Overcoming Grief Through Meditation and Self-Compassion
Charity Collier, founder of Meditating Together, tragically lost her partner to suicide
Her meditation practice helped her process her heavy grief
Therapists often support people through painful bereavement – find your therapist here
In May 2016 I lost the man I love by suicide. I was in no way prepared for the grief that I experienced. I had loved ones pass away in the past, but this type of grief punched me in the stomach, knocking me down to my knees until my face hit the floor. I had thought of myself as strong and able to handle stress.
Meditation was a big part of my life, and I was preparing for my last semester within my Master’s programme and preparing my thesis the day before the love of my life decided to take his own. I am one of the first to study the only Master's degree programme in the United States for Mindfulness Studies at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. With all of my credentials and active meditation practice, I thought I was prepared for anything.
Sometimes life hits us with unexpected blows that knock the wind out of us. This was one of those blows, and I knew it.
Through my meditation and mindfulness programme, I learned the importance of being in the present moment, regardless of what you’re experiencing. As I processed the tragic loss of Paul, I gave my process honour.
I gave myself compassion.
I took leave from work, allowed myself to cry when I felt like it and experienced whatever feelings and emotions that arose in the moment. I did not try to distract the thoughts and pain. I allowed myself to feel, without judgment or justification. I recall one day sitting with my advisor who was also the founder of the mindfulness studies programme. I felt feelings of sadness, so I allowed myself to cry, unapologetically. I remember her saying “maybe you are doing this right, you are grieving mindfully.” I had not thought of it in that term but I guess I was.
I had been so trained by this point to be present, to honour my emotions and thoughts. I was holding myself with compassion. Compassion was what I needed the most at that time. It was all I could do to get out of bed most days. Although gut-wrenching, I knew that the emotions and dark days would not last forever, if I didn’t want it to. Mindfulness and meditation teaches us impermanence.
Through each emotional roller coaster, honouring the emotions and not attaching to the feelings as it happens gives respect to yourself, from yourself to the process.
To heal, we must sit in our mess, to get out of it. The emotion and pain that I felt was my navigation through the grief.
Up until Paul’s death, I was meditating daily. After his death, I could not meditate at all. The pain of grief was so bad, but I knew I needed to process the grief to heal. Instead of meditating I would colour. I had always loved colouring. When adult colouring books made a come back I was thrilled, colouring can be a meditation practice. In addition to honouring my feelings, I allowed my techniques to transform as well (no judgment necessary). Instead of meditation, I would sit and cry and colour.
It became my moment of refuge.
When we think of grief, we often judge the process. We apologise for moments of unexpected sadness in front of others and we suppress our emotions, finding things to distract us from dealing with the feelings we’re experiencing. This approach stalls our healing process, ultimately causing more internal wounds that become deeply rooted within us.
Instead, choose self-compassion. Choose to love yourself through it with gentleness and care. In our seasons of grief, how we honour ourselves matters most.
It’s okay to not feel okay. It’s also okay to experience those feelings later from triggers or just memories. That will happen, regardless of the time that passes.
It’s all okay, and with the act of self-compassion, our healing will continue.