The Grief Recovery Method Healed My Heart...And MoreFeb 03, 2023
By Kim English Hanlon
This blog reviews how grief can impact so many parts of our wellness, and how the Grief Recovery Method® (GRM) helps many to heal, and more than “just” their broken hearts. If you would like to read more about the layers of loss Ilana shared her experience losing her dad, and Kim separately wrote about the layers of sibling loss as well.
The Grief Recovery Method is an 8-week evidence-based approach that has been used by thousands of grievers to move beyond the pain of their loss. We are honored to be part of the GRM community, and to help others along their grief journey.
The Grief Recovery Method healed my heart...and more
There is a famous statue, “Mélancolie”, by Albert György that exemplifies how it feels to grieve - the heaviness of stone, the emptiness inside, the wondering at the pain, the raw edges and the vulnerable feeling common in grief. I remember feeling as if the death of my brother left a literal hole in my trunk. The hole, for me, represented both the pain, and also the loss of such a key person in my life.
While grief is emotional at its core, there is no separating our heart from our body, mind, or spirit. Each component of our wellness is interconnected. Mental illness will impact how we feel about life events, grief can influence anxiety and depression, and we all can relate to how stress can lead to physical discomfort - for some it is tight shoulders, while others may experience headaches or heartburn. The stress hormone, cortisol, has a deleterious effect on our body and immune system when we experience chronic stress (although cortisol can have positive effects in acute situations, long-term the impacts turn negative).
Two years after the gutting loss of my brother, the Grief Recovery Method healed my heart, but also my mind, body, spirit, and relationships.
Grief had been weighing down my mind
Before the Grief Recovery Method, it was hard to focus at work, and it took so much mental and thus even physical energy to concentrate to avoid making a mistake. Grief consumed my thoughts, as did analyzing how I should act. I had a lot of anxiety, both with the social and work-related worries, and also with “waiting for the other shoe to drop”, i.e. the next loss to happen. All of this is very common in grief. And on top of this, I had what felt like a recording stuck on repeat in my mind, recounting every loss I had experienced and how vulnerable I felt. Not only did this keep me in victim mode, it fed anger towards others not noticing, and also was *exhausting* to “listen” to constantly.
After the Grief Recovery Method, it felt much easier to focus. GRM helped me “Close the loop” so to speak, on my unresolved grief - you can read more about the specifics in The Many Layers of Sibling Loss. Consequently, I was able to stop that recording that was stuck looping in my brain before, thus freeing my mind (and heart!) for other thoughts. I felt like I could relax into life, and no longer held my breath waiting for the next traumatic loss.
Healing my grief healed my relationships
By healing my grief I was able to free up that mental energy to be more present. I was not analyzing (as much) how I was showing up in the world as a griever. This helped me be more present with friends, colleagues, and family.
I also felt I had renewed access to my relationship with Steven. Relationships do not end in death. Healing my incomplete grief with Steven and interrupting my tendency to both enshrine in some ways and bedevil in others allowed me a more accurate reflection on our relationship when Steven was alive, and also gave me access to happy memories without them immediately going to the heartbreak and trauma of his addiction and death.
It is true that one of your most important relationships is with yourself. My healing journey included insights into myself, and gave me more compassion and grace to my grief experience. In healing my grief I also healed my relationship with myself.
This an iterative process- we each continually re-discover who we are, and life events can shape that understanding of ourselves. Those years of feeling disconnected from myself and others, and struggling to connect with others, left me unsure of what it meant to be me. I felt less confident and still had aspects of my grief for Steven interfere with my relationships. Grief is such a non-linear journey, and even if the Grief Recovery Method opened the door to my healing, I had to revisit these tools GRM provided so I could continue to peel the layers of grief, and also navigate new ups and downs in life. For example, in the four years after Steven died, I started graduate school, was engaged and then married, left my corporate job, graduated graduate school, got pregnant, had some health scares, and became a parent. Each of these brought change on their own, but they all also built upon the grief I had for my brother. Grief is cumulative and cumulatively negative.
Grief created so much tension in my body
Even before my brother died, I dealt with shoulder tension and ergonomic issues at work. I was even on my second round of short-term disability leave from work the month before Steven died as I couldn’t even hold a piece of paper in my right hand.
Some of these symptoms worsened after Steven died, and a few months later I also started to have back pain. I attributed this to more ergonomic issues at work. While I know that was legitimate, I was surprised when my back pain disappeared over the weeks that I was in the Grief Recovery Method program. By the end my shoulders and back felt better than they had in years. I was also able to sleep better and my overall energy improved.
It really felt like magic. I was so excited both to have the physical relief, but also seeing the power of healing grief to also heal the body.
Of course, there was the emotional healing
Grief and loss is an emotional experience. My world was turned upside down at the moment I learned Steven had died. The deaths of my grandparents, friend, and dog had felt like holes in the tapestry of my life, and then when Steven died it felt like I had gaping holes and the design of the tapestry was no longer recognizable. I felt tattered.
I couldn’t talk about Steven without crying, and spent months crying any time I was alone in the lab at work. For years I cried most times I was in the car, and recognized how it really wasn’t that safe for me to drive while tears flowed profusely.
And even when I wasn’t crying, I felt I wasn’t able or even allowed to be happy. I felt others would judge me if I smiled, as if that was now illegal as a mourner. I do not live in a culture of wearing black in mourning (and, in reflection, it actually sounds nice, to a degree, to have that tangible tie and external marker of your grief by wearing black), but it felt like I definitely had to wear a somber face. This was self-imposed. Again, my world had just been ripped apart and it was hard to make sense of life. So yeah, laughing or smiling felt strange. My dear life-long friend Erica still reminds me of when I told her I thought I would never laugh again. Thank G-d that I was able to work through those feelings of guilt and confusion as I went through the Grief Recovery Method. I am happy to say I laugh and smile just fine now, guilt-free. And I know that this honors my brother, too. I will always be sad that he died, and I can also cherish that I got to know him for nearly 26 years, and am honored to carry on his legacy.
I also had emotional relief knowing that I had tools for moving forward. I utilize The Grief Recovery Method regularly. It has helped me heal incomplete relationships with other loved ones who have died, several relationships with living people, and even abstract or intangible losses like my identity and body changes.
I feel the hugest gift of the Grief Recovery Method was that it validated my feelings. I was able to more wholly appreciate the pain I had experienced, and feel validated in the whole array of feelings that accompanied my losses. This was so healing, and I can still feel that peace in my heart that washed over me when first going through the action steps of GRM.
With the emotional healing came spiritual healing as well
This peace is also spiritual. I am not a religious person (anymore, at a time I was), but I am very spiritual. And I believe all of us have a spiritual connection in just how we relate to each other and to anything larger than ourselves. The ability to be at peace in my heart, and to smile and reconnect with others healed my spirit as well.
I also felt I had a new focus of my life's purpose. I had already committed myself ten years prior to helping others in wellness, and the combination of my masters work and my experience with the Grief Recovery Method inspired me to help people heal their own grief. I saw how it helped me with so many aspects of my own health, that I knew deep down I could help others do the same.
I was set on the path of rediscovering myself outside of my grief and loss. Funnily enough, helping others with their own grief allows me to do that. I get out of my own head, and am inspired by their healing and growth. I also learn about myself from each unique person I work with.
A Grief Recovery Institute founder, Russell Friedman, shared with me that grief is at the base of all wellness. I now understand that and see it at play all the time.
Healing Grief Brought me Peace
I always share the visceral visualization I had for much of the first two years following Steven’s death. I felt like I was riding a bike on a narrow cliff surrounded by fog. It took all my energy and focus to avoid falling off the cliff into the unknown foggy abyss. Sometimes that seemed tempting. It was heartbreaking to feel that way and to feel so lost, without hope of feeling different.
The GRM allowed me to breathe deeply and set down that metaphorical bike. I was able to see sunshine. It sounds cheesy, but it felt so intense, both the fog and its lifting. Now, there were still fog patches, but it wasn’t a 24/7 grief weather forecast. And with this peace I also felt hope.
We are passionate about our work having seen the profound impacts it continues to have in our lives. Our physical, mental and spiritual health are all interconnected. When we are hurting in one facet of our life, it affects the others. GRM really helped me to find the balance that I was lacking. If you are needing more peace and hope, you can schedule a complimentary consultation. We would be honored to connect and see if we are a good fit to support you in your own fog. We believe you, too, can experience relief for your heartbreak, but also in your mind, body, and spirit.
Develop your personalized grief support action plan with our "Grief & Gratitude" workbook.
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