How to Hold Space for Grief, Love and You
My journey with grief began when I was just 15. My mom committed suicide. Then my dad died of a massive heart attack, which was so obviously a broken heart. Really if I go back to my birth, the grief would’ve begun with my biological mother giving me up for adoption at birth.
But by far, the worst of the worst is losing my son Quinn to murder. I know how to hold space, for myself and for others, but holding space for this kind of grief is perhaps the most difficult task I’ve ever had in this lifetime.
We all grieve differently and every loss is different. Sudden violent deaths are way up there on the devastation meter, whereas death by natural causes can be not as difficult to deal with. But again it depends on who you are, your life experiences and how you deal with hardship and heartbreak.
One thing I’ve been very public about over social media and on the stage is that yes, the ongoing grief from losing my son to gun violence has been super intense, but I can also have moments or even sometimes days filled with pure joy. And then sometimes I might feel guilty for feeling all that joy. It’s complicated.
So how do you hold space for grief, love and You all at once?
1. BREATHE. When you notice yourself stop breathing, or breathing shallowly, take a few slow deep breaths. If we don’t breathe fresh new air into our lungs, and energy into our bodies, we can end up feeling extra depleted. We lose our alertness and often will miss messages from our intuition. I’m actually writing a song called Breathe for the new album, because it’s so important. One day when I was at a pow wow, Kenn Pitawanakwat, indigenous author of “When My Son Died” caught me barely breathing. He said to me, “you’ve got to BREATHE.” I hadn’t even realized I was hardly breathing, and I teach this stuff! That’s what happens with grief though. It might seem simplistic, but pay attention to your breath, because breath = life.
2. Allow yourself to fall apart. In one of my songs “Nothing But Love,” I say “Gotta let yourself fall apart, so you can feel it in your heart”. The problem is, we’re so brainwashed to believe we have to “hold it together” but if we do the opposite, that’s where true healing can begin. Depending on how fresh or intense your grief is, you might need to do this in tiny baby steps. The brain and body know to protect you from what is just too much to handle. Your capacity for how much you can handle can expand or contract any time, so it’s good to be aware of it.
3. Get Support. I know I say this a lot and that’s because human beings need each other. If we didn’t need each other, there would only be one of us. Even us introverts need support sometimes. Your loved ones can hold space for you and weirdly, that amplifies your ability to hold space for yourself too.
4. Don’t believe the hype. Time heals all wounds? You need to move on? How about you stay right here right now in this moment and see what’s true for you? Since this moment is all you have anyway, might as well be present and real in it, right? As present as one can be anyway. Grief can numb us out to the point of presence feeling far out of reach. So don’t believe the hype. Believe what’s true for YOU.
5. Find a way to ground yourself. I can’t tell you how many people are wandering around this city completely disconnected from themselves. It’s unreal to me, as if we’re in the Matrix. Most people are unaware and disconnected from Source, themselves and each other. The fact that you have some sort of spirituality or faith (or you wouldn’t be here reading this) gives you extra capacity already to hold space for whatever comes up. But when emotions come up, it can feel easier to go numb and even go out of body than to be present with it all. Stomp your feet. Hug yourself. Give yourself a gentle shake. Stretch. Lie down on the floor or the Earth. Get out in nature. Go for a walk. Dance. Move. Get present in your body, even if it’s only for a few moments a day. It’s really the only way you can hold space for yourself or others effectively.
6. Allow yourself to FEEL, at your own pace. At first when I was in shock for about 3 months, I could hardly feel anything. The emotions were coursing through me but I had no capacity to truly feel them. Now, 3 years and a lot of personal growth work and therapy later, I can feel a myriad of emotions flowing through me at any given moment. HOT TIP: My therapist taught me to notice and name how I’m feeling, to help me create more awareness of my emotions. The goal is not to fix anything but just to hold space and be aware of how you’re feeling. It can help you feel like you have a bit of personal power when grief has a way of making you feel like you’re powerless. You get to be in charge of how much or how little you feel. Rather than stuffing it down, make space for it to be with you and flow through you, just like other emotions of joy, love, passion or happiness.
7. When you feel good, even if only for a few moments, anchor it in your body. What sensations do you have? How is your body responding to feeling good? The more you notice these moments, the more space you are holding for yourself to have more moments of feeling good. When we feel good, we create space, our energy fields can expand, and all the feel-good chemicals and hormones go to work to create more of the same. Soak it up. Allow it, even if you’re also feeling sadness, anger or other difficult feelings at the same time.
I know grief can be confusing and hard to manage. Please don’t deal with it alone. Find friends, or maybe an organization, therapist, counsellor, elder… whoever feels right for you.
Questions about the article? Leave a comment here. I’m sure it will help others too.
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About Brenda MacIntyre
Medicine Song Woman Brenda MacIntyre, author and artist of the Medicine Song Oracle Cards™ & Music, is a Juno Award-winning singer, motivational speaker, indigenous drummer and wisdom-keeper. Brenda has shared her leadership and soul nationally on stage and in the media, such as MuchMusic, APTN, CTV, CP24, Global and CityTV’s Breakfast Television, as well as CBC Radio. Having experienced major loss and fear of being seen and heard, she is passionate about helping women to bring out their playfulness, edge and inner rebel, so they can live a life brimming with self-authority and soul-satisfying expression.