[Self Discovery] Holding Space for Grief

For the most part, I consider myself an upbeat rationalist, a positive pragmatist of sorts. I try and take the world as it comes: framing things in a true and positive light, holding myself accountable for understanding uncomfortable feelings and holding space for my emotions. But it’s not always rainbows and butterflies; from time to time – life can get my down and out and the grey cloud that lives in the corner of my mental state overrides the good feelings I try and project. Depression and anxiety start getting in the way – and whisperings of pessimism start to rain on my parade. In moments like those, I turn to my support system.

Half due to my childhood and my parents having split custody right when the internet was coming into being, half due to moving across a thousand miles over the course of the last three years – my life has evolved me into someone adept at processing emotions with a distant support system. It’s not exactly a skill set that’s wanted, or typically needed – but I’ve found that in quarantine this past year, it’s a skill set worth sharing.

I’ve feel – a lot. I feel deeply, often uncontrollably, and am affected often for days by sensitive information. Growing up in therapy, I realized that I simply feel the underpinnings of depression and grief in differing, unique and novel ways than most – and I’ve learned the best way to cope with them when you feel out of touch, physically, mentally and emotionally. In all, it’s also taught me better tools for how to deal with, hold space for, and transition out of emotional states which no longer serve me. I should preface this by saying that no, I’m not a therapist, I’m not a licensed psychologist and am in no way a professional grief counselor; however, I have been through my fare share of trials and tribulations, and sincerely others on their journey to brighter days and simply hope I can do the same for others.


From unshakable life experiences to minor disturbances, grief is an unavoidable truth that knocks us off our personal paths and often into uncharted, or at the very least – chaotic, emotional territory. An unfortunate tenant of living, grief afflicts us all at some point – no matter who your status, friends, family, or vocation. It’s essential that we have a mental tool kit that allows others, as well as ourselves, to hold space for important emotions.

Quarantine has done a number on many people, from the loss of family, friends and significant others down to the loss of their jobs, or semblances of normalcy. We’re all distant from each other, and it’s human nature to pine for human connection – especially under duress; being able to hold space for grief is an important facet in our relationships, and to discover new ways to do so in our “new” normal seems doubly important.

All emotions deserve equal mental weight, and there simply ‘bad’ emotions – the idea of a bad emotion is a personal pejorative we place on a moment in time; what can in one second be viewed as a ‘negative’ can easily be transmuted over time to be a ‘positive’. For example: you were unhappy in your vocation and have had to re-evaluate your job, maybe quitting – possibly being let go; in the moment, it’s stressful to find a new position – but months later, after you’ve found a new gig that you truly care about – you view the transition in a positive light.

Sure, one could just dismiss bad feelings and move on from them, but that means you’re choosing to avoid further knowledge of self and spring load your evolution. The fear is that by ignoring, passing over or not holding space for important emotions will create a negative feedback loop where you’re eventually out of sync with your mental space, potentially re-creating the same problems for yourself because you haven’t chosen to reconcile those very emotions.

One holds space for grief, so that they can rebuild emotionally – remember the lessons, accept their new truths and move forward with the mind, heart and soul in tact. In it’s most basic sense, to “hold space” for anything means that your intention as an outside influence is simply to exist with the other person, and let whoever is going through the emotions flow through them at their own pace. As the old adage goes, ‘one does not drown by falling in the water – one drowns by staying there’ and that can be extrapolated onto holding space for emotions that seem to get in our way of daily life. By holding space for others, we accept them for everything they are, for their humanity, their brilliance in handling life, and their beauty in wishing to transmute through their emotions. We actively build a more open and honest relationship, built with integrity and without judgement – and through those relationships, we evolve into better versions of ourselves.


While negotiating our own grief is one thing, it’s important to acknowledge that helping someone else with theirs is a bird of a completely different color and no two people are identical in the way they need to process their individual traumas and truths. Helping others in times of need instinctually reminds us of our own needs, for comfort, for closeness, and for community; and while learning the love languages of others, we can be reminded of what our own needs are in times of trial and tribulation.

First and foremost, the best way to be there for someone is by – well – being there. Being available, and being authentic and asking questions without judgement. Sometimes, just being in their ether and letting one know that they’re simply not alone can be the most helpful thing you can do. Here are a other few ways we can ‘hold space’ for others

  • Ask without prying; let them explore their emotions on their own accord and at their own speed
  • Give permission to others to explore their own innate wisdom and intuition without guiding or steering them through yours
  • Empower others to create their own reality, don’t take that power away by applying your own judgements or opinions
  • Reserve judgement and opinions, even if explicitly asked. What works for you on an emotional, mental and spiritual level doesn’t always translate into the life of others.
  • Remove your ego from their situation; this is not about you, it’s about them
  • Create a safe space to explore difficult emotions
  • Remind them that it’s okay to feel, and fail at moving forward from feelings, what’s important is understanding the feelings – not the speed at which we get over them, but the value of getting through them
  • Don’t force anyone down your own rabbit holes. It’s human nature to believe that we have the ‘best’ of all possible ways, mechanisms, etc to get through this life – what’s good for us, isn’t necessarily the best for others. Allow space for others to explore their unique paths and truths.

Now, back to love languages for a moment – there are essentially five types of love languages: sharing emotions and words of affirmation, sharing physical space and quality time, human touch, gifting and acts of service. So, how does this translate to a digital world? Thanks to quarantine and COVID, three of those five are a bit harder to do than before. Those who desire to be held and physically loved, or who need to be physically surrounded by others are feeling the hit much more than others. It’s important to acknowledge when that love language is being ignored. Thankfully, our current technology has allowed us to reach out to others and keep in touch – more or less; sure, the digital world we’re living in leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to holding space for our emotions and mental space but lately I’ve found it to be more helpful than hurtful.

Helping someone who needs physical touch? Send a written note, a stuffed animal, stress ball, or even some of their favorite snacks. If you’re assisting someone who could use quality time, set up a Zoom or a FaceTime call to check in – smiling is contagious, and we could really all use a dose of actual connection every now and again!


The human condition is a complex web, it would be remiss to say that grief isn’t part of it – but it’s only a part, it’s not the whole. As my mom used to and still tells me, ‘This, too, shall pass.’ The totality of the human condition, the complete nature of it, is one of love, one of perseverance, one of beauty – however ephemeral that might be. Emotionally, we are not islands – our human nature means that we thrive on communication, culture and connection. It’s in our human nature to reach out, to feel down to our core and to explore every facet of ourselves. If we’ve disconnected from our authentic selves, disallowing ourselves to marinate within our mental space and avoiding our emotional truths – that human connection becomes impossible, because our self connection has disintegrated. How could we possibly be kind to others, love others, and hold space for others – when we’ve declined to do so for ourselves? Having others around to remind you that you are enough the way you are, you are accepted the way you are, and that you will get through whatever you’re facing is an incredible feeling, a formidable bond, and tantamount to our experience on this Earth.

What are some ways that others have held space for you that have been beneficial? How have you held space for the grief of others?

Leave some helpful hints for other readers in the comments below.


Resources

For those looking for a bit more assistance, knowledge or both – I’ve put together a small list of resources to expand your emotional repertoire.

Reads:

Websites and Hotlines

One thing about living in 2021: the internet provides – there are ample support groups on every corner of the internet, if you know where to look. Here are a few that I recommend:

[Be The Change] The Modern Perpetuation of American Racism

Protests over the death of an African American being arrested by Minneapolis erupted into violence.

Take a little trip back in social history, back to when the slaves were emancipated and went off to find their own land to call home; as a people – we were taken from a continent, had many native rites, traditions and languages extinguish – and then forced into a world where we were considered 3/5 of a person, then to where we weren’t allowed to own property, open a bank account, vote, go to “good” schools in “good areas”.

Fast forward to now, and these ideas have compounded with dangerous ideologies – those that protect and serve, protect and serve the majority. There is no equality, and most of all – there is no equity. Before the Civil Rights movement, Compton was supposed to be the new African American utopia – it’s why my family moved there. In the Civil Rights movement, we saw an uprising of people who were done with this indoctrination – and it was brought down by those who were supposed to protect and serve them; guess what: we’re seeing it again.

The agenda being set up, is one that is supposed to discredit and decimate the “legitimacy” of a group of people who are asking to simply be treated as HUMANS. The destruction of property is not the destruction of a people, or a community; but if what’s valued are capitalist ideals, then this sends a message – one that historically, and unfortunately, has not been listened to. And if I have learned ANYTHING from my history classes, it’s that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes until we learn from them.

So, what have we learned this week:

1. Protesting your rights to “wear a mask” and “go back to the beach” because you’re bored is fine, but protesting the human right to be treated equally somehow is not.

2. Former Presidential Candidate, and potential Vice Presidential nominee Amy Klobuchar oversaw multiple cases involving said officer, and declined to prosecute.

3. The ex-officer that was arrested has been charged…but only with third degree murder / manslaughter. This should have been second degree, or a hate crime. We’re literally saying that the death of George Floyd is no different than selling someone bad drugs; racism and ignorance are not a “bad drug” – they are detrimental mentalities which lead to the destruction of human life, vis-a-vie second degree.

If you’re curious on formal definitions – and given that 1st degree involves pre-meditation, this is how it breaks down in Minnesota:

2nd Degree: Any intentional murder with malice aforethought, but is not premeditated or planned in advance

3rd Degree Murder: Murder is not based on having the intent to kill. This charge may also result if a person sells bad drugs. The maximum penalty for murder is up to 25 years in prison.

Manslaughter: any killing committed as a result of recklessness. (also, Recklessness: lack of regard for the danger or consequences of one’s actions; rashness.)

4. Our President can somehow pull up random quotes from historical racists but somehow doesn’t know who Frederick Douglass was….oh, right, and he’s inciting a larger race riot by literally saying “LOOTING LEADS TO SHOOTING”

5. During this morning’s show, the CNN crew reporting on the events live were arrested on air by the police – let that sink in. That in America, where we pride ourselves in free speech – the police came in and took the whole crew in. What type of message does that send?

Finally: “A riot is the language of the unheard”

If you have never felt that you needed to protest, take to the streets, and raise your voice simply to be heard as an equal: Congratulations on whatever incredible privileges life has awarded you. Are you your brother and sisters keepers? Do you realize that a rising tide raises all ships? Then shape up and wake up to the realities of the current moment.

[I Can’t Breathe] A Mixed Message

Confusion rains down in waves, stemming from an ocean of emotions that well up in your bright eyes and rush through your veins, your tangled hair mirrors the modern tangled state of affairs we live in while the complexities of modern society beg your outlying community to define you and defile you, place you in a neat little box for the comfort of those that surround you.  

We exist in a country founded by our lightest of skinned forefathers, yet America was never meant for us – we’ve built this country on our hands and knees, with our blood, sweat and tears; yet, America was never meant for us.  It’s an ideal that was struck into rock and yelled from the mountain tops as true and sacred – the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness –  but that was never meant for us; constitutional amendments granting us security, sanctity and safety protect our white brothers and sisters, but that wasn’t meant for us, either.  Us – the others, the colored, the separate; us – the multicultural and different, the dichotomized and the disenfranchised; us – the stolen nationalities and original tribes of this land.

In my 31 years on this planet, I’ve always understood that to be intrinsically different from the people who founded and funded this country would never be easy – but we’re currently living at a time that could rival what was started in the 70s.  For the millions that can be shoved into a box on a standardized test asking if we’re “White”, “Black” or “Asian” – there are millions for which world isn’t black and white in the way we’re treated; nuances exist for us on a sliding scale of grey that ranges from biracial, multicultural to polyethnic.  We’re different, and we know it.  We’ve existed in a continuum of absolutes which we refuse to abide by – not “cultured” enough, yet not “white” enough, curious why Sun-In turns our hair orange and our freckles multiply in the sun; we’re on the outside looking in and on the inside looking out, trying to make sense of an upside down world that we didn’t ask for, and that our children will have to ascribe to. One of the few, if only, truths about being of mixed background is that your children will be too, as are their children, and our children after that; one of the only other truths, is that the world will treat you apart from its whole. 

We live in a world where people are more comfortable with the differences of others if they can label them or put them in a societal ‘box’. Mixed children have always raised an inquisitive eye by society but the good news is in the last few generations, America has become an incredible mixing pot for multitudes of races, ethnicities and cultures, opening eyes, hearts and arms to a kaleidoscope of colors. As someone that’s lived through it, the best thing you can do is have an open dialogue with your kids when they get to an age where they can really understand their heritage and how beautiful it is – because truth be told, it will always be a conversation piece of dialogue. Especially now that a new Civil Rights Movement has emerged.  It’s been lurking behind us for years, if not decades, while remnants of the original movement swept under the rug during the age of the Vietnam War have slowly resurfaced. The rights we fought so hard to attain, the equality that we worked so very hard for – they still have never really been our own.

And now, halfway through 2016, we’re bitterly basking in an awkward afterglow of our cumulative mess. Just half a year has gone by, yet our American cops have killed upwards of 590 civilians – the same people that are entrusted with helping and saving our lives, the same people we are told to implicitly trust with the rules and regulations of our society.

Waking up this morning, I was overcome with a range of emotions, from determined to hopeful, to downright terrified. I’m hopeful.  I’m hopeful because adversity has never stopped us, and it won’t now.  I’m hopeful because change has needed to come for a long, long time and I believe we have it within our reach to actualize it.  I’m hopeful because I have another day to make a difference in the world and fight for what I believe in. But I’m also scared. I’m scared because the rate of racial intolerance is exponential, because there are so many that quite obviously are not living freely, because my brothers and sisters of minority races all over this country are fighting to be treated as equals and fighting so the second amendment actually applies to them instead of only to our lighter skinned peers, I’m scared that a family member might be the next victim, and I’m scared because the same police that are supposed to protect and serve are the ones taking lives of those they’re supposed to be protecting and serving. I’m scared because it’s not a minority versus police issue, it’s an everybody versus the police issue that the media has swept under the rug – that the media is building into a race war and I’m scared because the American population is letting it.

There’s a line that’s been drawn in the sand, and I’m scared because I don’t know where we go from here. Being bi-cultural and black has amplified my feelings even more, especially when the shootings and lynchings are reminiscent of a time that I thought we already made it through and now it’s clear that the civil rights movement was only silenced, not won.

Am I white enough to pass? Or am I black enough to get shot? Questions I never thought I’d have to ask but here I am, wondering what my life’s worth on paper.

Hate does not drive out hate, only love can do that; fear does not drive out fear, only love can do that. But the hateful and afraid are the ones ruling our country and acting out, and they will until we can bond together, forget our skin colors, ethnicities and creeds and love each other;  we need to raise each other up, instead of holding each other back – and we – we the darker skinned, we the less fortunate, we the impoverished…. – we need our friends, peers, brothers and sisters of all origins to realize that for us to survive as an American society or an American community, we cannot hold our equals down and we cannot ask them to take less than what they deserve.

We need to use our voices and our intellect to educate the uninformed and ignorant, we need to rise up as a people and say “this is not working; fix it.” We need to systemically fix our judicial system and change the tactics used by the police. The police need demilitarized weapons, and they need training in multicultural awareness, racial tolerance and empathy. As a community, we need to vote for and elect our policemen the same way we do for politicians – and we need to hold them just as, if not more, accountable.

We collectively need to right the hundreds of wrongs done by our forefathers and theirs before them, but we have to do it together because we’re all we have and this world is all we’ve got.


[Self Discovery] Life Lessons From My Cats

Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things;
feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.

Naomi Shihab Nye

There’s beauty in my breakdown. The past few weeks have been a lesson, an equal lesson in patience, love and loss.   Over the last few days I’ve thrown myself into fits of frustration and I’ve made myself laugh within the same moment, in an instant memory recall of the last eight years with Sake. What’s been the most important to understand is that my deep love, in turn – my deep sadness, is a selfish, albeit human, emotion because I couldn’t have him here to watch over me.  Our best memories were every day memories, morning kisses and pouncing on my head, late night cuddle sessions and secret treats. Sake brought friendship and love into my life in the best ways, always curling up in the most deserving of laps with a gregarious smile fixed to his furry face.

I remember one night back in 2008, I’d just gotten back from an all night party in Santa Barbara and was trying to pass out – albeit at 2pm.  Sake strutted into the room like he owned the place and perched next to me.  Slowly, as I watched him – a small figure floated above his head, a little pudgy with an orange glow and solemn stare, legs and arms crossed while it gazed into infinity.  From that moment on, I considered Sake my little Buddha kitty and realized that as much as I was Sake’s owner, he was perpetually my teacher. So, I’d like to bestow a few life lessons that I’ve proudly learned from my little man.  May his legacy live on.

When in doubt, take a nap.

Be comfortable

There is always more time for cuddling

If you can play with it, it’s a toy

  

Make an entrance

If you can sleep on it, it’s a bed

IMG_0068

Life is more fun with friends

IMG_4782

Stop and smell the flowers

Morning kisses are the best

Hug more

Give yourself a break

Look cute, people are watching

When you’re happy, announce it to the world. 

There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.

[Albert Schweitzer]