Grief - a holistic approach

There are three absolute certainties in life – birth, change and death – and as human beings we seem to be terrified of all of them. When we grieve we are dealing with all three at the same time - the death of a loved one, the huge changes that inevitably brings and the birth of their new transition to spirit. In olden times in Ireland there were very specific rituals and ceremonies to help the whole grieving process. However in our modern world many of these have been lost. 
Nowadays if we don’t follow a formal religious path there is a gap, which we yearn to fill to ease the pain and suffering through to acceptance and peace. Of course we may also need to grieve for lost opportunities, the end of a particular phase in our lives, the job we have just retired from etc. If we look at grieving through a holistic – mind, body, spirit perspective we can find the path we need.
In Ireland up to 50 years ago we all had a very healthy attitude to death. The funeral ceremony was preceded by a ‘wake’, which was a life celebration of the loved one who had passed. The expression ‘waking the dead,’ meant waking the spirit up to rise into the birth of a new dimension. Their favourite food and drink was served, their family and friends all came to celebrate their life with stories, song and even dance. In the midst of all this the open casket displayed their body for all to see including the children. The reason was that everyone could pay their respects but also see clearly that their life force had left their body and gone to the place of spirit. 
This started the whole grieving process as people could see that their loved one had moved on. An integral part of the wake was the presence of ‘keeners’ (na caoineadh); a group of women who were professional ‘criers’ dressed in black. During the evening they would sit in the corner, wail, cry and moan to help the family voice their pain especially for the men who might find it more difficult to cry. 
It was customary then and still today, that neighbours stepped in to ‘look after’ the grieving family preparing the food and keeping an eye on them for a month afterwards. At the ‘month’s mind’ it was time then for the family to start looking after themselves. At the year anniversary the grieving process was deemed to be over. If it wasn’t then there was something out of balance and more counselling from the priest/rabbi/pastor was needed to help the person move on with their life.
When someone we love passes away or there is a major loss (job, finances etc) the first sense is one of shock. This occurs even if the person is old and has lived a good life but is hugely heightened if they are young or die suddenly. Our bodies experience numbness and we don’t know what to do or say. Usually we are catapulted into the organisational aspect of spreading the word and making the funeral arrangements. 
This has the effect of keeping us occupied and often postpones our grief. Many of us don’t actually know how to be in a death situation. It is a shocking and tragic time and nowadays we aren’t taught how to behave since many people don’t like to talk about death. When we grieve we want to join in with the world again, but when we do we can feel like we don’t belong. Trust your intuition. You will know when you are ready to go back to work or out socially. 
We need to go through the pain of death to come out the other side. You might think you’re going crazy, not knowing if you are doing the grieving process the right way. Everyone goes through this feeling. 
Bereavement counsellors can help you through this difficult time. 
Some emotions may surprise you, for example anger. Perhaps toward yourself, the hospital or even your perception of God. Know that it is perfectly fine to express and release it, without feeling guilty. Change will come. 
When someone close to you dies it is a special time, a time to go within and feel your feelings. Be good to yourself, listen to your body. Run a long bath, light candles and have a warming soak in nourishing oils. Rose for well being, lavender for calm and basil for clarity. You may not feel like eating much so soups are a great nourishing easy food at this time. Cuddle a pillow wrapped in your loved ones clothing and let the tears come, let the mourning sounds out, it is good to cry.  
Depending on how you look at it, the person who has passed away is either gone for good and out of pain or in a loving spiritual place. The grieving process is all about YOU coming to terms with their passing. It is easy to get stuck in the fear, guilt or helplessness of the situation.
Our mind plays tricks and spins into negative spirals of depression and self-depreciation. We’ve all heard the expression ‘Time will heal’ and probably feel like shouting at the person who has said it….but it is actually true. There is a reason that core grieving takes a full year at least. Confusion is a big part of it too. One day you feel back to normal and the next day, the smallest memory can trigger waves of sadness. 
Each life event is a milestone: Christmas, birthdays, holidays etc. Sometimes it is a good idea to change family traditions such as going away for Christmas rather than try to celebrate with an empty place at the table. However for many families it is better to go through the normal rituals and include the happy memories of ‘Dad carving the turkey or Mum making her special cake’. 
Everyone grieves differently so whatever you are doing is the right way for you to do it. Just remember to respect the other family member’s methods of grieving in their own way. 
Somewhere in our life we will come to the point where we ask the question ‘where did we come from and where are we going?’ This may happen around the time of bereavement. Spirituality is a very personal matter even if we follow a formal religion. Many people talk about a sign that they feel their loved one gives them to say that they have reached a happy place in the afterlife. 
Some talk of vivid dreams, coincidences and serendipity for instance favourite songs playing on the radio. Nature is a good place to nurture your own soul when grieving. When feeling low seeing a tiny bud at the end of Winter gives a feeling of hope even after despair. A huge part of the difficulty in grief is the loss of communication with our loved one, which leaves a gaping hole in our lives. A little bit of quiet time can ground you and give you a sense of connection. Light a candle and talk to them, the way you always did. Tell them about your day and what’s going on, and wish them well wherever you perceive them to be. 
If you are supporting someone in their grieving process, let them know you are there for them, but give them the space to release their emotions in their own way. Your presence alone is hugely supportive, don’t feel you have to find the ‘right’ words to show you care. Just be yourself and remember laughter is as much a relief as tears are.
The concept of grieving for a missed chance or phase in our lives is not really known or talked about these days yet it is very prevalent at this time in our country’s history as well as always present as we age. A mother knows the feeling of physically moving past the time of giving birth and even if she has healthy children, it still is a loss of choice. Many men feel the time when those younger team members at work start to pass them out especially with all this new technology on hand. The empty nest and retirement are classic times of grieving that are not necessarily acknowledged in our society. We need to feel the feelings, release them safely and appropriately and nurture ourselves at this time of change. All will be well… in time.
About the author: 
Karen Ward, Energy Therapist from the BBC’s ‘Last Resort’ and Holistic Therapy Presenter from RTE’s highly successful programme ‘Health Squad’ is  author of  the best selling book ‘Change a Little to Change a Lot’.  She has practices Holistic Psychotherapy, Stress Management Coaching, Energy Therapy from her Clinic in Smithfield, Dublin. Karen is an established lecturer & facilitator of motivational & inspiring Talks on a variety of holistic health subjects.  She & her husband, John Cantwell, teach & run a school of Shamanism – Holistic Living - called 'Slí an Chroí'. She treats all her treasured clients from a mind, body, spirit & energetic perspective. 
Related Links: