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Lisa Keefauver is a social worker and former therapist, and the founder and CEO of Reimagining Grief. She is creating a space on the internet for grief of all kinds. She has practiced in it, having both studied it and experienced it first hand. She is a student, a teacher, and a friend of grief, and all that it touches.
And right now, grief is touching us all.
Whether you are grieving the loss of normalcy, the loss of a loved one, or the loss and change of anything else –– there is a collective and cumulative grief weighing heavy on us all.
So, we brought Lisa to our Instagram Live on March 31, 2020. There, she helped us name our feelings, understand how to show up for ourselves and others in this challenging time, and led us through a mantra that has served her for years.
Here is a brief transcription of that conversation –– and the full video below.
One thing I'd just love to ground us in right now is to name this feeling and experience.
I'm sure many of you have seen, for instance, the Harvard Business Review article or other articles that talk about how this discomfort we are feeling is collective grief. It is hugely important just to name it.
So, let’s do that.
We are going through collective grief. We are experiencing anticipatory loss.
We're experiencing this at an unprecedented global scale, too.
To name all this weirdness, these feelings, this discomfort that we're all experiencing, this grief, is super important from the get-go because it's going to help all of us feel more normalized and to accept all of the emotions that we're not used to having that we're having right now.
A lot of people are probably saying to themselves: "I'm going crazy. What is this? Why? It's not really affecting me yet. Why am I feeling bad?" Well, it’s because you’re grieving, and that’s OK.
One of the things that trauma or grief or loss reminds us of is that we spend very little time in the present in our daily lives. These kinds of major shifts that happen for us remind us that we're spending a lot of time in our mind, replaying past stories or building future stories, and not being present.
So, I would say one way to think about these experiences is it's such a very forceful invitation for us to be present in each moment.
The way I think about grief is that our lives are basically a series of events and experiences. We build stories and narratives about all of those events.
When something like a death or loss happens, or some other major shift and change like what we're experiencing here in this pandemic, it's like the story of our lives, our manuscript, has been completely shredded and then handed back to us.
We feel like we are expected to know how to navigate our lives now, with this manuscript we’d been using that is simply no more. The plot has changed, our motivation has changed, our characters have changed.
The reason we feel brain fog and confusion and mood swings and all of the things that we experience in grief is because we've been left without direction in our lives and our stories.
So just to name that, to call it for what it is –– grief –– that's the most important thing we can do for ourselves.
For some people, this is maybe their first real experience with grief. But the truth is, 100% of us will experience death, loss and other kinds of grief in our life.
For many people in our lives, they're already experiencing some other kind of grief –– outside of this pandemic. For them, this is cumulative grief, not just collective grief. So, be mindful of those people in your life. Or, if you're one of those people, be kind to yourself. You need that extra care, compassion and love.
Now, so many of us want to do something active, to show up for our people, but we aren’t sure what is appropriate and what isn’t. Our cultural assumptions often misguide us here, too.
Everything has a fix in this country, for instance. That's what we are taught to believe. That's how we operate in the world. So, we often show up for people trying to fix it, right?
Someone's sad? We want to show up, and we want to have the right answer, and we want to make it OK for them. My invitation to all of us is that grief is not something that needs to be fixed, nor can it be fixed.
Instead, it’s important to try to reframe our mind. This goes for how we help ourselves, too.
If you're feeling like, "Gosh darn, Lisa, get it together! How come I can't be happy and be positive and fix this!"
The invitation here is it's not fixable, and it doesn't need fixing. That's why we need to let go of that assumption and show up with a new way of thinking. I like to say, "Show up, shut up and listen."
And remember that there is no “should.” Grief is something that's experienced differently by everybody. So when you're showing up for somebody, give them the space and the permission to feel the dread, and the sadness, and the anger, and the frustration, and whatever they want to feel.
Give that permission to yourself too. Resist the urge to try to get somebody to get to the happy place, to get to the positive. They'll get there on their own time.
One thing to note about acceptance is even your sense of acceptance is going to fluctuate over time. New triggers are going to happen. New events are going to happen in the scope of a grief journey, and we're going to be pulled away from that sense of acceptance. That’s OK.
I think the other thing to normalize is change in general. Change is always happening. It just takes events like this to remind us that it is.
So, I'd love to talk a little bit about what are the practices we can do for ourselves and to encourage other people, given the fact that uncertainty is a fact of life.
This pandemic is just making visible this thing –– change –– that's true always in our life. We have to adapt to this, yes, but we are continually adapting to change.
One of the biggest things that I can encourage people to do, which I will admit myself I'm not good at, is asking for help. In this country, we are taught to do it by yourself.
We are taught individualism and have a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. We often think: “I don't want to burden anybody else because they're going through a hard time too.”
To that, I say find your people –– the ones who get you –– and ask for help.
I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago for Thrive Global about my model for thinking that I learned young. It came from becoming a scuba diver early on. It's called: “Dive in, Breathe Deep and Buddy Breathe When Necessary.”
That's really what we need to do. We need to buddy breathe, especially right now. How can we use social media, Zoom, Google Hangout, whatever it is, to ask for help?
Another really simple thing to do is to really think about activities that allow us to stay in the present.
All of the emotions and the stress around our grief are often valid, and it is important to feel those feelings. And, we often have those feelings because we're thinking about the past or are worried about the future. Especially right now, there's a lot of anxiety and fear about the unknown and the future.
We are all in a collective fight or flight mode. Our nervous systems are on overload because we're in a panicked state, and what we do when we’re in a panicked state is we stop breathing. Or, we have a really quick breath.
I invite everyone to notice their breath, to extend your exhalations longer than your inhalations. That will bring you back to the present, and its something really simple any of us can do.
Another simple thing you can do when you are starting to spin out, when the emotions feel overwhelming, is look around your room and name five things out loud. There's a purple computer cover. There's a pink pillow. Just getting yourself in this moment allows you to reset some of the thinking that happens.
How we show up for people is pretty universal. We want to show up with empathy and compassion.
Of course, when we show up for people in their grief, we all have our own junk about grief. We have our own baggage, we have our own stories.
Some of us don't even like to say the word dead or death or loss. And we resonate that in our body, we resonate that in our voice, even in the way we look, and in our body language.
So before you show up for somebody, even though we can't physically show up for somebody right now in this brief window, if we're going to show up for somebody on screen, for instance, I encourage each of us to settle our bodies first. That’s because that person is going to pick up on your baggage.
This is especially true of a person who has struggled with depression, or who's highly empathetic. We all can sense each other's energy.
Every time we hear ourselves saying the word "should" about how we should have been always connecting meaningfully with each other, or how we should have prioritized each other…
I'd like to try to substitute the word "invitation."
These experiences, like this pandemic, are reminders or invitations for us to approach our relationships differently, approach our time differently, approach our emotional life differently.
We could think about this time as an invitation to befriend our emotions.
I think we spend a lot of time skirting around our emotions. I'm not just talking about our emotions around grief. I'm talking about all of our emotions, but especially our emotions that I'd like to call, or Brene Brown calls, the hard things. For those, now is the time to use this quiet space to think about becoming friends with our emotions.
Here’s something that some of you may be experiencing right now. When we have a flood of emotions, especially in early grief, we feel like if we open the door, the emotions are going to swallow us whole. If I let a little sadness in, I'm going to be flooded in an ocean of emotions. I remember many times after my husband died, feeling like I'm going to feel all the feels.
The analogy that I like to give to people in that situation is to think about your emotions as visitors coming over for a cup of coffee.
They're not permanent guests. They're not unpacking their bags. They're not moving in. They're not becoming your permanent roommates.
Our emotions are visitors coming over for a cup of coffee. And what we often do when we don't attend to our emotions, is we're not going to open the door. But the problem is, they're sitting there on your front doorstep. They're just waiting there. Every time you look out the peephole, look out your window, your emotions are hanging there.
So then they become this looming presence in our life, that actually shapes and hinders how we get to access other things like joy and delight and amazement.
So, if we can think about our emotions, and now's the time to practice it because we all have a little more time on our hands, as visitors coming over for a cup of coffee, that would be helpful.
For instance, what if we treated our anger or our disappointment or our sadness by inviting them in for a cup of coffee, giving them an ear, listening to what our emotions had to say to us?
If we do that, we will find, I promise, that they will go, they will leave. None of our emotions stay. Unfortunately, because I'd love happiness and joy and ecstasy and elation to stay. But they don't. And neither do the hard feelings. They have so much less power over us if we treat them as a visitor over for a cup of coffee.
The thing I'd love to leave people with right now is a meditation that I'm constructing. It's basically a mantra. Right now in this time of COVID-19, we are operating out of a space of fear and anxiety. That's the engine that is in charge for so many of us.
So I'd love to end by inviting people to think about ways in which we can operate from a place of love. This is an invitation to us to practice empathy and compassion like no other time in our lives.
So wherever you are, close your eyes, get comfortable in your seat and just start to breathe. We don't need to do anything in our breath at this moment except notice the way the air feels, coming through our nose and into our chest.
Can you feel it expand your belly?
And as it leaves your body, relax your belly. Feel the air through your chest and out your nose.
Thinking about extending your exhalations longer than your inhalations. Breathing in, maybe for a count of two, and out for a count of four. And again.
This time is calling us to operate out of a place of love, to operate out of a place of compassion and empathy. We are realizing more than ever that we are a global community. We belong to one another.
So I want to invite you to repeat in your mind after me this mantra. See love, feel love, radiate love, receive love. See love, feel love, radiate love, receive love.
Then, open your eyes and join us back in the room. This mantra is something that has carried me through many, many months of daily meditation. And when I start to let worry and fear and anxiety about my past or my future, when the grief feelings feel too much, I go through this mantra. It doesn’t matter if I've been standing in the line at a grocery store, which we don't get to do much anymore, or standing in front of your refrigerator or your cabinet, try practicing that mantra.
See love, feel love, radiate love and receive love.
I think you will start to notice, I hope, a change in your body and being present in this moment and connecting with all of the good that exists.
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