Navigating Grief with Chantel

Photo by Ruslan Valeev via Unsplash
As I sit here and write this I contemplate how vulnerable am I willing to be? But then I am reminded that it is only in the moments I have struggled the greatest that someone’s vulnerability is what helped me through it. I hope you can find these weekly writing from my heart an opportunity to pivot your life and be inspired to reach for more. I do not have all the answers, I fail more than I succeed, and a lot of people do not like what I have to say. But for you my friend, I write these. I see your struggle and we are in this together.
I started writing about grief a month ago and I got one paragraph in (since deleted). This topic is all encompassing for me and I navigate it every day. It’s hard. I have also learned some very important things about myself and how I cope with grief. Every human processes and copes with grief differently so my journey may not be anything like yours. Grief is a part of me. Not like a big gigantic heaviness hovering over me. I don’t think I could exactly describe what it is like in one sentence. There has been beauty though. A lot can be learned through grief.
I have had many unique interactions with grief and how it has shown up in my life has been in every form. Loss of a parent, grandparent, cat, job, boyfriend, friend, loss of money, loss of identity, loss of health and ability, loss of what was, loss of the future, and I could go on and on. When I really got to know grief was in January 2017 when my dad died. It was sudden and very ugly. There for sure was trauma. As I could write probably forever about how this moment changed my life I will keep it to a couple points. This is what I learned in that season that I continue to apply to my life when grief shows up.
REST – oh man, if this wasn’t the biggest lesson I don’t know what was. I used to believe rest was for lazy people. I would cringe at the thought of willingly giving up more of my time to being unconscious and not getting shit done. But then my dad died. The well of what used to be my will and determination was a fog. There was no energy for anything but survival and even then I would forget to eat or just simply be unable to care for myself. The emotions that come with grief consume your energy. Maybe that sounds dumb to some of you who haven’t had your world rocked on its axis. I had to learn to make space for emotions and allow them a place in my life. If they came up during an appointment with a guest while I was at work doing hair, I had to allow them to be present in that appointment. It was hard and felt messy at the time. You can’t cram those feelings down, especially sadness. It will suck you dry. But anyway, I’m sure if you are reading this you know exactly what I mean. There is no capacity for anything else in life than just doing what you can. So what is the answer to that? Rest. Lost of rest. The only way through handling and processing these emotions is allowing space for them (feeling them) and then resting to fill and repair the well where your will and your determination live. You wake up tired, you drink a thousand cups of coffee, you cry, you sleep and you do it all over again. Eventually it gets easier. It takes more energy to avoid and deny these big emotions which eventually will lead to burnout or depression which will require more rest anyway. If I feel more tired it tells me that I am needing more rest and likely processing a difficult time that requires more rest. It’s become a natural alarm system in my body to do the work in whichever season I am in. If you are tired, make sleep a priority.

“But it turns out that sleep is a period during which the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life—which are closely linked to quality of life,” says Johns Hopkins

THE STORY WE TELL OURSELVES – this is such an interesting concept I learned through experiencing trauma that has also helped me with grief (because it was traumatic). The concept is that when you experience trauma your brain gets on a loop. It revisits the scene of the crime over and over and over and we tell ourselves a story about what “happened to us.” When I experienced a self made accidental house fire in my home I read a really good article about exactly this. Find a new narrative. I had been telling myself things like “if I hadn’t been right there to put it out we could have died.” And repeating to myself all the horrible things I felt and experienced around this event. After reading the article I was challenged to look at this event differently and find a new narrative. I told myself “you had all the life skills to save your family from this fire.” Everything was fine, I got the fire out and everyone was safe. That was the actual reality once I processed the narrative in my head. Finding the new narrative actually helped me move on from the event. So when it comes to grief it is hard to get to a mental state where a person can look objectively at their life. Yes you lost something or someone. Yes life is different. All those feelings are real. But what’s also true is that you are fine and will be ok. You have your whole life in front of you. Find the narrative of your life that propels you forward. When my dad died I eventually found the narrative that I could use it to help others through their difficult times. That the loss of my dad changes me and taught me things I could have never learned in any other way. I am thankful for that. It took a lot longer with the loss of my dad to find the narrative, accept the point of view that “this happened, it sucked, but you are a better person now and your whole life to live still.”
Now, let’s just acknowledge for a minute that there is a season through grief that requires a person to wallow, go dark and live in self pity. This is also healthy. Finding a new narrative is a tool for when you are ready to use it. There is no right or wrong time for any one person to find their way through grief.
OWNING IT – lastly I want to discuss how important it is to embrace your life journey and allow it to be apart of who you are. It’s empowering really. If I made a list of everything that I had once felt happened to me. It would be daunting. My life is full of hard things. Really hard things. But beside all those hard things are jewels. Things I learned and part of me that grew. There is so much value in these lessons for me and I have learned to truly appreciate the hard things (after all the stages of grief are repeatedly processed). I imagine all of these things I have learned to be my tools for life and they make me stronger. Said another way, these moments that are the hardest things we do create the most growth in our character and are like jewels we add to our “crown of character.”
Imagine two carpenters going to work at a construction site. The first is a human who has gone to a constructions site 10,000 times. They have a tool belt full of used items. Every part of this person speaks experience and knowledge and its obvious when looking at them. They even look approachable as if they would be eager to help you with your question. The second human at that site is there for the first time. No tools but they have the crispest clothes and a bright smile. They came with their safety hat because it was listed in what was needed to show up to work. Who of these two people do you think would work more efficiently? Who of these people would get the job done right with little guidance? It’s the first human who has all the experience, they used tools and the knowledge of where they have been and what they have done to do the job efficiently. In fact they are likely the one training this new hire on their first day of work.
You see, we are so caught up in the appearance of a perfect life. We are drawn to the shiny hat and crisp clothes because for some flip flopped reason we associate more value with it. For a lot of us we stack our accomplishments and assign worthiness with how tall the stack is. Society and our upbringings has focused us to assign worth to perfection and superficial lives. We are expected to be “fine” or “all good” and be able to manage everything in our lives like roots. Every human will experience loss. They will loose a job, a marriage, a person and so much more. It’s part of life. It’s the part of life no one wants to talk about. No one is expected to have their shit together. Its messy and it takes a lot of work. Grief is something no one should have to navigate alone.
There used to be a time when humans admired their ancestors. When wounds were valued and scars were celebrated. We need to get back to that place where our difficult journeys are THE GOLD in life. Where owning where we have been is important and honored. We have to shed all the shame of this idea of perfection and find anew what is truly important. Only loss can teach us this.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you feel encouraged or inspired please share this with your friends. You never know who may need words of encouragement today.
-Chantel Funk