Living With Grief: What to Do When You’re Faced With the Impossible

Whether you like it or not, people and things you love will end. Here are some ways you can prepare for what you cannot bear.

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Are those rats I hear in the walls? I’m sure it’s something. Something that I haven’t had to think about because my husband was always the one on rat patrol. And then the other day, my beloved up and died on me. Now, being the rat listener is not my only new job. It turns out that grieving is also a kind of job. It’s a job with a simple job description: try to do the impossible while everything in your life seems like it is falling apart.

Change of all sorts can feel like a sucker punch that throws you, kicking and screaming into grief. You are minding your own business, and suddenly you’ve been renovicted or the company you work for has been bought out, or someone you love isn’t coming back. You bet it hurts! Without asking your permission, life has changed and suddenly nothing is familiar, and you might feel like you’re standing in quicksand. 

It is so important that you ask yourself what you need to help you stay as well as possible—and then to do your best to give yourself what you need.

Think about those poor neural pathways! They have been habituated by the certainty of seeing a particular face, or being in a familiar office, or driving a well-worn route over and over. When that comfy—or even uncomfy—habit abruptly hits a wall, it triggers uncertainty. Now what?! says the scrambling brain looking for safety. It makes sense that grief can throw you for a loop. Grief can surprise you even if your life is steady sailing. All you might have to do is tune into the news of the world to find grief overpowering you. You can run but you cannot hide. Grief will kick your butt even if you have sat at the bed of dying people and seen hard times. So how can you prepare for what you cannot prepare for?

Three Ways to Begin Working With Grief

  • Accept that grief does not follow a rule book—despite what you might have been told. Grief is like being in a state of shock. When grief picks you up you might suddenly start laughing at the most inappropriate moment or spend all day on YouTube watching monkeys throw their feces around. Please be kind to yourself. There is no one way to grieve
  • Accept that grief could show up uninvited anywhere, anytime: at the grocery store, in the middle of your workday … one minute you are busily running to keep up with the world’s frantic pace, and the next minute your legs give out, and you couldn’t run even if you wanted to. Welcome, Grief!
  • Be kind to yourself and to those around you. You might feel skinless and unintentionally lash out. You might need a hug, or a quiet moment. It’s not your imagination—everything is freaky-deaky. It is so important that you ask yourself what you need to help you stay as well as possible—and then to do your best to give yourself what you need.

When Grief Comes Knocking

Whether you want the job or not, it may now all be up to you to take care of the rats and a thousand things that have fallen off the shelf after something or someone ends. Grief can feel as though everything is crashing down around you, and maybe it is. But since you aren’t dead yet, you might choose to be curious about ways you could let grief in, without it knocking you out. When you are feeling that it’s all too much, and that grief has got you in its jaws, sometimes it helps to:

  1. Stop a moment—give yourself permission to pause. You need it.
  2. Breathe—follow the breath all the way in and all the way out a few times. This can help you to feel grounded. What do you notice?
  3. Connect to what you are feeling with as much kindness and compassion as possible. These are tough times. Give yourself a big hug and recognize you need a friend, and that friend is you.