How to Process Grief with Mindfulness – Serenity in Suffering

Thank you for joining me for another Mindfulness Monday! This week’s post is a little different than previous posts. Today I celebrate the life of a beautiful woman, my dear Aunt Mary. She went home to be with the Lord this past week after a long bout with Alzheimer’s Disease. I desire to share some lovely memories of her with you, and also share with you how to process grief with mindfulness.

My Aunt inspired me by her gentle nature and the way she had of accepting people just the way they were. She was devoted to her faith in Jesus Christ, her church, community and family. She shared her faith with me when I was a young adult, inviting me to her prayer group, Bible studies and her home often. While it took many years before I truly made my own decision for Christ, she planted the first seed, introduced me to the Bible and I know, never stopped praying for me.

“A GOD fearing woman is beautiful from the inside out”

In memory how to process grief with mindfulness

A true woman of beauty

I think all who knew my Aunt Mary and loved her well would agree that she was a beautiful woman. While to me, my Aunt was beautiful in the physical sense that most people measure beauty, her real beauty came from within. Hers was an extraordinary beauty that overflowed from her lovely smile and drew you to her. My Aunt had an easy laugh, and even now as I reflect, it was sheer delight to hear it. She brought beauty to everything she did from the mundane tasks of housekeeping to special occasions.

My Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary enjoyed a marriage of 54 years and raised five children. Life was not always easy. Back then, women rarely worked outside the home and in fact my Aunt never learned to drive. My Uncle Bill worked hard to support his family and put his kids through parochial school. In my younger years we vacationed together as families every summer and I remember it seemed like every year he had to drive back home mid-week to get his unemployment check because he had been laid off.

“A beautiful woman uses her lips for truth, her voice for kindness, her ears for compassion, her hands for charity, her heart for love. For those that don’t like her, she uses prayer.”

a true woman of faith

In addition to the word “beauty”, I can think of no other word that describes my Aunt better than “faith”. A devout catholic, she said her rosary every day and prayed faithfully for family and friends. For her, faith meant action; she lived her faith. Her living faith impressed me more than anything I had heard before. You couldn’t be around her long without hearing about her faith, but what made it real was her actions.

Aunt Mary made herself available to help her neighbors and her children. she honored her mother and father and invested in her marriage. She stood for what was right and on more than one occasion spoke the hard truth of correction to me in love. She had a “real”, personal relationship with God. I remember her sharing with me one time how she knew the large venetian blinds in her living room window desperately needed to be cleaned, but how she hated those blinds! Dreading to deal with them, she prayed that God would help make the job easier for her. She said when she went to remove those blinds they just dropped right down into her arms effortlessly. She said God cares about everything that concerned us, even venetian blinds!

Processing my grief

So many memories flooded my mind when I heard hospice came to her home a few weeks ago. We knew it wouldn’t take much longer before she left for her heavenly home, but somehow processing it all seemed difficult. I found myself teetering between happy memories and running from the more difficult ones. Finally recognizing my default avoidance tactics, I knew I needed to make a change. I had learned how to process my grief with mindfulness, and knew it was time to refocus.

Navigating the death of a loved one can overwhelm us before we have a chance to assess what we are truly feeling. In my grief training, I learned many emotions surface at this time and each one needs validation. The more we try to avoid the painful emotions of anger, sorrow, regret, or loneliness, the more painful they become. If we take the time to acknowledge all of what we feel, we take away the power of the pain. We also free ourselves, allowing a clear path to remembering our loved one more fully. If you block the emotions, you block the remembrance and healing. Learning how to process grief with mindfulness moves you from pain to healing.

“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Kahlil Gibran

How to Process Grief with Mindfulness

As I spoke about in previous posts, mindfulness keeps us in the present. Navigating grief is especially difficult because we can easily end up in the past or the future avoiding the painful reality of the present. Among the many benefits of mindfulness is its ability to help us ease our grief in the moment while celebrating the memory of our loved one. To do this we have to be willing to identify which emotions cause us the most pain and allow them in.

As we start to simply observe any emotions present, without judging them as good or bad, we begin to break the cycle of avoidance. We can begin to accept and even welcome the feeling of sorrow, allowing it to bring healing. This in turn frees us to allow memories of our loved one to enter our minds, knowing that may bring sadness, but when we don’t fight or avoid the emotion, the memory is sweet.

Tips for using mindfulness to process your grief

  • Bravely examine your emotions. While the best place to start, it’s often the hardest thing to do. However, above all other tips, this will bring you the most freedom. Sit quietly and askWhat do I feel right now?” Listen, and note without judging the emotions that surface. Often anger, sorrow, or regret surface as dominant, but sometimes, abandonment or fear can also surface. All of these are normal and neither good nor bad.
  • Welcome each emotion without resistance. Allow yourself to feel each emotion without trying to avoid or dismiss it. Believe it or not, while it’s true these emotions cause pain, the pain is actually lessened when you allow the emotion to flow. Resisting the emotion will heighten the pain and make you a captive of that emotion.
  • Welcome pain and grief. To experience life more fully you must be willing to embrace pain and grief. By limiting your experiences of life to only the “good” and “pleasurable” things stunts the experience and your personal growth. We can never fully know joy until we fully know sorrow . Welcoming pain and grief allows you to express your love and loss in the most full and beautiful way possible. Hiding and avoiding the emotion only prevents the pain from flowing through and out of you; instead locking it inside.

“I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief.”

  • Allow the memories to come. Allowing all of the memories to come gives you the opportunity to process associated emotions. While some memories are sweet and joyful, others will bring pain and regret. Know that everyone has regrets; we all know we “could have” loved better, done more or been there more. With each memory, notice the associated emotion, welcome it, learn from it, and allow it to change and heal you.
  • Say your loved one’s name. Talk of them often, say their name out loud. Share memories of them with friends and family members. You have lost the person but not the relationship. Death is a chasm that separates us for a brief time, don’t let it steal what is rightfully yours.
  • Never apologize for your tears. People expect tears at funerals or the days following, but then most want you to get “back to normal”. In fact, time does provide us with the ability to move on, so the tears come less and less. But time and circumstance bring them back; at the mention of their name, on a special day, time of year or at the sound of a particular song. Never apologize to anyone for those tears. Tears are the purest expression of love, allowing the tears to fall in these moments honors the memory of your loved one.

“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.”

Healing through Mindfulness

As you bravely determine to recognize and examine your emotions, welcoming the pain and grief of loss, you stay in the present moment. By staying in the present moment, you experience life more fully in all of its attributes. As you learn to experience life more fully in all it brings you, freedom from painful emotions allows you to heal. You truly find more joy and beauty.

When I practiced processing my grief through mindfulness, I became aware of emotions buried long ago that held me captive. As I acknowledged them without judging them, welcoming all they taught me, grief and sorrow flowed unhindered through me. I was able to reflect on memories with less pain and more joy. Additionally, freedom from blocked emotions helped me to truly celebrate my Aunt’s life.

Jacqueline's baptism

“Nothing is more beautiful than a woman who is brave, strong and bold, because of who Christ is in her.”

a final tribute

My final thoughts, I believe came because I chose to process grief with mindfulness. Instead of staying bound by sorrow, I freely saw beauty rather than focusing only on loss. My Aunt suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the last several years. A cruel disease which stole much of her dignity and independence. However, it never stole her smile or her laugh. I almost missed the significance of this. But when I allowed myself to linger with the anger and sorrow at what it stole from her, I suddenly saw what it could never steal. As a trainer facilitator through the Alzheimer’s Foundation’s Second Wind program, I knew the near impossibility of her retaining those valuable parts of her personality.

Lastly, as I sat with the sorrow of my Uncle saying good-bye to the love of his life after 54 years of marriage, I saw the beauty of the love of a lifetime. Marriage is never easy, nor trouble free, but the level of commitment required to faithfully remain joyfully married for that many years, is stunning. My Uncle determined to care for his wife at home, which is not only admirable, but nearly impossible with Alzheimer patients. While he certainly had help from his children and paid caregivers, his commitment is no less commendable. There is no beauty more exquisite than for love to take that final journey to see their beloved home. I remain forever grateful for the opportunity to witness the splendor of loss through the eyes of pain and grief.

older couple walking hand in hand
Image by Snakelover Photography

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All content is copyrighted and the intellectual property of Donna M. Bucher, Serenity in Suffering 2020.

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