As I am writing this it has been just over a year since my little sister passed away. I have never experienced grief like this before. Before my sister passed I had lost people I had known and loved, but it wasn’t like this.
My little sister was my best friend. I spoke to her everyday, we shared everything, we were so close. Losing her has been like losing a part of myself, and the pain has just been excruciating.
Even though she passed away from cancer, it wasn’t like one of those things where you knew she was sick or she battled for years. It was all very quick. It just came so out of the blue.
Even with my connection to the spirit realm and my years of spiritual practice, none of it has excused me from going through the painful grieving process.
Through my year dealing with immense grief, I have learnt a lot and while I am sure I am still learning, I felt it important to open up and share my experience in the hope it can bring comfort and support to others.
Grief is normally narrowed down into stages, and while these stages are relevant, in my experience, they barely scratch the surface.
Here is what I have understood about grief so far, and the many layers that make up the word:
The 7 Layers of Grief
1.) Spiritual Understanding
Grief can sometimes lead you to a more spiritual way of life. In moments of grief, people turn to higher beings, dieties, and angels for comfort. Even though I have lived my life this way for many years, my grief actually led me in the opposite direction.
My spiritual beliefs were shattered and I felt closed off from my guides and angels. I felt I had been betrayed and unfairly treated. I felt my ego rising up and demanding answers as how this could happen to me. I am a good person, this should not have happened.
Of course, dealing with pain and grief has nothing to do with whether or not you are a good person. It is a fact of life, and part of our spiritual growth and development. I see that now, and I think I always knew it to be true, but I was angry, and I was particularly angry at the spirit world.
While I am back on good terms with my guides, this process has helped me to develop a deeper spiritual understanding that is more true to me. It allowed me to really gain clarity with what I believed, and helped me to weed out things that were no longer in alignment with my beliefs.
Whether you choose to turn to religion, atheism, or your own spiritual values, death really challenges you to open to a new way of spiritual understanding.
The one thing I can say is that I do feel grateful to have gone through this experience with some sort of spiritual connection. While it didn’t excuse me from the pain, it did help me to look at the bigger picture and manage my stresses and anxieties on a day to day level.
2.) Deeper Understanding of Life and Death
I really think that death can teach you so much about life.
Dealing with death has caused me to reassess my life and the meaning of it. I feel like before all of this, I was very ambitious and always had a list of goals that I was working on. I put a lot of value and emphasis on my career.
I would never take breaks, I would always work long hours, and while I am grateful for this as it helped me to build this website up, I just don’t do it anymore.
Now I feel like taking a softer approach to life. I feel like slowing down and spending more time on the things that I have realized are so much more important.
What feels more special to me now are the moments I get to share with my loved ones. What feels more important is the difference I can make in the lives of those around me whether it is through my website, my books, or simply smiling to someone as I pass them on the street.
Experiencing death has really helped me to re-prioritize my life and has allowed me to see what is really important. We are all going to die one day and none of us know when that day will be.
We have to start finding what is important to us and making time for it. For when death comes, it’s not going to be about how many likes you got on social media, or how much money you made, or how many goals you ticked off your list, it is really all going to come down to how much you loved, and how much you laughed and enjoyed yourself through the process.
I know life is not easy. In fact, I often feel jealous that my sister got to leave Earth behind. But I also know and appreciate that life is a gift, and life can be beautiful when we start to prioritize what is really important.
3.) Your Own Death
When you deal with the death of a loved one, you are not only mourning them, but you also mourning the part of you that died along with them.
Very often when I find myself crying, my tears are not for her but for me! I believe that she is up in the higher realms probably having a blast, and my tears are really just for little old me that got left behind!
My sister just had a way of knowing how to make me laugh, and we shared jokes that no one else would understand. I miss this, and I have realized that no one is ever going to fill these shoes, and making peace with that is hard.
We also turned to each other for advice about everything. Being the older sister, I know she looked up to me, and I hope she knows that I also looked up to her. But I am no longer a big sister. I am no longer the middle child. That is a role I no longer have to fill, that is an identity I no longer need to hold onto.
I have lost a huge part of myself, and while I feel this transformation is still underway, it is just another layer to deal with when grief comes your way.
When you lose someone that was so close to you, it leaves a gaping hole in your life and in your heart. I am not sure if we are supposed to fill the hole or just accept that it is there, but I feel that perhaps it is a little bit of both.
I think a good idea is to plant some beautiful flowers around the hole to honor that part of yourself and to fill it in, but not replace it.
4.) Relationship Dynamics
Because I have changed, so too have my relationships. For one thing, my family is a lot closer. I also feel closer to my partner, and I feel myself being more compassionate in general.
My empathic gifts have become very strong, and on most days I feel extremely sensitive when around others. I have also noticed a change in my friendships and who I feel comfortable hanging around with.
When you are extra sensitive, your awareness around everything is heightened and it becomes harder to tolerate things and people that are out of alignment or are not in the same vibration as you.
Death really challenges you to think about who is really important to you, and who you really want to spend time with. It also changes the way you interact with certain people, and personally, I have also found that I have less patience to tolerate certain behaviours.
Death has helped me to create new boundaries and has helped me open my eyes to the type of friendships I wish to keep.
If you haven’t lost a loved one that was near and dear to you, it can be hard to really understand what the other person is truly feeling.
Death also makes people awkward and uncomfortable, and most of the time people just don’t know what to say. While it is important to keep this in mind, dealing with death does open your eyes to the type of people you wish to keep in your life.
Even though for the most part, death has made the relationships in my life stronger, I understand that this is not always the case. Sometimes relationships fall apart and you lose touch with people you thought would always be in your life.
This is just another layer of the grieving process and if you are in the midst of it, try and remember that you are simply being shown the relationships that are strong and true in your life and the ones that need to go.
5.) Trauma and Physical Effects
This is the part of grief that I don’t think many people talk about. Since my sister’s passing my energy levels have been zapped. No matter how much green juice I drink or B Vitamins I take, grieving is hard work and I definitely feel the effects physically.
For a good year, it was hard for me to make it through the day. I would feel tired, I would lose my motivation or concentration, I would feel heavy. I was lucky as I work for myself and could take a break when I wanted, but I totally understand that this is not always possible for everyone!
I do think it is important to take time off work when dealing with grief. I also think it is important to make the time and actually sit with your emotions in order to deal and process them.
Burying them under the rug or doing things to distract yourself is sometimes necessary to get through the day, but you can’t hide like this for very long.
Along with feeling physically exhausted, I started developing skin conditions and digestive issues. My skin started breaking out with patches of eczema and my digestion has been all over the place.
I know these physical symptoms are all from stress, and I know from my past that I tend to hold a lot of emotions in my gut, so I was not surprised that is where majority of my symptoms showed up.
It took almost a year for my digestive troubles to ease up and even though I still have a few patches of eczema, I am trying to work on de-stressing and allowing my body time to heal.
Having physical effects is not something I expected, but it makes sense as our bodies are so connected to our emotions.
If you are dealing with physical ailments along with your grief, be sure to get them checked out, and then just be gentle with yourself as you allow your body time to heal.
6.) Post Traumatic Stress
The other layer of grief is post traumatic stress. Even though this is something that is typically used to describe veterans who have experienced the horrors of war, I have also found it to be present in the grieving process too.
While my grief is nothing like having to deal with the traumas of war, for many months I found myself gripped in constant fear and anxiety. Whenever the phone rang my stomach would drop and my heart would start racing- what if this was more bad news? What if someone else had died?
It took months before I could calm myself down about my phone ringing or not having my phone in case someone needed me.
Along with the phone anxiety, my mind was also scarred with the memories of my sister’s final hours. Death is not pretty. It’s not like what it looks in the movies where the person has a pretty face and then gently closes their eyes.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a peace in death, but leading up to that point is extremely challenging to witness.
All of what I saw that day would play over and over again in my mind. The memories of that hospital room, the memories of my sister’s face. The look on my parent’s faces. The smells. The sounds. They were all haunting.
For months after her passing, my stomach felt like it was constantly churning and it was just an awful feeling to have to deal with on top of everything.
I felt so anxious all the time, and I would just feel gripped with fear that something like this was going to happen again, that I was going to receive more bad news.
This is where my practice with meditation, journaling, and breathing exercises really, really helped. They helped me to manage my anxiety levels and helped to ease the constant churning in my stomach.
Eventually, the painful memories started to disappear and my anxiety lessened. I still feel anxious about it every now and again, but time has definitely helped to ease things for me.
7.) Grief Emotions
Finally, the last layer of grief are all those emotional stages everyone talks about- shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
All of these are real and you do feel them, except they may not come in stages. I found that I shifted back and forth between all of them. Some days I would wake up feeling very accepting, but then just a few days later I would still be in shock that this ever happened!
The emotions are like a rollercoaster, and all you can do is hold on and allow yourself the freedom to feel them all.
I can say that being a year into the grieving process, it does get easier. I don’t think the grief goes away but you learn to manage it better and you learn how to not let it run too much of your life.
I do think time helps, and for me, the one year mark was when I finally started to really accept what had happened.
Up until this point I kept wishing that I would wake up and it would have all been a bad dream, that it was just a glitch in the matrix, but when the one year mark rolled around, I realized that I needed to stop doing that, and start accepting my reality for what it was.
The emotions come and go and I am sure that will never change, but life does go on, and even though that in itself can feel scary, it can also aid in the healing.
Grief will crack you wide open, there is no doubt about that. It will bring up your deepest pains and fears, it will challenge everything you ever knew about yourself, it will wipe you out, drain your batteries, and in a way, it will cause a part of you to die too.
The best thing you can do is be gentle with yourself, give yourself permission to feel, and develop some tools to help manage physical symptoms or any anxiety that my be present.
Grief is no fun, but I do thank it for making me that much stronger.