5 Grief Therapy Exercises to Help the Grieving Process
Robin D. Webb
Before providing practices such as grief therapy to help a person through the grieving process, it is first necessary to define grief and loss. This will help people to transition through the grieving process once they have gained an understanding of their feelings, emotions, sleep, appetite, and other areas of their lives.
Grief and Loss Defined
“Grief and loss” are natural responses to losing someone or something important to you such as a loved one dying, a relationship ending, or you lost a job. Grief and loss can also take place after someone has received a diagnosis of a serious illness or some other significant loss. Grief is an individual’s emotional response to the loss of someone or something.
Some emotions and feelings typically associated with grief and loss include shock, numbness, anger, or denial; especially if the loss or tragedy occurred unexpectedly. When you are mourning the loss of a loved one, you may find yourself desperately asking the question: “Why did this terrible thing happen to such a good person you may ask, or how can I get help in dealing with my grief?”
These are pressing questions, particularly if your loved one has passed away because of terminal illness, suicide, or as the result of a fatal accident. In these circumstances, you may find yourself wanting to place blame on someone or something to be able to pinpoint why this happened.
The individual might think that placing blame or finding some rational reason for the loss will either alleviate or eliminate the grief. However, spending your hours seeking answers to impossible questions will inevitably lead you down a spiraling path to total exhaustion and depression.
While there may be no answers that will ever satisfy your soul, there is hope, help, and healing through the process and practice of grief therapy.
It is also quite common to throw your anger and pain at God, in a desperate cry for help. You may shout out, “Why, God?” but you may not be able to hear or see God’s answer in that moment of despair. The noise of anger can be ever-present in mourning. It is a common part of the process, but it can be hard to navigate because it can drown out God’s voice in His word.
Grief can tempt a person to leave God, which seems cruel because the sovereign God is the ultimate source of comfort. His guiding voice and steady hand can be hard to sense when you are asking all the wrong questions from a place of pain and anger.
What do you do with the insatiable hunger for an answer? How do you turn off the radio that haunts you every night with this question, just as you are about to drift off into the relief of sleep? How can you save your relationship with God, after crying out in despair? The only answer is working hard.
The Five Stages of Grief
Grief is not a linear, predictable, controllable, or convenient process. If you go to the self-help section of a bookstore, you will find countless books on overcoming grief. That is because the grieving process is a unique and deeply personal experience.
You will never find someone whose experience of grief is precisely the same as yours. There may be similarities (which will feel like a breath of fresh air), but your grief experience is unique to you and your relationship with your deceased loved one. This can make the process of grieving extremely isolating. No one can tell you what to expect, or how you are going to feel from one day to the next.
If you are someone who needs to be in control, the experience of grief can be particularly frustrating. Articles about “The Five Stages of Grief” can teach you to identify and name your emotional experience, but they cannot give you self-control or the ability to predict what tomorrow will be like.
While the Five Stages of Grief are helpful to know and explore, they are not definitive, cyclical, or linear. If you were to put the average person’s experience of grief onto paper, it would look like a Jackson Pollock painting: there is no rhyme or reason to it.
Grief can show up strong on some days, and then you can feel free of grief for weeks at a time. One day, several years after your loved one has made their journey to Heaven, you can wake up in shock again. You can wake up looking at your cell phone, wondering why Dad has not called in a few days, only to then realize, with a sip of coffee, that your father passed away twelve years ago.
So how do you survive this roller coaster of feelings and emotions? By doing the work.
“Doing the Work” with Grief Therapy
What does “doing the work” mean? It can take on many different forms. As previously stated, every person is different. Therefore, everyone’s needs during times of grief are different. The process of building a personal toolbox for grieving is an ongoing, daily practice.For some, traditional one-on-one grief therapy can be a good place to start. For others, that may be an overwhelming starting point, but group counseling may be a good fit. There is something very cathartic about going to a weekly grief group meeting. It takes dedication and courage, but if you stick with your group, you will begin to feel less alone.
Your experience will be normalized, one week at a time, as you listen to other men and women share about their day-to-day experiences with grief. You might pick up some additional tools for coping with your loss from your therapy sessions.
Your counselor or fellow attendees may say something that resonates with you, and you might be encouraged to try an unusual way of approaching your journey with grief. You may have a change in perspective after hearing other people’s stories.
While the process of sharing your story is daunting, group counseling and one-on-one grief therapy are the best places to be brave. Your counselor will be sure to moderate your discussions with affirming language that stays away from comparison. Boundaries will be in place to protect you. It will be a safe space for sharing your true, hidden feelings about what you are thinking and experiencing as you mourn the loss of your loved one.
In time, you will discover that there is magic in courageous communication and a like-minded community. It takes work to participate that first time and to come back the fourth time. But you will notice a difference – a lightness – in the car ride home after that first session or meeting. Your breath will deepen, and the joyful tears will flow again. Each week, the numbness of your grief will fade away a bit more.
Five Practices for Dealing with Grief
In addition to grief counseling, some daily practices may also be helpful as you are dealing with grief. Often, we think that only grand gestures (like going to therapy) can be effective. However, growth can also happen because of tiny changes to your daily life. See what works for you. No matter what, the way to start is by doing something.
Just one new practice can be effective. And then you can add on something else tomorrow. Or next week. Be gentle with yourself. This work takes courage, self-love, faith, and time. Grief can get in the way, and that is okay. You are allowed all the time you need. But every morning, you can try something new until you find your way through.
Five Exercises to Help Your Grieving Process
1. Five-minute Gratitude Journal
Set a timer for five minutes and attempt to write down three things for which you are grateful. When the timer goes off, give thanks to God.
2. Breath Break
Whenever you feel emotionally overwhelmed, stop, sit, and breathe. Sit down wherever you can in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and count ten full breaths. Try to only focus on the breath and your counting. This will help your body to regulate and reset, as opposed to activating its fight or flight response system. Meditation does not have to be fancy. There is no right way to do it. Just breathe.
3. Mood Music
If you have access to Spotify, Pandora (free), Apple Music, or YouTube (free), you have access to hours of music therapy support. Explore these platforms for mood-related playlists, free meditations, or music that will bring back happy memories of you and your loved one.
All you need is a mat (or a towel, or just some grass in a park), your body, and your breath for this one. Find a space that is inspiring to you, whether that is out in nature or a quiet spot with natural light and green plants in your home. Release all your tension, gently breathe in and out, connect with God, and give thanks for a body that can move.
5. Green Thumb
Plant something and watch it grow. Whether it is a potted plant, or seeds your plant in your garden, take care of something and watch how it brings beauty into the world. Let hope grow within you again.
Grief Therapy in Tacoma and Puyallup
If you are looking for grief therapy in Tacoma and Puyallup or the surrounding areas, please contact our administrative staff at Seattle Christian Counseling. We are here to help you with the grieving process as you continue to mourn the loss of your loved one. Hope and help are available to you as you transition along this difficult journey. Please contact us today.
“Sunset”, Courtesy of Stories, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Heart in Hands”, Courtesy of Marek Studzinzki, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fly With Me”, Courtesy of Mohamed Nohassi, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hope”, Courtesy of Ronak Valobobhai, Unsplash.com, CC0 License