The Framework of Restorative Grief
The Framework of Restorative Grief

The Framework of Restorative Grief

Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 72, titled “The Framework of Restorative Grief.” This week we are going to dig a little deeper into the model on which Restorative Grief is founded. There are many wonderful theories and frameworks in the mental health world to work with, but I felt each of them just a bit lacking. So when I first launched my practice, I wanted to offer a framework with nuance and movement available to each person while still creating meaning no matter where you land in your grief work. As it turned out, this framework is what helped me realize where healing could be found in my own journey, so I truly hope it offers the same to you.

When you woke up this morning, you already knew you were a whole person. Maybe you felt a little out of sorts – physically drained, mentally exhausted, emotionally fatigued, or spiritually indifferent. The most frequent statement I hear from grievers is that they feel broken. Like a shell of their former selves, without a clear hope that one day, they’ll return to themselves and feel whole again.

And while you may feel broken, that’s far from the truth. Much in the same way we might feel sad, we are living out a very commonly tread path of human experience. Sadness, brokenheartedness, joy, laughter – they’re all part of this life experiment and all are necessary parts to the whole, as well.

So in the same way, experiencing a sense of brokenness allows us to notice where in our whole selves we are misaligned. We can ask ourselves what feels off. It’s not just that we’re grieving and everything is up in the air. That nebulous way of describing our grief experience is what led us to feeling out of control and stuck in the first place. We need language to work with our grief so we can truly learn to process or metabolize or integrate or internalize the needs and truths of our story into who we are becoming.

If you’re a little overwhelmed right now, join the club. That was a mouthful and I fully relate to the bigness of approaching ourselves when we’re hurting. Where do we even begin?

This is where the framework of Restorative Grief is so helpful because it allows us, even in the middle of our heaviest seasons, to remain aware of each part of our whole selves. Where we start with our own grief support is much like a research project. We tend to spend time asking a lot of questions to soothe and comfort our rational mind. We may also believe that our feelings, emotions, and thoughts all stem from the same wrong beliefs about loss, disallowing us to heal until we get the right answers. And from that, we feel a longing in our souls to reconcile our current truths to the things we used to believe about life and loss. Nothing makes sense and in the middle of all the noise, we still can’t find the right place to begin.

Well I’m a firm believer that to get where we want to go, we have to first know where we are starting. And if I start with a false premise that my feelings, emotions, and thoughts are all jumbled together, it’s no wonder the details don’t make sense. Our whole selves include our mind, our heart, our body, and our spirits. In this framework, the soul encapsulates all of those crucial pieces to express a full manifestation of the miracle of me. I won’t go too far into it, but recently I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on how otherworldly it feels to recognize the science behind atomic composition of a human being. We’re literally made of energy that just so happens to be vibrating at the right frequency to stay together AND we have sentience? Astounding.

But the reason I mention our sentience is that as we age, grieve, eat, move, or use our physical self in any way, we are affecting the way those atoms vibrate together. Denying this would be madness, and yet it’s the first thing we do as grievers. We deny our whole selves by paying more attention to what the emotions or the thoughts need, ignoring what good some physical or spiritual support could offer.

It will be really easy to let your inner shame narrative get noisy right now, so take a moment to remind yourself that you’re learning a new way of thinking and you’re not obligated to do or accept anything I have to say as truth. Your grief journey is wildly unique; this is my take on a helpful framework that can move us away from shame and into intentional healing.

So how do we refrain from denying our whole selves but still give the attention needed to each of our hurting parts? Well, first we define them. I recently heard a world renowned grief expert claiming that emotions and feelings are the same thing; interchangeable in conversation or written form. I pushed back loudly, because while they share characteristics, they are very different. That they are one in the same is common, however, and that is one of the first ways we fail to support ourselves well – we don’t even know what’s going on within us!

Our whole self includes our mind, heart, body, and spirit. Our mind holds our thoughts, our heart expresses our emotions; our bodies experience our feelings, and our spirits engage or disengage with ourself and those around us.

Emotions are quick, automatic, and often unconscious responses to an external stimulus. They’re reactions, and they can affect our mind, body, and spirit before we’ve noticed the change. Emotions (like fear) activate our autonomic nervous systems, either preparing us to calmly address an external influence or freeze and shut down as a response to that external influence.

Our heart and mind work quickly together, often before we notice the effect they have on one another. The thoughts we have about a situation will be influenced by how our heart feels toward the people involved, changing the way we act. It’s here that we ruminate, dragging our thoughts back and forth through our emotions – sincerely believing that we will make sense of the chaos if we just think it through long enough.

And while our mind is searching for hidden understanding, our heart is either confused and mistrusted or denied its honest expression. Often we think if an emotion we experience is not love, then it must be wrong and not okay to experience or express. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, when your heart begins expressing less comfortable emotions, it is time to pay attention. This is the sense of self within you that wants to love and be loved. If it is prevented from doing so, tending to the blockage is necessary for healing.

Our feelings, on the other hand, are physical – they’re perceptions in the body that aren’t necessarily tied to an emotion (like feeling cold or tired), but they are a continual readout of the internal state of our lives. This includes our thoughts and emotions, even though we hardly include the body in the conversation.

Somatic awareness is crucial in grief work, but easily overlooked. In Western culture, we’ve consistently allowed our conscious selves to disconnect from our bodies – either writing them off as a “meat bags” for our soul, or as sin machines waiting to for redemption. To be honest, most of us deny our bodies as a result of trying to feed the capitalism machine. We show up to our workplaces sick, we deny ourselves the time it takes to produce healthier food options, and we resist rest because it sounds like a weakness.

This is our chance to redeem and rebuild connection to our bodies as we grieve, because learning to notice what a feeling does physically will help us notice how our whole self is affected by rumination, hatred, blame, bitterness, as well as the more comfortable emotions of happiness, confidence, excitement, or joy.

The final piece of our whole selves is the spirit – our sense of connectedness to ourselves, others, the world, and our understanding of the greater expansiveness of the universe. When we feel disconnected from any of these things, there are other feelings, emotions, and thoughts that come along with them. You don’t have to become someone with a religious practice to be spiritual. Your spirit is the culmination of what you put into the world around you, and what you invite back into yourself as well.

We get a little uncomfortable talking about spiritual things in grief, because we have options about faith practices and requirements for healthy spirituality. After 30 years of being involved directly with church, I can tell you that spiritual beliefs alone completely miss the mark when expressed in isolation from the other parts of our whole self.

Grief is the place we see this the most. Our unanswered prayers, as we’ll call them, create voids of understanding. We’ve all asked WHY in our grief, and most of us can point to the moment when our spirit simply couldn’t navigate the weight of the unknown alone any longer.

Even now, I’m a little overwhelmed thinking about how we are supposed to reconnect our whole selves when they get so weighed down by loss. Whether its fatigue, brain fog, numbness, or isolation, we have a place to begin bringing compassion for each of our parts. We have a place to begin practicing our wholeness instead of just wishing for it.

When we grieve, we are in misalignment with our core values. The majority of us are not going to place grief as a core value, and so when that concept is introduced, the vastness of grieving work takes priority. Our core values in that current season of life melt away, making as much space as is needed to understand. This is natural and good – for a while. Our coping mechanisms are an internal self-defense system doing helpful work to keep us stable.

But when those coping mechanisms become so familiar that our sense of self remains a mystery, we owe it to our whole self to step in. For me, I spent way too long in the mental fog of television and the physical drain of alcohol. I was unable to think my way through my situations, my emotions were way too hidden by anger, and my sense of connection was wholly broken. The physical did everything it could to sacrifice and keep me upright. I felt hopeless.

But I also didn’t notice what was happening within because I’d allowed myself to consider each part of me as separate. If three out of the four were fine, then it didn’t seem to matter how bad it felt with the fourth.

When truthfully, all four were a mess and it just so happened that one arena was stronger than the rest at the time.

My core values were absent because I hadn’t made time to decide what they might be. We’ve talked about core values plenty of times on this show, so if you’re unfamiliar with the idea, go back and listen to some of the older episodes.

But core values allow me to hold myself and each part of myself to a new standard of compassion. I can curiously approach my weary thoughts and search out what might be causing each one. I can invite my emotions to stay a little longer, get a little more vocal about what they are and what they are pointing toward. I can allow the discomfort in my body to manifest; trusting the people I’m around or even myself to create movement that moves the energy of grief through my physical self to metabolize the big feelings. And I can become honest with myself about what I am experiencing, what I’m lacking, and where I need support the most.

If you’re still listening and still feeling a bit gob smacked at where to begin, then begin with a single word. Without overthinking, choose a word that feels good to you. Any word. Literally any word will do.

That word is going to carry meaning for you. If it’s a word that easily transitions into a core value, that’s wonderful. Your work is easier than the rest of us. If it’s a different kind of word like a verb or a noun, then your work is to ask yourself what core value that word might be pointing you toward.

Chances are high that whatever word you choose, you are tapping into the inner wisdom of your body and bringing attention to your biggest pain point. There are things within you that hurt. Things you’ve ignored or minimized. Your internal world will always reflect in the external, so even if you think you’re doing a great job hiding the pain, you’re only multiplying your workload as you return to your new sense of self.

You are becoming, and always in the process of becoming. There is no arrival. With that pressure of completion released, we can look curiously at the core value or word that came to mind and start investing our attention on practices to support our healing instead of shame-driven narratives to keep us quiet about our pain.

Thank you for listening to episode 72 of Restorative Grief. This whole self model of grief saved my own whole self years ago, and I have been so honored to walk grievers through it as they experience their own healing. Funny enough, it’s also a model that works well for life coaching and those trying to sort out what comes next for their journey.

If you find yourself in either camp or even somewhere between the two, reach out. This podcast is but a taste of what intentional, direct partnering with a wellness professional can do for your experience of grief, life, and growth.

And if you’re new here, then welcome! This was a perfect crash course into the model of Restorative Grief and I hope you’ll leave a shiny five star review before you leave. If you’re interested in extra support beyond one-on-one coaching, you might consider becoming a Patron of the show. That little bit of funding each month keeps these episodes afloat and I am beyond grateful to each of those who support Restorative Grief. If you’re not ready to be a Patron, just share this show on your socials! You never know who is hurting and needs a little boost of love and compassion.

And as always, one last thing. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.

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