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  • Kayla Erenthal

Grief is... Exhausting

Grief is exhausting. Our memories flood our brain multiple times a day, even the smallest things. And memories are triggers of grief because we’re reminded of our loss. When we grieve, our memories also remind us of the grief, itself, because it’s such a big part of our life. So, when memory after memory and emotion after emotion flood us, we’re overwhelmed and left exhausted. 

Feeling strong emotions are draining to the body and the mind but acknowledging them is the key, even if ignoring it might seem easier in the moment. Because there are so many emotions that flood in with grief, try to focus on just one emotion. Doing that makes your mind concentrate on one thing, and when your brain is busy concentrating it becomes more occupied with that rather than focusing on the unsettling feelings of all the emotions. 

Sometimes, you might even feel it in your body – a physical sensation – before being able to recognize or define the grief, that emotion. This is because when our minds are overwhelmed our body steps in to absorb the stress. So, if you start to tune into your body’s signals you can start to tune into your emotions. Being with my mother while on her journey with cancer, and also after she passed away, I would feel the grief in my stomach because the grief was so overwhelming that I couldn’t even begin to process it at that time. It bypassed my mind and went straight to my body. If I physically feel stress, it’s in my stomach so that’s where it went for me. You might feel a heaviness in your chest, a tingling in your back, or a fog in your head. If you notice that you feel a physical sensation when grief comes in, try to tune into that physical sensation. Locate it in your body – where in my body am I feeling it? And then focus on, what is it trying to tell me? By doing this, you use the physical sensation to lead you to the grief, the emotion. When doing this, try not to focus on why you’re feeling a physical sensation because focusing on why tends to lead us on a different path away from the feeling itself. 

Sometimes you might feel numb because it’s just too much to feel anything else. If you tend to feel numb with grief, try to tune into your thoughts or behaviors because those can also guide you to the emotions or physical sensations that are related to it. If you have a hard time doing that, try to recognize the related emotions to the numbness itself instead of just staying numb, so that you stay with a focus of emotional awareness. 

There’s no quick fix to grief and ignoring it is not the way to live, even if it might seem easier in the moment. Emotions can be very painful to navigate, so, many times we choose to run, hide or numb. But that doesn’t allow for us to live a life that’s full because we can only live fully if we feel fully. And that includes the uncomfortable feelings, which we don’t like to feel. I find that awareness is the catalyst for healing because when we start to become more aware of ourselves, we’re able to heal ourselves better. So, make time to grieve, to feel the emotions related to your loss, with curiosity and compassion, and not judgment. 

All that being said, I recognize the importance of sometimes putting the grief aside because it feels so overwhelming and we need to learn how to navigate life in this new way. Not by ignoring the grief, but by acknowledging the emotions that come up for you with grief, and consciously saying “you’re too much for me right now but I’ll come back to you soon. I see you and recognize you but in this very moment I just need to get by.” You acknowledge it, but you also recognize what you need in this moment. I find that when navigating grief, it’s about moving the grief to where you need it so that you can live. For me it’s not a wave of grief that I have to ride, but rather it’s up to me how I live with the grief and that means moving the grief to where I need it. 

Sometimes, it can be hard to do that because we feel like we’re not honoring the other emotions, which are the memories of the person we lost, and that can make us feel bad, even guilty, like we’re disregarding the person we lost or whatever the loss may be. Sometimes, when I think of my mother, it’s too much and sadness overwhelms me and exhausts me, and I know if I continue to think about her, my stomach will hurt because my body will absorb the emotional pain because it’s too much for my mind. So, I have to not think about her, even though I started thinking about her because I miss her, and thinking about her makes her closer. But I have to not let grief overwhelm me in that moment and I have to do something else to distract me from thinking about her. And that’s so sad. 

I’m just trying to live. You’re just trying to live or just get through a moment. You’re trying to figure out how to live with all these jumbles of emotions, and it sucks so bad because instead of the person being here, we get this shit instead. 

I feel you. Most of grief is horrible. And I say most because sometimes grief is nice when we have a lovely memory of our loss and it makes us smile. But most of the time, grief is painful. So, be gentle with yourself and give yourself grace as you learn this new way of living. And reach out for support. I know it’s hard to do, sometimes, but it’s not weak to seek help. It takes strength and determination to reach out and it’s so worth it when you do. 

Grief is hard and there’s no quick fix, so start small. Ease into this process and find what works for you. And remember that starting with awareness is the key. 


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