Managing grief and having fun at the same time!

Grief isn't fun, but learning to roll with difficult emotions can be!

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I’ve been considering how to write something helpful about grief.  My Dad died last month, and initially things were too raw to write about.  But I can’t help thinking that it’s worth capturing this experience, because I know I’m not alone in suffering grief during this pandemic.

I’d always been told that grief comes in waves and it has an energy of its own.  It certainly does!  For me, when I awake in the morning is the most challenging time, but that passes fairly quickly.  Much of the time I have felt fine, and then worried that I’m blocking something out and the emotions would hit me later.  Luckily my best friend reminded me to enjoy the good days, because the bad days are tough enough without wishing for more of them!

The overwhelming experience of losing my Dad has been the crushing futility of a life ended too soon, and an urgency to get on with my own life and to contribute, to make an impact, before it’s too late.  There’s nothing quite like feeling close to your mortality as a motivator! 

Coincidentally I’ve been reading a book, called Existential Kink, which talks about fully appreciating the emotions you’d rather not have.   The idea behind the book is that we subconsciously WANT all the emotions that we say we don’t want.  When we complain we’re stuck, it’s because a part of us LOVES being stuck.  In the case of grief, although I might say I don’t want to feel this bad, there is definitely a part of me that WANTS to grieve properly – it’s my Dad’s life that I’m grieving after all! 

At times the book is quite a challenging read but this idea that we secretly WANT difficult emotions has proved very useful.  Last week when I was overwhelmed with a wave of anger (which is one of the stages of grief) and I couldn’t even put my finger on why I felt so angry, I decided to try the technique she suggests.  In a nutshell this involves magnifying and parodying the unwanted emotion.  So, I tried it by saying “Oh I just LOVE this enormous ANGER that is making me vibrate and shake.  I so WANT this wonderful anger, for all its powerful qualities!”.  Instead of resisting the anger, I was encouraging myself to revel in it, immerse in it, in a playful way.  The playful, somewhat seductive tone is important – you are not aiming to just slide into the abyss of emotion, you are playing with the emotion.  It sounds a bit bonkers, but you get the picture!

It felt completely ridiculous, but it did make me laugh! And when you’re feeling miserable and furious, having a laugh is very therapeutic.  Resisting the emotion wasn’t working, so emotionally reveling in the emotion was a refreshing alternative!  I felt less trapped by the anger and it put me back in the driving seat.  Which was helpful because so much of grief feels completely beyond any control or logic.  Interestingly, playing with the emotion also allowed me to give voice to the emotion, to help my family understand what I was experiencing.  I know from experience that “what we resist, persists” and that naming an emotion takes the sting out of it, and adding this technique of positively ENJOYING the unwanted emotion gave me another way to process it.

Try it and let me know how you get on!

Nicola Harker

Coach and Mentor (ex-doctor) and teacher of Self-Compassion, Nicola Harker Coaching

Using neuroscience, self-compassion techniques and coaching as well as high-performance techniques I help my clients free their potential and get back to their true selves so that they can thrive in life.