While most of us connect grief with the death of a dream or the loss of a loved one, grief is actually part of everyday life. Any change in life stage, relationship, living space, school, job, or health status involves both gains and losses. Our culture urges us to focus on the gains while ignoring, minimizing, or denying the losses we experience, rendering them invisible.

Such an invisible loss may be losing the presence of a parent at home, failing to gain a longed-for position or prize, or feeling abandoned by a friend. The problem with these invisible losses is that our culture rarely provides us with a place to mourn them, much less permission to do so. But we really need to explore each loss, noticing its impact on how we perceive ourselves, and observing how it colors our futures.

Leaving room in our lives for grief is crucial for our souls – our thoughts, feelings, and desires. Mourning the loss of what could have been is just as important as grieving over things robbed from us outright. Here’s a place to start.

1. BREATHE: Give the gift of time to yourself, time away from deadlines and demands to suck it up, get over it, or stuff it. Taking a breath is not so much about breathing in more oxygen as it is breathing out more carbon dioxide. Toxic emotions accumulate unless exhaled.
2. WALK: Observe yourself as you walk up and down the hallways of a painful memory. Rather than immersing yourself in dark emotions, notice the thoughts that accompany them. Instead of forcing yourself to sit still and push through, get outside and move, consciously recognizing where in your body those dark emotions reside.
3. REMEMBER: Make a list of the good memory fragments, things that made you laugh, taught you about life’s treasures, or showed you who you really are. Look around for safe people in your life, those who will listen instead of lecturing, explore alongside you rather than explaining, and care for you in your experience instead of criticizing your being there. This is where a caring counselor comes in.

We may choose to ignore the fear following us. We may focus on past pain reflected in the rearview mirrors of the soul. Or, we may dedicate time to the hard work of grief. Mourning our losses can free us to live fully in the present, as well as grow the ability to move into the future. With eyes on the road ahead, looking into the rearview mirror of pain is necessary only to remember what grief has taught us.

– Karen Bridges, August 2017