The role of grief is to help us recover from traumatic experiences. The work of grief is to return us to wholeness and a feeling of well being again. Grief shines light on experiences and situations that we need to reflect on and accept. It also can show us what we need to move forward to make us feel like ourselves again.
Whenever we’re grieving, we go through stages of grief and the need to process different feelings. If we bypass these emotions by providing ourselves with easy answers or allowing ourselves to be distracted, all our feelings do is disguise themselves and come out in another way.
Understanding certain rhythms, stages, or patterns during grief can help us acknowledge the precious yet difficult process of grief. And how, although not obvious at the time, grief serves a distinct and important purpose, which is to help us survive trauma. It informs us that something has disrupted our flow of love and peace.
Rhythms of grief differ from the stages of grief in that they can provide positive coping routines to help in processing the difficult emotions brought out during a period of grieving. We can look at the stages of grief as emotions that come and go as natural responses to loss. Rhythms, on the other hand, give us the time and opportunity to understand how our soul is processing the change and to learn how to slowly put the pieces back in order after the loss or change has occurred.
What is a rhythm?
A rhythm is a regular pattern of any kind. For example, breathing is a rhythm. A rhythm is a flow, a pace, or a tempo. It is or is something similar to what we call habits or routines. Rhythms are things you can choose or not choose to do which can bring regularity, predictability, and structure during a time of change.
As we engage with the rhythms and stages of grief, there will be highs and lows giving us a balance to the process of grief. During the time we aren’t grieving, we acquire a reverence for the things that bring us joy. Unfortunately, many of the emotions brought to the surface during loss or change aren’t containable or controllable. This encourages us to lean on the stability and predictability of God’s love, compassion, and presence during these transitional and difficult times.
Grief is consistently inconsistent. Because life is full of loss, disappointment, and change, one thing we can do is learn to be good at handling and riding the waves of grief.
What are helpful rhythms of grief?
A rhythm is a practice we engage in regularly. A helpful rhythm is something that can give us the space to learn valuable life lessons. Adding positive conscious rhythms is a practice of adding more self-care into our lives in times of darkness or heaviness. If we can do this, we learn we’re capable of tolerating the changes and losses that will inevitably come again.
Sometimes we need friends, professionals, and loved ones to walk with us through grief. Regardless, grief is one of those emotions and experiences that can be difficult to manage without the help of God or those we love. Naturally, grief begs us to take the time to reach out to others and ask for help.
The following are some rhythms that can help us to process our grief. When we add these rhythms to our journey, we can become healthier and better able to process grief so that the grief can inform us of what still needs healing. Grief then gives us light to new paths which may relieve some of our suffering and actually improve our life.
Rhythm of Reality
The rhythm of reality is when we acknowledge the truth. Not what we think or want or feel, but what is. We say to ourselves, “I am in grief of this truth today.”
This rhythm allows us to come into and live in reality today and every day. This rhythm is one of acceptance. We can ask ourselves to stay present in our current reality. Acceptance is the main path to transformation. When acceptance is too difficult, we can accept that we don’t want to accept. That’s also living in the truth. We can pose the following questions to ourselves: “What are my mind, emotions, desires, and body expressing right now, today, and how can I accept all that I feel in my heart without rejecting parts of myself?”
Especially after a loss, our mind and, therefore, our feelings will move from the past to the present and into the future. When the mind travels to the past, it wants us to get back to a certain time, place, or experience that we miss. We may become obsessively focused on what we miss, and even though we experience this as intense sadness, it can bring clarity about what we need more of to heal.
The mind will then return to the present where we may feel empty or disconnected, unsatisfied, or insatiable. We may have thought that the past was better than today. Then our mind might jump forward to the future where we can envision experiencing love and joy again.
Wherever your mind is, this is your reality right now, and it’s OK. The past, present, and future all have certain realities. When we’re processing our grief, we can accept them all.
Rhythm of One Thing or One Day at a Time
We can choose to learn all about the stages of grief as a whole, ponder the causes of our grief, and even consider various responses to grief. However, doing so can overwhelm us. That’s because this type of analysis is a way to intellectualize the grieving process instead of processing the feelings. As the old saying goes, “analysis leads to paralysis.” And, in this case, it can keep us from healing a broken heart and moving forward.
When we look at the rhythm of one thing, sometimes described as one day at a time, we can add one life-giving rhythm just for the day. This is when we ask ourselves: “What can I do today? How can I process my grief without being overwhelmed?”
The answer is to say, “Today I will adopt a rhythm of healing, a rhythm of acceptance, a rhythm of honesty, a rhythm of suffering, a rhythm of desire, or a rhythm of letting go, etc.” By adopting this mindset, we allow ourselves to experience grief by making one focus for that day, perhaps according to what we hear from our heart that we need.
Rhythm of Calm
Calming rhythms are very good for us in that they can bring us balance and serenity. However, when we’re in a state of shock, depression, loneliness, shame, guilt, loss, anger, resentment, or anxiety, resistance can wash through us like waves of turbulence. The good news is we can learn to remain calm to balance the distress located in our heart and soul.
Physical symptoms of agitation, aches, pains, and loss of energy come unannounced. This can make us feel insecure and unstable. But the more we calmly seek the peace and stability of God, the more we can sense a return or renewal towards clarity and a gradual feeling of hope to carry us forward.
It’s when we can affirm these emotions exist that we can see how they’re helping us to move into deeper realms of personal intimacy. If we can just be with the grief and moment by moment acknowledge its presence, it will calmly transform. If we continue to fight the feelings or run away from our truth, we can end up frazzled and stressed because the feelings will still be there when we stop.
The “rhythm of calm” begins in the breath. The English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning a breath. We can look at our breath as Spirit. God’s Spirit is in our heart, waiting to comfort, heal, and guide us forward. We can ride the breath to our heart to receive more Spirit. Conscious, slow, and deep breathing releases a relaxation response in the body, calming our thoughts and emotions. When our grief seems overwhelming, we can focus on our breath and then surrender to the unconditional love of God found in our heart.
This rhythm can be practiced in a variety of ways. A simple practice of being still, taking a nap, engaging in conscious breathing or breathwork, journaling, praying, and having meditative moments can reconnect you to your breath and God’s Spirit. These practices can provide calming relief and are life-giving
Rhythm of Music
A musical rhythm is a pattern of sound, silence, and words in a song. In music theory, rhythm refers to the recurrence of the play between the notes and the rests in between. Music can help us find those pauses, rest times, and uplifting messages that, in turn, can help us to process our grief in a healthy way. It can be a way to find balance within your body and in your world.
Certain types of music are designed to bring healing and balance. Slow rhythmic music such as devotional chanting, mantra, and spiritual songs have been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and relieve depression. Additionally, singing can harmonize the cells of your body through vibration by releasing a cascade of positive chemicals from your brain.
Chanting or singing is a way to break up old patterns in your mind and put you in the present moment to give you a feeling that all is well here and now. There are many types of music that can nurture the heart and release the trauma and help you heal. Take the time to sing, listen, and relax to your favorite music. Music lifts and elevates our spirit, giving temporary relief from the heaviness of grief.
Rhythm of Resistance, Acceptance, and Letting Go
We can and need to identify the areas where we have resistance to reality. Resistance is our soul’s way to maintain control. During grief, we often resist accepting the loss and the emotions associated with it. We need to take our time, but eventually, when we’re ready, we must accept the loss and let go of what was so that we can live a full life now and in the future. When we move from resistance to acceptance, we surrender to faith and trust in God’s plan.
When we’re ready to accept and then let go of the belief that life was better before, we’re showing signs of adapting to the change. We begin to identify what we value. We move toward becoming more and move out of the small isolated place where grief sometimes makes us hide. This temporary inward dwelling is there to keep us safe for, at times, we feel as if the slightest thing might push us over into total despair.
When we finally make the move or take the risk of letting go, we move forward into reclaiming and reinstating new forms of what was lost. This is life-expanding. We’re called forward into ever-increasing amounts of love and must have the courage to create new bridges towards our dreams, connections, belonging, security, and what brings us more joy.
Rhythm of Becoming Unstuck
We can get stuck in regret, recurring memories, and comparing the past to the present. If we don’t allow ourselves to process grief, this can lead to an overall sense of being stuck and unable to move forward into happiness once again. We might think life was just better in the past, so we might as well stay there. This thinking can cause us to become stuck, slowing us down to barely any movement.
When this occurs, our soul calls us to stop all striving. The Bible tells us to “Be Still and Know That I am God (Ps. 46:10),” and this is the perfect opportunity. When we can no longer find a way forward, the only way out can be to sit still with God until the tears start to flow and flow. Tears represent all emotions: anger, sadness, regret, guilt and of course grief.
Tears are God’s living water bringing new life. If we’re crying and weeping, it means that we’re moving forward and becoming unstuck. Our broken or cold heart is beginning to mend itself as it pours out the pain and suffering too intense for us to hold inside. We must let the tears flow and the heart to express. This is a sign we’re not stuck and that courage is around the corner. Our hearts are healing and becoming stronger through the processing and releasing of tears.
Conclusion: Finding Meaning in Grief
If we try to avoid the stages or rhythms of grief, the healing process may become blocked and we risk remaining in the past, unable to move on and enjoy life again. Many of us look for “closure” after a loss. Closure only comes by acceptance of the situation and finding the deep meaning behind why this loss was so painful and then having the courage to look for ways to bring more of those situations back into our life.
This is a way that we can transform grief into a hopeful experience. Finding meaning is like a roadmap into our heart, where we can remember those happy feelings and emotions and realize that even though the situation may be different now, the feelings still exist inside of us. We can learn how to move forward in an honest way that honors our right to live a happy, fulfilled, and meaningful life.
Grief is an integral part of the human experience. Some say that if we never know the depths of grief, we can never understand or begin to appreciate moments of joy, beauty, and peacefulness. The stages and rhythms of grief can provide us with clarity during the confusion brought on by grief.
Turns out Charlie Brown was right when he would repeatedly say, “Good grief.” There’s goodness to grief. It’s an intense time of transformation. A clearing and purifying of the heart. A clarification of what we truly value. An appreciation of the life God gave us.
If you would like to learn more about how to improve your life through an approach of feeding the whole person, body, soul, and spirit, follow me on my blog, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and Medium. If you would like to work with me, schedule a session today.
Tonyah Dee has studied the Bible and wisdom traditions of the world for the last 30 years and teaches about finding ways to increase inner strength, stability, and confidence through practicing spiritual disciplines and healthy habits daily. Tonyah is a nutritionist, registered dietitian (R.D.), and earned her B.S. from Loma Linda University. She also holds certifications in Christ-centered life coaching, equine therapy, and meditation. Tonyah has been published in Scary Mommy, MSN, The Mighty, Mantra Wellness, CoveyClub, Thrive Global. Follow Tonyah on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Medium.