The Storm of Grief

IMG_2453It’s a constellation of events and inner experiences that coalesce to create the perfect emotional storm that can only end in a release of grief, which is what happened a few weeks ago. My husband and I were struggling through a difficult conversation, I was tired, hormonal, and who-knows-what-else, and all of a sudden I felt a great swell of grief sitting in my chest, needing to come out. The next thing I knew I was crying hard. He held me as the grief shook my body. He asked why I was crying and I could only respond with, “I don’t know.” I didn’t know. And It didn’t matter. It had to do with the conversation but it didn’t. It had to do with the anniversary of my grandmother’s death and it didn’t. A gathering of grief had accumulated inside my body and it needed the safe space of my husband’s arms to let it out.

I cry less since becoming a mother almost nine years ago than I ever have in my life. Not that it’s necessarily healthy, but my time and attention are focused on my kids and work and that leaves little time for emotional breakdowns. As my kids get older and me-time opens back up, I’m finding that the tears that have been pushed down for nine years are re-emerging. And it feels so good, essential. My face looks different the morning after I’ve cried: puffier, yes, but also softer. The release of grief is the wave that crashes over the jagged rocks of psyche, softening the rough edges and allowing me to come back into my body. The release of grief clears out the fog of thoughts and causes me to see the world and my life with clarity.

Grief is a part of life. It’s a part of being a child and it’s a part of becoming an adult. We grieve when we grow up, when we leave childhood behind, the crumbling of innocence that happens when we step into the shoes of full-fledged adulthood. We grieve when our parents are still together and we have to loosen those ties to our childhood house and unit; we grieve when they’ve separated and the family home no longer exists. We grieve when we lose a loved one, a friend, a city, a job, a beloved pet. We grieve for the passage of of time, changes, endings. We grieve because we’re human and when we open our hearts to humanity, we find great beauty as well as great grief.

Our habitual response to grief is to resist. Part of this is a normal, human/animal response to push away anything painful: the starfish that contracts when we touch it. Part of it is a result of growing up in a parenting and educational culture that doesn’t know how to give loving attention to big feelings. We resist the grief yet there’s something so sweet that occurs when we finally surrender to the center of the storm. Like the eye of the hurricane, there’s a stillness in grief, an exhale. And when the storm has passed, when your  body stops shaking, when the sob has been released from your chest and throat, there’s a peacefulness.

When I’m talking to my clients about grief and how necessary it is to make time and space, to slow down enough to release, I mention the movie, Broadcast News, in which Holly Hunter plays a television news producer who has daily emotional breakdowns. If I remember the film correctly, she actually schedules time for these breakdowns, knowing how essential they are to her capacity to continue in her high-stress job. So every day around 11am she steps out the back door of the building, sits down on the fire escape steps, and cries. She cries and cries and cries – full release – then stands up, wipes her face, dusts off her clothes, and resumes her work.

Can you imagine how different your life would be if, in addition to coffee breaks and lunch meetings, you also took time for crying breaks? Can you imagine what it would feel like to commit to a daily practice of attending to your emotional life where you allow whatever needed to move through you to move through? Anxiety and panic are often manifestations of bottled up feelings, a lifetime of anger, frustration, heartbreak, sadness, and fear pushed down because there was no space for them as a child or your caregivers didn’t know how to attend to these big feelings. The healing process as an adult must include time and space to attend to those big feelings in smaller eruptions so that they don’t rumble into volcanic proportions.

22 comments to The Storm of Grief

  • hopeful

    Crying is a part of my weekly routine. It could be everything and it could be nothing. One time my friend asked S and I if I cry a lot and S laughed and shook his head yes and I said “I cry a lot, but it always makes me feel better!”

    Thanks Sheryl.

  • Shinny78

    Beautiful Sheryl, as always

  • sk

    I find myself crying at odd times of the day! during a nice happy conversation or before i go to sleep. there really is no reason sometimes, but i just cry. something that touches my heart makes me cry be it happy or sad. my thoughts make me cry. and in those outbursts where i lay in bed after a perfectly happy day, where i find myself crying, i realise the magnitude of unshed grief inside of me. that release is sometimes necessary and it leaves me with a sense of peacefulness which is like a place of deep calm i find beneath the broken surface of my pain and anguish. and in that place, i am whole again. beneath the grief lies my freedom. and my freedom is peace. at last.

  • Sophie

    It’s taken me a long time to allow myself to cry, proper body wracking sobs. I’d buried it down for so long. It’s so cathartic and such a vulnerable state, particularly like you mention Sheryl, when you let your husband hold you. This is so new for me but so important. I’m glad I can access the tears and help get the grief out.

  • Amaryllis

    I second what Shinny78 typed. Thank you Sheryl. I always feel better after reading your articles. Everything just seem so much clearer now. It make sense.

  • sahmpaw

    I was lucky to have my sister show me that movie at a young age. Even though we grew up in a family in which feelings were not supported it struck me as neat to see that it is ok to cry. I don’t like it and will resist it but often will cry in the basement laundry area after a hard day of parenting. I recently had to set a boundary with my mom which is scary to do. I had to do it to protect my daughter. That night before going to sleep this awful core shame/black cloud feeling washed over me. It was like I was going numb. I remembered that that was how I felt for most of my childhood! My feelings were locked in there like you describe. I don’t wish that on any child.

  • Sarah

    After entirely to long being “the good kid” and “the strong one” I’m slowly learning that showing emotions does not make you weak. I’ve had a couple conversations recently that ended with me in tears, not because the conversations were bad, mean or scary but because they were a safe space to let the feelings out. I’m slowly convincing my boyfriend that me crying does not equal him having to solve anything for me. This alone has made honest communication easier. Thank you.

  • Meera

    I believe that crying is like a cleansing mechanism of our soul. Its essential and I also read somewhere that crying is for the strong, not the weak. Weak are those who supress their emotions and don’t deal with them. Crying always indicates that you are strong enough to feel the sadness and let it flow through you. I firmly believe in that.

  • Isabella

    Sheryl, I still don’t understand how I can feel so empty and not feel the love I have. Especially cause I got scared to lose him, so why do I feel down pry and emotionless?

  • Isabella

    Down, empty and emotionless*

  • cg

    I cant tell you how much your writing is shaping my adult life as a woman. I found you during my engagement period, and now I turn to you to explain what this life is like for a grown woman, and what I might expect for motherhood ahead of me.

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. Your voice, message, and love is so clear & wonderful. I feel so grateful to read this and know other women are just like me. You’ve taught me to go into the feeling – like putting my hand over my heart when I need that self-love, sometimes it’s only once I get to the shower after a hectic day – and just letting whatever feeling is there just come out.

    You are a treasure. Thank you.

  • ildiko

    Wow, thank you.. I remember a few years ago crying was a normal practice for me. Every day when my then young daughter was sleeping in the early afternoon hours, I would lock myself into my bedroom and cry and sob and shake and release.

    Since she’s older and doesn’t have naps anymore )and we home school), I find it more challenging to allocate the time..

    As the second anniversary of my sons death is coming up in two weeks time, I feel the need for “heartbreak healing time” even more.

    Your article is a beautiful reminder and I’ll plan the time and space to allow myself to heal my broken heart, to cry..

    Thanks again,

    Ildiko

  • Isabella

    Sheryl is it normal to feel empty?

  • Sarah

    Gosh this soo reassuring. I am such a cryer and always have been. It is soo true that it is a cleansing process. I always feel better after cry. I think during my teens I learnt to suppress this due to fear of seeming weak. However, these days I cry quite frequently, and I’m lucky to have a partner who understand that this isn’t something to worry about, it’s part of me. It’s how I deal with things. It’s about releasing all that tension that has been building up inside of me.

    Thanks Sheyl for sharing this wonderful insight.

  • Beautiful post. There was a time in my life when I resisted crying like the plague. It took me back to being ‘too sensitive’ as a child. They during a particularly dark period in my life I discovered the nectar that exists withing tears. The sweetness that comes if we allow ourselves to be washed clean by those tiny saline droplets so that we can emerge anew, fresh with new insights and potential.

    Blessings on the journey

    Catherine x

  • Val

    So I just purchased your e-course and it has been so in incredibly helpful. I’m not currently engaged but I know my boyfriend of 3 years who I live with will be popping the question soon. About 4 months ago I started having extreme relationship anxiety. It felt exactly how you describe it I’m your e-course. I always tried to distract myself from my feelings however whenever I had a good cry and was able to let out all of my fears I always seemed to feel better. It was almost as if I was releasing all of my anxiety and afterwards, without fail, I had a moment of clarity and could finally see the big picture of what was happening. I still struggle on an almost regular basis with my anxiety but it has become much easier. I’m currently on lesson 3 of your ecourse and I am very excited to keep moving forward. Thanks:)

  • Noelle Leithem

    It is all making sense now.

  • Anne

    Sheryl, I feel that I need to do a bit more research about grief, you recommended that in Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner. Something clicked and I want to take a closer look. Is there any book you’d recommend for this very subject? Thanks btw for the beautiful deep thorough preparation time I can consciously go through at the moment during my 2,5 years of engagement. I feel so seen and supported by this hands-on interactive workbook!

    • It depends what aspect of grief you’re interesting in learning about. The thing about grief is that you need to get to a place where you simply allow yourself to feel it without the judgement interfering with the process. And then you just let yourself cry, write, talk, dance, and move through the grief as it moves through you. So glad the Planner has been helpful : ).