Repost: Love Was Love That Night…Until Hate Walked In: Mindful Grieving After Tragedy

This blog post originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

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I feel extraordinary heartbroken at the news of the shooting death of at least 49 human beings who came together in a place they felt safe; a place whose four walls bore witness to love without its shackles.  The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was a place in which lovers could hold hands and kiss, to revel in a feeling of belonging without the still all-to-common threats of discrimination, alienation, and condescension. Inside those doors love was love, until hate walked in.

Hate walked in and obliterated this sanctuary, tearing apart lives that he thought were less worthwhile than his own, and infiltrated the heart and soul of a community and greater world who has had to fight for its birthright; to love and be loved.  This is what hate does. He is at once insidious and blatantly hostile, unrelenting, unforgiving, and lacks a conscience. He is heartless and mindless, self-serving and sadistic to the core.

As I grapple with the way hate snuffed the life out of so many vibrant beings this past Sunday, I grieve.  I am at once angry, anxious, sad, and shocked. You see, tragedies like these reverberate in the hearts and minds of much of humanity, as it rips through the basic foundation that we lay our trust upon. That is, we don’t expect people to just shoot other human beings in cold blood because of who they are and whom they love.

I am struggling with how to grieve along side you. My own journey of grief includes humbly offering all of us some words about grief from a psychological perspective, and providing five ways to grieve mindfully.

What Grief Is and Isn’t

Psychologically speaking, according to Dr. Kubler-Ross (1969), “Grief is an emotional response to loss.”

This emotional response is conceptualized as a non-linear expression of different stages of feeling states including Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance (aka: “DABDA”).

Biologically speaking, grief is a homeostatic process, a journey that our mind, brain, and body need to engage in, to best recover from the trauma of a loss. This is an evolutionary need, since attachment and connection to others is embedded within our limbic circuitry. Yes, whether we are conscious of it or not, or like it or not, relationships deeply imprint upon our neural circuitry.

Grief is not, by any means, a one-size-fits-all kind of process. In fact, it is a uniquely individual process that often feels amorphous and difficult to capture with words. When it comes to grief, there is no “normal” or typical way to go through it, and despite what some believe, in my opinion, there is no “normal” time period allotted for grief.

It takes a boat-load of self-compassion to allow oneself to feel whatever it is you are feeling at any given time, without judgment, without comparison to another’s explicit portrayal of their own process. In this way, to grieve is to be mindful of our own thoughts and feelings.

While there is no one “right” way to grieve, to actually grieve is essential for our ability to employ our human capacity to find a renewed sense of meaning. Grief elicits resilience and the capacity to continue to hold this tragedy in our hearts and minds, while still forging forward with purpose and direction.

Five ways to Grieve Mindfully

  1. Accept your feelings: Allow yourself to feel what you feel at any given moment, with a sense of self-compassion, and without judgment.
  2. Express your feelings: Just as important as accepting your feelings, is expressing them in a way that is helpful to you. Journaling, talking about the experience, scrapbooking, or dancing, for example, are helpful ways to process grief instead of allowing the feelings to stay stuck.
  3. Reach out: During this time, it is important to reach out in multiple ways. Reach out for guidance from a spiritual counselor or a psychologist. Reach out to share stories of your loved one with others. Reach out to offer support to other grievers. Find a balance between being with yourself, and being with others, but ultimately, reach out – don’t isolate.
  4. Continue to take care of yourself and others. Living life while grieving often feels like scaling a mountain. Grieving takes energy and can often feel draining. As much as possible during this tough time, continue to eat well, exercise, and maintain wellness practices.
  5. Celebrate life: It is important through the grief process to keep the memory of the tragic incident alive in some way that inspires healing, but also reflects and honors your mourning process. This can include donating to a charity, meditating on behalf of a loved one or a community, and even planting a tree in honor of the tragedy.

 

At times like this, many of us are also challenged in our own grieving process to try to explain the unexplainable to others in our life. I, therefore, invite you to also read my post: Five Strategies to Help Us Help Our Children And Ourselves In Times of Trauma.

Today, together as one world and one nation, we are grieving. Here are some resources so that we may process this horrific tragedy together. You are not alone.

Orlando:

  • Victim Service Center of Central Florida

https://www.victimservicecenter.org/

  •  APG Health Behavioral Healthcare

http://www.apghealth.com/

  •  Psychology Today List of Support and Grief Groups for Victims and Families

https://groups.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_results.php?city=Orlando&spec=14

NYC:

  • Center for Bereavement

http://www.centerforbereavement.com/

  • NYC Innovations in Mental Health List of Bereavement Groups

http://newyorkcity.ny.networkofcare.org/mh/services/subcategory.aspx?tax=PN-8100.1000

  • Psychology Today List of Support and Grief Groups for Victims and Families

https://groups.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_results.php?state=NY&spec=14

 

If you don’t see what you are looking for, and need a referral to a psychologist or a support network during this time, please directly reach out to me with your name and a brief paragraph regarding the type of help you are seeking.  I will help you find a safe space to grieve. Please contact me at DrWolkin@BrainCurves.com.

With pure love for all my fellow mourners,

Jennifer Wolkin, PhD

Hi, my name is Dr. Jennifer Wolkin, and I am a licensed clinical psychologist, writer, speaker and professor. I specialize in both health and neuro psychology and my passion is the pursuit of holistic wellness; mind, body, brain, spirit! Learn more about my training and experience.