On January 13, 2020, my little baby Tiger Lily passed suddenly, at the young age of 5 1/2 years, and it’s truly been a nightmare. I have experienced a few traumas in recent years, my cancer diagnosis being one I’ve spoken most recently about, but this loss hurts the absolute deepest. I want to write a post in honor of Tiger’s life, but it’s just been too hard for me. In time, I know I will be able to…
In the mean time, I wanted to shed light on what it’s been like to heal from loss.
Before beginning, I have to say, I am not a professional. I don’t know what a grief counselor would recommend for you specifically. I am not you. I do know though what has helped me over the course of the past few weeks and I want to share in case it can help someone out there who is suffering from a loss of any kind. Loss doesn’t have to just be of a family member. We all experience loss – loss of a romantic relationship, a friendship, a job, health, or a myriad of other hardships. Perhaps some of these can be applied to your unique path to healing and growth.
Most importantly, always do what feels right for you. None of these have to work for you and that is ok.
Meditation / Breathwork
One of the top feelings I have experienced with grief and loss is anxiety. I’ve experienced tension in my body; tension in my breath. There have been moments where I can’t catch my breath because of the pain I feel but practicing the act of coming back to the present moment have helped. Mindfulness and meditation have calmed me.
I can’t recommend meditation enough. I also have to say, if you haven’t tried meditation, it isn’t always what it looks like online – peaceful, lotus pose, quiet, zen room, with the sounds of trickling water in the background. Life just doesn’t pose this type of environment all the time. Sometimes meditation can occur in the first few moments you first wake up in the morning and you’re still in bed. Or meditation can happen in the car. Or in a doctor’s waiting room. Practicing mindfulness can happen at any time, anywhere you are open to it.
I have used several apps in the past (Calm is the most consistent for me, though Headspace is also a great app). I have also gone to in-person meditation sessions and both methods work wonderfully for me.
Along with being heavily focused on meditation, I am also practicing breathwork. You may or may not have heard of it but essentially, breathwork is practicing a series of changing patterns in your breathing. Most of the time, we have a shallow, inactive breath. Not paying much attention to it. However, with specific breathing techniques I’ve been able to help restore balance, refocus my energy, and relieve some of the tension and anxiety in my body. It is not uncommon to cry during breathwork so if this happens to you, know that you are not alone. I was surprised at how much better – albeit exhausted – I felt afterward.
Much like meditation, yoga helps me stay in the present. Yes of course my mind wanders and I think about my pain but having an anchor such as focusing on a yoga pose helps bring me back into the now. There are several free yoga videos online but I’ve found the most focus when I go to any of the top yoga studios in Los Angeles.
This has been immensely helpful. Out of all the work I have been doing on myself, therapy has been extremely helpful. I go to both a support group and individual therapy. Support groups (I found mine through a simple Google search) have been helpful because it’s a place where those who have experienced similar traumas can all congregate and share stories of what has happened to them and of how they feel. Loss is complicated and multi-dimensional. It’s not just feelings of sadness, though that is a large part of it. There’s normal feelings of anger, resentment, guilt all jumbled into one. I call them normal feelings now but when I was isolating myself from talking about what I was experiencing, all of these feelings made me feel abnormal. I felt like I shouldn’t be feeling these emotions. Truth is though, after sharing my feelings and hearing how others feel the same, I know that I am not alone. And neither are you.
Along with the help of a support group, I also go to individual therapy. This is where a lot of deep work happens. Sometimes, loss is not just loss. It isn’t for me. We are all represented by individual experiences, that over time, weave together the story of our lives. What has come up for me in therapy is talking about my life in completion, not only one specific experience but how and why loss affects me in certain ways.
I always have a journal with me in my bag because I never know when a thought will come up – whether it’s a positive memory or it’s a moment of self-blame, where I want to remember or reference for later. These are notes that I can take into therapy and work through. It’s also been therapeutic for me to just have a few less thoughts in my head, now that they are on paper. For me, I have a million thoughts going on in my head at all times, especially with trauma, and it’s been helpful to me that I can have less mind clutter through the power of journaling.
There are several ways you can journal. I typically free flow journal throughout the day or in the morning time, and I also journal immediately after therapy or support groups. I want to remember the takeaways or interesting points that have come up so that they can help guide me until the next session.
One form of journaling that has been difficult for me but am trying to relearn the practice of is gratitude journaling. When you’re in pain it’s so hard to see the good but I’ve been, quite honestly, forcing myself to and a few really positive memories and points have come up through it.
Reading / Listening to Podcasts
Reading books on healing or listening to inspirational, personal growth podcasts keeps my mind in a more positive space. Often times I will listen to a podcast or one specific sentence in a book and actually feel that “A-HA” moment where two disjointed thoughts in my head some how come together and there is more connection in my thought pattern.
Immediately proceeding Tiger’s passing, I slept, or was in bed, nearly 20 hours a day. I found it hard to function. I wasn’t eating. I just wanted to sleep. All day. This might sound unhealthy but it’s what I needed at the time. Luckily I had friends and family who would remind me to eat and to drink water. Then one day I just felt like it was time to get up. I got up and actually felt hungry, so I ate. I got up and actually felt depleted of air, so I went outside for a walk. Your mind and body will let you know when it’s time to re-enter and actively live. Give yourself the rest and space that you need, in the mean time.
Leave the house
On the other side to rest, without pushing yourself too much, try to leave your house. This sounds so simplistic but when you’re depleted of all energy, it’s truly an accomplishment to leave the house. At first I had to leave the house for work. I dreaded it but it happened and I did it. Then I realized, I could step away from my thoughts and my pain for a moment here and there and it felt less exhausting. Then I started to leave my house to go to a meditation session or to go to yoga. At least for that hour, my energy was moving throughout my body, rather than being stagnant in my bed.
Share your emotions
Through a lot of the above, I have cried. You know that moment where you feel tears in your eyes but you suppress them because you just don’t want to cry? Instead of suppressing my tears, I’ve just let them out. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable when it happens in public or with other people but it’s the only way that I have personally felt like I can breathe. Constantly pushing down emotions has affected my mental health in the past. The best we can do for ourselves is show up as our full selves – even if that means it’s “messy”. I always try to remember:
The only way out is through.
This is not me writing this after being “fully” healed. To be honest, as I read through it, I’m getting emotional. This is me writing sharing just one step forward I have been trying to actively take when I can. It might not happen each day but it is happening. Healing from loss happens on a path unique to you. Take your time. Be gentle with yourself. And breathe through it.