Cope with grief in a culture that tends to not honor bereavement

Cope with grief in a culture that tends to not honor bereavement

We live in a culture where expressing grief is often not honored in meaningful ways. We live in a society that’s awkward around the subject of grief and death & dying. We have “bereavement leaves” in the workplace that last for two to four days. We use words like you need to “get over it,” and “keep busy,” and maintain a “stiff upper lip.” It’s almost as if we encourage each other to turn a blind eye and ear to our true feelings. So it’s no wonder that we call this grief work. It becomes “work” to express our feelings in a culture where we do not make it easy to do something that’s actually quite a natural process.


Do take one day at a time, doing one thing at a time

When you’re in the midst of grief, everything is in flux. It’s difficult to plan ahead, and often it’s painful to look at the past. The ideal thing to do is to live in the present moment, as children are able to do with ease. As much as you can, let yourself truly be in the present moment, appreciating the tactile nature of things, appreciating each and every thing you’re involved in. Immerse yourself in it fully, as much as possible. This is the best way to live in these times of great change and shifting, regardless.

Do let go of the idea of normalcy

When you’re experiencing grief, normal time goes out the window. Since it’s a crazy-making time, do your best to see the adventure and opportunities in it. See if you can enjoy doing things that are new for you. Let your old schedules and habits go; instead, try “being” in different, creative ways from the ways you’ve been in the past. Love yourself in new and amazing ways. Try looking into the mirror every morning and evening and tell yourself “I love you, ____,” using your own name for a good 3 to 5 minutes.

Do prepare yourself for other losses

Most likely, everything is undergoing a change in your life at this time. So, as much as you may not like to, it’s a good idea to be ready for more change. You may have to face more change and loss. Imagine that this is a time unlike any other in your life. Everything may feel like it’s up for grabs. The good news is that you have the opportunity to shift out of old ways of doing and being that were not helpful. You may find that the new ways that are coming in add to your life in creative ways. Just be prepared for change, growth, and transformation. Welcome it, and it may start to greet you in unexpectedly wonderful ways.

Do exercise as much and as often as you can

When you are moving through so many emotions, it’s good to keep the emotions and energy moving. Exercise helps us do this. It is so important to love ourselves through grief. Perhaps it’s the first time you’ve really taken some time for yourself in a long time? Give yourself the gift of doing what your body feels like doing. Honor your body like you’ve never honored it before. First thing in the morning, while still lying in bed, ask it what it wants to do today? You’ll be surprised, because it will have an answer for you.

Do re-connect and develop your spirituality

The most important thing you can do for yourself when moving through grief is to connect with Spirit - in other words, deepen your spiritual life. Whether you spend more time in nature, reconnect with a church or synagogue, find a new way to pray, meditate, tune in, and talk with God/dess and “all that is,” it’s so important right now to allow your higher power to guide your way. If we don’t ask, Spirit can’t help us; this is universal law.

A good thing to think about is how Popeye would have dealt with it. When Popeye was in a fix, he would reach for a can of spinach. Thus, he was always able to overcome any obstacle that was in his way. The spinach is always there; we just need to remember to reach for it.


Do not stuff your feelings

What would it would be like to be living in a totally different culture, where expressing grief is encouraged and honored? There is a woman named Sobonfu Some - her name means “keeper of the rituals” - of West Africa. Her tribe, the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso, actually encourages their people to let go and grieve whatever no longer serves them. As a child, she remembers when a friend of hers died and she was asked the question, “Have you grieved enough? Have you cried enough?” rather than “Aren’t you finished crying about that yet?” The belief among the Dagara Tribe is that hanging on to old pain makes it grow until it can smother our joy and creativity; it even could have the potential to kill us. So it’s always a good thing to be letting go and releasing.

Doesn’t that feel liberating - to imagine living in a place like that;; to imagine that kind of encouragement and permission to grieve? By the way, it’s very healthy and good to let the tears flow at this time. If you need to excuse yourself and find privacy, don’t hesitate to do so.

Do not forget to sleep when you can or need to

You may become exhausted, and it’s so important to sleep and spend time nourishing ourselves in Spirit Time. This is where we can heal in beautiful ways; this is also how and when we receive our dreams. Take all the time in the world to sleep; luxuriate in it, and do everything you can to enhance it. Use a few drops of lavender oil on your forehead or pillow before going to sleep. Drink a cup of kava kava tea before going to sleep; it will not only relax you and help you to sleep, it will also help you remember your dreams. If you can, it’s also a good idea to keep track of your dreams. Record them in a special (dream) journal.

Do not forget to eat

This is easily done, especially when you’re grieving, but your body and stamina will pay a price. Have healthy treats around the house that you can nibble on when you have the urge. Ask a good friend to go out with you to eat, to one of your favorite restaurants. Be creative, and encourage yourself to eat foods that are nourishing but taste good to you, too.

Do not hesitate to ask for what you need

This may be a good time to filter your phone calls. You’ll find that some people take away from your time and energy. You want to make certain that you spend time with those who are supportive and give you what you need at this time. You may tend to want to be a recluse and remain by yourself much of the time. But remember that there are people and friends out there who want to help. They may just need a little nudge about what you’d like. Let yourself reach out to those people you know can help and support you. Remember to process your grief with friends, counselors, and whoever will listen.

Do not be afraid to honor your memories and your intuition

As you consider your grief and the memories of those you have loved, or those people who remain in your thoughts, you should try and grieve in any way that you can - today and in the days ahead. You should also be very good to yourselves in these times of deep letting go, sometimes intensely grief-laden days. May you find and create time to be sad, and feel the full spectrum of your emotions. Look at photographs of your loved one and remember to honor who you were and what you believed as you release the old ways of being and believing that may no longer serve you. May you even cry your eyes out if you need to. May you honor the things and people and places that your loved one loved, and do the things that will help you to honor and remember them. May you honor the journey that has led you to this place, knowing that releasing what no longer serves you is in your highest interest. May you find creative and safe ways that you can release your feelings of anger, rage, denial, sorrow, and loneliness - like writing in a journal, going for long walks in the beauty of nature and letting Mother Earth know about your pain, seeking out a support group or a counselor, and truly delving into and embracing your pain and sorrow.

Jumping cartoon

Perhaps you’ve already noticed, the most important thing we need to do when we’re grieving is to love ourselves deeply. This is easier for some and not as easy for others. If we already know ourselves well and have learned how to love ourselves, grieving is not as difficult as if we don’t know ourselves and/or love ourselves so well. Use this “opportunity” of grief to find out more about yourself and learn about what makes you tick. You are worth it. You are worthy of this, and grief will be a big teacher for you in this way.

More expert advice about Coping with Death and Grief

Photo Credits: Consolation by Flickr: Andy; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Maria Dancing Heart HoaglundTransformational Healer, End of Life Coach and Spiritual Counselor

Rev. Maria Dancing Heart Hoaglund is an author, transformational healer, U.C.C. Minister, spiritual counselor, and end-of-life coach who honors the body-mind-spirit holistic approach. She currently works primarily with the Japanese who visit Sed...

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