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Even though the sun is shining today, we’re still deep in winter at my home in Colorado. Winter is like grief: things are buried deep inside. Here are 2 tools to help you navigate the grief you might be feeling.

This month on the podcast we’re talking about how grief impacts your marriage. Last week, we heard from Jean who’s learning to live without her husband. Next week, we’ll talk to Sarah and Chris, a couple who have faced multiple losses in the past 3 years. The week after, we’ll talk with Rosemerry, whose son died.

Grief is unpredictable. Sometimes grief is tears. Sometimes grief is anger. Other times it’s a feeling of heaviness.

There is no right way to grieve. There’s also no wrong way to grieve.

I’m offering two tools to help with the hurt.

Tool #1: A grief sandbox

Because grief is a somatic experience–it happens in your body–it helps to have a tool that gives your body a sensual experience.

Do you remember playing in the sandbox as a kid? You didn’t notice time passing. You didn’t have an agenda. It was just time to let your hands and feet dig in the earth.

The grief sandbox allows the kid inside of you a way to process the grief that has no words.

Fill a bowl with rice, or beans, or better yet, get a variety of beans so there’s lots of different textures. Mix all those grains and beans together.

Then plunge your hands into the bowl of texture. Let yourself pour those beans back and forth through your hands. Gather together some trinkets that help you process your grief–your father’s favorite pocket knife, or your dog’s collar tags–and play with these things in the beans. Bury your treasures. Then unbury them. Do it again.

tools for dealing with griefWhy does grief benefit from wordless play?

When you give your body sensual stimulation and you don’t have an agenda, your body knows how to heal your heart.

We so often defer to our mind, trying to figure out the “right way” to grieve. But your body knows, instinctively, how to let go. Pouring “sand” back and forth gives your body a rhythm.

This rhythm wakes up our ancient connection to the earth and the cycle of life.

Try this: 

Make yourself a grief sandbox.

Get out a big bowl. Pour in a cup each of a variety of rice and beans. Lima beans, pinto, and mung. Brown and white rice. Lentils. Try it all. There are no rules.

Then let your hands lead the way.

Notice how the stress of the day melts away as you pour from one hand to the other. Notice how the texture invites tears to fall from your eyes. Notice how the tight feeling in your belly relaxes.

Tool #2: Grief is heavy. So give yourself this counterweight.

What is a Grief Pillow? It’s a way to offer yourself a hug when it matters most.

Grief is heavy. It weighs your body down. You might feel sluggish and slow, forgetful and spacey. It is common to feel tired to the bone. But yet, your sleep is often interrupted.

A grief pillow is heavy and, as such, it counteracts the heaviness you feel in your body. Does the weight of the pillow take on the weight you feel in your body? Or does it help because you need the pressure of a deep hug? I don’t know the answer to these questions, I just know that, when my brother died the grief pillow a friend gave me helped with the pain I felt.

How a grief pillow helped

It was months after my brother’s death that I felt consumed by this heavy weight. Why now? I thought. But it was my birthday and my husband and I had special plans that got interrupted because he was called away to tend an emergency.

I felt alone. I felt abandoned.

I could tell myself, “My husband wanted to be with me. He didn’t ask for this emergency.” But my mind was not the problem. My heart hurt, and the loneliness I felt being abandoned when special plans were made simply triggered the emotions I had when my brother died.

Come back! Come back! I kept hearing the words ringing in my ears. Was I talking to my brother, or my husband, or to some part of me I felt I’d lost?

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When we experience profound loss we feel vulnerable

We revert to a childlike state of raw emotion. It’s not fair! We cry out. Do you remember being young and saying, It’s not fair when you had to go to bed earlier than others or you got the smaller cookie?

We desperately want things to be fair and death never feels fair. Grief is our body’s way of coming to terms with what feels like an injustice.

When you were young, do you remember the comfort you got from a soft blanket, a doll, or the hand of your parent rubbing your back? There is a similar comfort waiting for you with the grief pillow.


Make your own grief pillow tool

Take the time to make a grief pillow for yourself. Making the pillow is a way of tending that vulnerable child inside you. As you make the pillow Your Adult sends a signal to Your Child that you are seen and valued.

Try this: 

Make yourself a grief pillow.

Raid your sock drawer for one of the lonely socks that lost its pair. Fill this sock with rice or beans. The heavier, the better. Then tie the top of the sock closed so no rice falls out.

Then allow yourself to lay down with a soft blanket. Place the grief pillow on your chest and feel its weight. Notice how that weight is offering a pleasant counter pressure to the weight you feel inside.

Listen to some relaxing music or count the number of blue items you see.  “I see the blue light switch. I see the blue candle. I see the blue hide-a-bed in the corner.” Switch to green or brown when you’ve named all you see. If you feel comfortable, count your breaths, breathing in and out at the same rate.

Give yourself time with your grief pillow each day if you’re able. Ten or twenty minutes is luxurious, but three minutes might be all you feel you can take. The important thing is to practice feeling your body. Notice how you are tending to yourself. Holding still for even just a moment helps your grief move through your body and let it heal you.


Tools and resources to help you grieve

The Hospice Foundation offers this page of resources.

Here’s a link to Anderson Cooper’s podcast about grief.

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