Tomorrow, December 4th is the birthday of a good friend of mine that passed away earlier this year. As the date draws closer, I’ve been thinking about him a lot. His mischievous grin...the hours of talking shit...gin gimlets...his love for the movie Clueless. I’ve been thinking about the courage and awareness it takes to speak to someone about pain. I’ve been thinking about grief and how we handle it. No one really schools us as to how to take care of ourselves when we lose someone important. Instead, we’re inundated with adages and sentiment like “everything happens for a reason” or “he/she is with God now” and my favorite “be strong.” What happens when that isn’t enough? What happens when I’m more sad and angry than I know what to do with?
How can we take care of ourselves and each other? In attempting to make sense out of all of this, I found some things that really did work in all of my struggle. It all boiled down to two questions for me: 1.) What happens when we’re acknowledged fully? and 2.) What happens when we pay attention to our emotional needs? I wanted to take a minute to share some of those thoughts with you, first of all as a reminder/co-sign from me that you’re ok exactly where you are, and secondly in remembrance of my friend, Maleno. If I can’t share what I learned from losing him, what the hell was it all for, right? Here is Eric’s “F” that noise guide to grieving.
- It is a pro-cess!!
One minute you’re up...the next you’re down. It’s a rollercoaster. I heard that from people quite a bit about grieving, but did not know the extent of which I would feel like a ping pong ball, bouncing endlessly through the gauntlet of extreme emotion. It came in waves. As soon as I would be done feeling sad and crying, I would feel seething, red hot anger. Then came the confusion. Some days I felt like i just needed to be around love and not have to talk or do anything. Some days I just needed to be alone. Let’s not forget about that “out of body” disconnected from everyone feeling. I keep coming back to this image of waves in an ocean. Some are really easy and rock you gently and softly. Some knock you over, sending you tumbling along the ocean floor, coming up with sand everywhere, wondering what the hell just happened. Emotions are powerful. Expect to get rocked at some point but know that not every wave will knock you down.
2.) Be ok with everything that you’re feeling.
Don’t apologize for being a crying ass mess. Don’t apologize for being angry. Whatever you’re feeling is completely ok. You’re going through trauma. You lost something that was significant to you; It could be a relationship... a part of yourself...or maybe a way of seeing the world. It’s totally fine to acknowledge that significance.
I’ve had to check in with myself about this one repeatedly. I underestimated the cumulative effect the seemingly endless murders of Black Americans since Trayvon died. (**Clearly the shit’s been going on since way before then but undeniably has reached a new level of frequency.) My world is different since then. I don’t see things in quite the same way. I’m angrier. I’m more hurt. I have to tamp rage on a frequent basis. And you know what? That’s ok. We have to consider our day to day traumas and how they affect us.
I especially think about men in our culture when it comes to this step. We’re taught to not be sensitive and not show when we’re hurting. Fuck that noise. You don’t have to “be strong” for anyone. I reject and resent that notion. It’s ok to feel whatever you’re feeling.
3.) Be kind to yourself
Along with being ok with wherever you are emotionally, be kind to yourself. Offer yourself the same kind of compassion that you would offer someone else in a time of crisis. Everyone has different ideas of what that looks like, so I would just encourage you to take a pause to ask yourself “what would it look like to be kind to myself right now?” “What would it look like to show myself compassion?” That could be something as simple as sitting in the park for twenty minutes or journaling or allowing yourself to dance or even allowing yourself to lay in bed and hug a pillow. How can you be kind and compassionate to yourself?
4.) It’s important to reach out
People want to help out. People want to be there for you. They do. That being said, they can only show up for you if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and speak up about what you need. People will surprise you in amazing ways with their capacity to love you. Let them. Let your connections surprise you. Let people show up for you.
5.) There’s power in creating rituals for yourself
When I found out about my friend passing, the only thing that I could think to do was to light a candle for him. My room is always full of candles, but prior to his passing, I hadn’t used them in this way. I lit a candle and said aloud everything I needed to say to him that I didn’t get a chance to. I expressed gratitude for our time together. Spoke aloud my anger (i cussed him out! haha) I said it all. I felt connected to him in a way that I needed to in order to start my healing process. It was powerful. You can call it prayer...maybe invoking the spirit...whatever that title may be, my takeaway is that there’s power in your rituals. You don’t have to have an established spiritual life or belief system necessarily, but if you impart meaning into something, it will be meaningful.
6.) Self care!
This goes along the lines of being kind and compassionate to yourself, but incorporates frequent checking in with yourself and your body and asking “what do i need right now?” I went to a lot of spin classes and dedicated my rides to my friends that had passed (again-another ritual.) It helped to do something active and meditative that allowed me to purge. What’s that thing for you? Is it journaling? Is that treating yourself to a really nice meal? Is it going to a place where you and that person went to all of the time? Is it working out? How can you show care for yourself?
These continue to be my key areas of understanding my grief and dealing with it in a healthy way. SO what are those ways for you? What’s helped you deal with grief? What would you add to this list? Add on. Substitute. Adjust where need be.
**If you need someone to talk to, I’m available. I can also recommend some amazing people. firstname.lastname@example.org