Welcome back to the Restorative Grief podcast with Mandy Capehart. I’m your host, Mandy, and I am so grateful that you have chosen to join me again. Each episode is written with a desire to help you grow in grief literacy and understanding so that you can become the person you need the most when it comes to navigating loss. There is an invitation that goes around social media every few years, and I saw it again this week: Become the person you needed when you were a child. The same is true of grief; by deciding to do this work for ourselves, we become the space-holders and grief supporters we are looking for in the world around us. With any luck, our newfound knowledge and awareness of loss will create that same space to heal for others we encounter as well.
This week, I want to unpack another familiar grief statement that makes the rounds on social media every few months. Every time it is shared, it is received with a deep reverence for the truth it carries, because it resonates with grievers on a level where they tend to feel unseen. As you may know, grief is an experience often misunderstood. It can be so hard to express what you’re feeling, thinking, or even admit what you’re questioning through loss.
In his book, A Grief Observed, author C.S. Lewis writes:
There is so much to digest in this little paragraph. If you’ve never read his book, it’s fairly short and extremely raw. I appreciate the candor he writes with, so it is worth the time to hear his grief story. Anytime someone is willing to share their story of loss and love, I would encourage you to lean in. It is a sacred space to hold.
But let’s go back to the excerpt. Grief and the fear of uncertainty are significant concerns and Lewis connecting the similarities for us is a powerful thought to hold. In loss, our future is now irrevocably changed, and our understanding of what we can do to influence a certain outcome is being challenged as well. I think it’s interesting that Lewis notes that he is not afraid per say, but experiencing the same symptoms of fear in his grief. He is aware of how his body has internalized the loss of his wife – grief has impacted his nervous system, his digestion. His thoughts are fogged and creating a sense of distance between himself and the world. And yet, despite his expressed inability to comprehend what others are saying, he still wants to remain in their presence – together but left alone.
I think grief feels so like fear because we have no idea what to do or say first, and it’s terrifying to feel so confused. There’s a significant tear in the fabric of our lives, and it feels impossible to know how or where to start mending.
This is the tension of the in-between – the space after loss and before restoration. It’s bizarre to learn how to exist in the headspace where we don’t want to be alone, but cannot figure out how to be with others. We are searching for a sense of normalcy, but cannot seem to find it anywhere we look.
But I think we look inward. I want us to recognize what we need internally in body, mind, and spirit. But how do we recognize the way grief is manifesting in our bodies, minds, and spirits? And once we recognize it, what can we do to restore a sense of peace internally and for our unknown futures?
I realize these are huge, scary questions. But I also know you’re here because you are asking some of the same unanswerable questions of yourself.
I think we start by admitting that nothing we do leaves us standing still. In every decision we make, we are moving closer to or further from the person we want to become. Grief is no different; in our losses, we pursue comfort and hope to find ways to feel like ourselves again.
But for most of us, we might have struggled with our stories even before grief entered the chat. Did you know how to tell the story of who you are? When someone says, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ is your default to start with your work or where you were born?
It’s easy to identify with the externals of what we do and where we go in our day to day lives. But our actions and origins are not the crux of our story. Our story comes from the way those external circumstances have shaped our internal sense of self.
Grief shakes our internal lives by trashing the externals. So it makes sense that our healing begins when we recognize and rebuild our internal sense of self – who are we today that we weren’t yesterday? Who will we become tomorrow? What do we believe about our lives that honors who we are, where we’ve been, and what or who we’ve lost?
Reorganizing our external lives around our losses starts internally. So I want you to take a moment and reflect. If you are listening to this and able to grab a pen and a journal, that’s not a bad idea. And as a side note, if you are one navigating grief due to trauma that involves your body, this conversation can be a difficult one. Working with a trauma-informed professional one-on-one is a really important step to finding reconnection to your body. So if that’s you, don’t start with body work. Uncovering connections to your story does not have to start in the place of pain. Start where you’re comfortable. And if you have not yet listened to episode two, Opening a Window, I would encourage you to listen and learn about the window of tolerance. The questions I want to present may be a little too much right now, and that’s okay. But knowing about the “too muchness” of this episode can be difficult without an awareness of your starting point – which is exactly what episode two presents.
So, diving into the questions: If you’re starting in your body, bring some awareness to your physical position on the chair or floor where you are. Where do you feel you are experiencing grief in your body? How’s the tension in your shoulders? At the thought of your loss, how does you stomach respond? Is there a change? How about your heart rate or your breathing?
To start in your thoughts, consider if you are clued in to the conversations in your day to day life. If you’re working with others, are you able to engage in a conversation that requires your input over simply listening? How has your focus been during your hobbies and personal conversations? Can you name the emotions you’re experiencing beyond the obvious labels of sad, angry, and scared?
And in addressing your spirit, get creative. Are you able to hear with your heart? Does your inner knowing have a sense of confusion or clarity? Has your relationship to your faith practice changed or shifted in a way that feels distant or completely disconnected?
If you want to pause this episode and answer those questions, please do. Just a reminder that finishing a podcast episode in parts is a morally neutral decision. Neither action here can be labeled as good or bad – it’s just what you need most in this moment.
Regardless of when you’re listening, I want to point out that a lot of your answers may feel a little discouraging. Perhaps all you can write is, “I don’t know.”
This grief work is not going to be easy. I don’t blame you for struggling to find words for these questions. It is very normal to experience a crushing sense of doubt when navigating loss. These questions and many others arose immediately in the grief process for C.S. Lewis. As a well-respected theologian and Christian author, I believe his honest account of the reckoning and doubt over losing his wife validated the grief story of so many others at the time who weren’t able to speak out. He was a voice willing to say hard truths about uncertainty and the value of remaining in that place of discomfort for a season.
We have a choice in grief (and life) to encounter resistance with swords, anger, and all the spitfire within us. Or we can recognize a shift in our external lives as a chance to soften and surrender. As much as it pains me to affirm this, we are not in control of the world around us. We are only in control of how we navigate the waves from the helm of our ship.
These waves are totally unwelcome interruptions to our life plans, but still, we are responsible for responding. And as we’ve discussed, much of that response starts internally with a new level of self-awareness and compassion for our starting points, no matter how rough they feel.
We’re not chasing down the end of grief, or a state where we will finally be healed. We are grievers in pursuit of an ongoing healing; one that continually returns us to ourselves and to wisdom and establishes a loving, confident sense of self in our present daily lives.
It is my belief that by remaining present with ourselves, honest with our heartaches, and brave in sharing our breakthroughs, we will start telling our stories without minimizing or setting our grief to the side. Grief is a natural, expected part of life. To comprehend this truth means reckoning with the disruptions each loss brings, and still finding peace on the other side. It’s not easy, but it (and you) are always going to be worth the effort.
Thank you for listening to episode five of Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart.
I hope this conversation about fear and grief, along with all those really big questions I offered can be a starting point for you to experience a little movement in your story. The truth is, in grief, we all feel stuck sometimes. Movement, however small, is something to be celebrated. So even if you’re not ready to answer every or any of the questions, I want you to recognize that even listening to a podcast about grief counts as movement.
As always, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @MandyCapehart or online at MandyCapehart.com. There is a transcript of this episode available for you as well linked in the show notes.
I want to leave you this week with another quote attributed to C.S. Lewis as a reminder that no matter how long it takes, or when you begin, each small act of grief work will move the needle toward wholeness.
He writes: “Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks.”
Thank you for listening, and I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from the episode: