Practice Being Present with Grief

While the events of the past 16 months have left most people with a whirlwind of emotional side effects, one commonality on all sides of the energy aisle seems to be an increase in grief.

Grief is the sadness associated with loss, and the losses of 2020-21 may feel insurmountable.

Losses are shared by most of humanity: loss of income, safety, stability, socialization, touch, travel, leisure, health, lifestyle, and loved ones.

More than 600,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 alone in the past 16 months. Researcher Ashton M. Verdery and colleagues estimate that this disease has left a trail of grief stretching in its wake.

“How many people are at risk for losing a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or child for each COVID-19 death,” Verdery, et. al., wrote. “In the United States, we estimate that on average, under diverse epidemiological circumstances, every death from COVID-19 will leave approximately nine bereaved.”

That equates to 5,490,000 people grieving loved ones’ deaths.

Grief Makes Us Uncomfortable

I, like many others, have experienced my own losses this past year in the same categories listed above, including the loss of my mother. One thing I’ve learned through my own loss and through the process of working with the losses of others is that Americans are very challenged at dealing with grief.

While many cultures and religions have a specific approach or ritual dedicated to the transitions of loss and death, Americans have lost the finesse of being present with grief.

Grief makes us uncomfortable. It’s hard to see someone in pain truly grieve; to cry, sob, scream, rage. Instead of feeling uncomfortable with being in the presence of grief, we tend to use ineffective techniques to communicate with our fellow grievers. Most of these are used to coax grievers away from their pain.

We tend to rationalize and depersonalize the loss:

  • “It will be OK.”
  • “Time heals all wounds.”
  • “It happened for a reason.”
  • “They’re in a better place”

Statements like these can feel like a slap in the face to someone who is in fact not OK, doesn’t care about the reason the loss happened, and is still here in a worse place.

Finding Presence with Grief

With the world attempting to return to normal after last year, it is probable that you’re going to run into friends, coworkers or clients who will express to you their own level of loss over the past year.

Even if you aren’t doing grief work specifically, you can use the same neutral principals to better communicate with those who might be grieving:

  • Let them grieve.
  • Do not try to change or alter their experience.
  • Do not try to relate by comparing your own personal experience of grief.
  • Don’t assume you know what their grief feels like. If you’re unsure you could ask them what it’s like, but don’t ask questions you’re not willing to hear the answers to. Grief is heavy. If you’re unable to allow them the space to express that sorrow, it’s best that you not explore the topic as a listener.
  • When in doubt ask them what they need.

You can also just sit with them in their grief.  Allowing grief to be present without expectation is a big step in the right direction. Your simple presence in the face of grief can be very powerful and compassionate.

Make Safe Space for Grieving Clients

For clients working with grief during sessions, it is often the first safe space they have had to truly grieve in their own way with no judgement. No one is reasoning them out of grief or convincing them to push it aside. Instead, the therapist may have them fully explore that space.

  • “What does it feel like in your body?”
  • “Where is it located?”

They can explore any images that may present to them in that moment, dialogue with lost loved ones, or just fully immerse themselves physically and emotionally in the sorrow of grief that is so often missing in our processes. Letting grievers fully grieve is a powerful gift.  

I have been a massage therapist/bodyworker for 13 years, and I’m also a CranioSacral Therapist who works with clients incorporating SomatoEmotional Release, a specialization inside CranioSacral Therapy(CST) that incorporates dialogue and therapeutic imagery with the hands-on application of CST to assist clients in healing/resolving the trauma stored in the tissues of the body.

This work is often the missing piece when it comes to bodywork. The body, mind, and our experiences are so intimately woven together, and acknowledging the emotional component is often the key ingredient for helping many people heal their own long-standing or complex physical issues.

The beauty of SomatoEmotional Release work is that it must be done from the place of complete neutrality.  We hold space for the receiver to experience whatever needs to happen for them in the way that is best for their process.

While all emotions can be healing, I personally find that SomatoEmotional Release work is particularly powerful when dealing with the emotion our society most often pushes away-grief.

Support Each Other

We all deserve the right to express our grief in the way that best fits us, whether that’s with loved ones, in private, in public or with a qualified professional.

Grieving is a universal experience. It’s time that we learned to better support each other in our emotions—and not convince each other to come out of them.

About the Author:

Morgan Rachel Deale, LMT, is a certified CranioSacral Therapist through Upledger Institute International. She works with clients through all ages and stages of life and loves helping her clients discover the relationship between the mind and body. She offers SomatoEmotional Release, a specialization inside CranioSacral Therapy (CST) that incorporates dialogue and therapeutic imagery with hands-on application of CST to assist clients in resolving trauma stored in the body’s tissues. Her private practice is located in Pensacola, Florida.


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