This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.
When my father died, I managed my grief through writing. Sharing stories about visits to my hometown, recounting how his favorite chair keeps me connected to him, and describing our frequent lunches, have helped me process his death.
While words are my path to healing, others find comfort and hope in therapy, support groups and conversations with friends. But it turns out there are myriad ways to process grief that fall outside traditional methods.
“You spend all this energy trying to color in the lines of your life while grieving, and that’s because that’s how society wants us to act,” says Rebecca Soffer, co-founder of the Modern Loss community and author of “Modern Loss.” “The key is to figure out what kind of activities, both passive and active, make you feel OK in any given moment.”
Whether you’re searching for a way to supplement therapy sessions or are eager to work through your sorrow in a different setting, consider stepping out of your comfort zone with these creative and unusual strategies to manage grief.
““Splatter art is amazing because that’s what grief is — it touches everything. It’s a total mess, so go in the room and make a mess, have a cathartic moment.””
— Rebecca Soffer, author of “Modern Loss.”
Grief yoga uses movement and breath
Paul Denniston, author of “Healing Through Yoga,” combined aspects of various types of yoga: Hatha, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Restorative, Laughter Yoga, and Chakradance, to create Grief Yoga. He says Grief Yoga isn’t about physical flexibility but more about empowering the person to tap into their strength and courage by using movement, breath, and sound.
“It’s a sacred ritual that embraces the different colors of life, loss, love, anger, purpose or happiness,” he says.
The online sessions range from 30 to 60 minutes, with options to practice while seated, standing, or on a yoga mat. Through his work with clients, Denniston discovered that people repress sadness, anger, and even joy. Traditional yoga classes include holding poses, but the focus of Grief Yoga is to learn how to breathe and move with your body to release pain and tap into unresolved feelings beneath the surface.
The movement, “Breaking the Chains,” where you stack your forearms in front of your chest, push both elbows back and let out a firm “Ha!” sound, addresses the feeling of being constrained by grief.
With the “Woodchopper,” you stand with your feet hip-width apart, and knees slightly bent. After interlacing your fingers, raise your arms over your head and bring them down in a chopping motion while yelling “Ha!” This movement creates the space to let go of anger and rage.
The benefits of a grief yoga practice
A year ago, Catherine Boorady, who lost her husband in 2019, began half-hour online sessions in her upstate New York home.
“I was still so emotional and exhausted from the grief that I could not focus for more than 30 minutes,” she said. After practicing daily, she developed enough stamina for one-hour classes.
The Grief Yoga sessions have helped her get through the day, and when she practices in the evening, it improves her sleep.
“It has helped move whatever emotion was trying to surface,” she says.
Joy Myers, a psychotherapist in the Denver area, practices Grief Yoga by herself and with her clients during therapy. She started the online sessions six months after the death of her 26-year-old son three years ago.
“In my own grief, it gave me a language for my pain when words were not enough,” she says. “Grief Yoga took me beyond the burden of thought and got me to where my grief was in my body and helped move that through.”
She finds the practice beneficial during what she refers to as “dip-in moments” — times when, for whatever reason, the deep pain emerges.
Splatter paint sessions can be cathartic
Finding the words to convey grief and sorrow is easy for some, while others struggle to discover ways to express their feelings. Creating art can fill that gap.
“It bypasses language so we can more readily access feelings and memories that might be shut down and cut off from grief,” says Helen Marlo, clinical psychologist, professor, and chair of the Department of Clinical Psychology at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California.
While drawing, manipulating a small mound of clay or creating a collage can direct your grief into meaningful works of art, thinking outside the art box can be freeing and cathartic. Enter splatter paint.
With splatter paint sessions, room sizes can range from a small room for two people to a large room for 15, depending on the business. When guests arrive, they receive coveralls — a paper-like material with a hood — along with goggles and shoe coverings. Rooms are set up with a canvas on each easel and paints and brushes on the shelves. During a 30-minute session, participants dip the brushes in paint and fling the colors on the canvas.
“People say, ‘It’s therapeutic for me to be able to throw paint around, and I don’t have to worry about the mess,’” says Steffany Faldmo, co-owner of Splatter Lab in Rexburg, Idaho. “It’s a creative outlet for people to release their excess feelings, whether grief or anger.”
The best part about splatter art painting is that you don’t need artistic talent to see the benefits.
“Splatter art is amazing because that’s what grief is — it touches everything,” says Soffer. “It’s a total mess, so go in the room and make a mess, have a cathartic moment.” As you make plans to channel your inner Jackson Pollock paint session, consider asking family members or friends who are also grieving to join you.
Finding support for grief at sea
Mary Feith, from Maple Grove, Minnesota, lost her 13-year-old son 34 years ago and her 35-year-old daughter 11 years ago. When she told her friends she had registered for a cruise, they couldn’t understand how she could vacation and grieve simultaneously. But that’s the goal of The Grief Cruises, a week-long trip for those who have lost someone close to them.
Created by Linda Findlay, the seven-day grief seminar at sea includes presentations, arts and crafts, meditation sessions, and a “Night of Remembrance” on the top deck. The week offers a way for people who understand loss to come together.
“People think we’ll cry all week,” says Findlay. “Instead, it’s a time to honor a loved one and feel that connection to them.” Attendees range from parents who have recently lost a child to those mourning a spouse 20 years after their death.
When Kellie Sanchez, from Roseville, California, scheduled her first cruise, she initially felt guilty about enjoying the voyage. Her spouse was 49 when he died. Although everyone believed she needed to move on, she wasn’t ready. Instead, she was determined to learn how to cope.
“When I was on the cruise, I felt like my husband was on vacation with me,” said Sanchez. “It was me remembering him.” She plans to attend her fourth Grief Cruise in 2023.
Findley recognizes that when people experience the loss of a loved one, they feel they’re dishonoring that person if they go on vacation.
“The outcome of the cruise is for people to have that message of hope and recognize that joy and grief do coexist,” she says.
Grief has no time limit. Almost two years after my dad’s death, I still write about him. Now I focus less on my loss and more on his legacy.
While grief can be exhausting, with the power to leave you feeling helpless, there’s hope. Whether you are experiencing a recent loss or are still mourning a family member or friend who died decades ago, try creative ways to manage your grief. Then you can begin to find the solace you need and deserve.
Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer. She has written for the New York Times, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Wired, Reader’s Digest, and CNBC.
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
More from Next Avenue: