about it. I write down my feelings for you to read! It isn’t always easy to write about, especially knowing that a whole world of people are going to be reading about your vulnerabilities, but using my experiences to remind someone that they aren’t alone, to give advice and just make someone’s day/ week/ outlook a little brighter helps me too. I’m getting up-close-and-personal with my grief and moulding it into semi-understandable sentences.
Working out is another productive grief strategy. My dad was well into his fitness and I use the advice he gave me- like pulsing after each set on the leg press- to be productive. I listen to songs he liked when I’m running and imagine him shouting at me for talking walking breaks. My fitness has improved because of my dad, even though he isn’t here. I recently cleared up the garage with my mum- where he used to work out and have even been using his punchbag (me + punching is a combo I never expected to work!)
A productive grief strategy that is often overlooked is going to therapy. This one is so important for your long term health and just general outlook on life. It’s a way of you managing feelings that are understandable and natural to make sure that your responses don’t become unnatural. Let me clarify, if you let grief, mental illness or trauma continue impacting your life negatively without any resistance- it will begin to rot. It’s like a banana, once the banana starts to ripen it impacts the area around it, bringing mould and decay. We need to treat our issues before they fester and manifest into something else. This isn’t just for us, it’s also to stop a domino effect.
A quote that I found insanely relatable on Instagram was that people go to therapy to treat problems caused by people who refused to go to therapy. This is so true. Some of the main issues in my life have been caused by people who didn’t self-care enough to treat their issues. Their issues then manifested into toxic behaviour that impacted me – the rot continues!
Heads up! Therapy isn’t something you just attend and become better; it takes work, time and practice- so just be prepared for that.
There are so many different ways that you can grieve productively: painting, poetry, reaching out and supporting people who are also grieving, changing your hairstyle or wardrobe, continuing a loved one’s legacy or passion project… the list goes on.
How can you be productive with your negative emotions? What can you do to lean into your grief?