[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.


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.


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:

Finding Love In Small Moments and Everyday Places

This time of year, there are two words that can either make or break your day depending on your relationship status; couples run to it, those committed to being single scatter in opposing directions.  But from time to time, almost all of us forget that the first relationship we should consider on Valentine’s Day is the one we have with ourselves. It’s a sad state of affairs when our feelings about love are dictated by our relationship status; there is so much love to be shared in each and every moment that it’s a crying shame more people can’t commit themselves to stopping and smelling the roses every once in a while, even if for a second they’re reminded of their thorns.

Love is a set of stepping stones strewn haphazardly over a river of turbulent emotions ; it would be nice if we crossed them carefully and with grace – but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always the case.  The first stone is self-love; you can’t feasibly land on any others until you’ve conquered this step.  People try to skip it and rush to other steps beyond their reach…but some slip, others fall and most curse the world that they’ll never love again. We all stumble and land in the water, but what we have to remember is that you don’t drown by falling in the water, we drown by staying there: we could dance it off and splash around, rinse our souls and start anew; start fresh.

My last relationship ended a while ago and as with most breakups, extenuating circumstances were everywhere.  We weren’t  just like everyone else: our breakup was different; we were different.  Over the course of the few years we’d known each other, he’d been diagnosed Bipolar 1 and I was fighting as hard as I could to maintain any semblance of normalcy between us. When I love, I have a tendency to put the other persons needs before my own – and in this situation, doubly so. But trying to love someone who can’t be 100% of themselves puts unnecessary strain on a relationship, and I was doing the work of both parties. When we split I had an epiphany that I’d put so much of myself into my relationship that I’d lost sight of who I was as an individual: I had no clue what it meant to be me anymore.  In turn, I decided to go on a mission – a journey into the manifest destiny of my emotional mind; it’s been the most rewarding experience I could have asked for, and the best gift he ever gave me.With so much love in the world, we don’t have to be so naive to think that as single members of society we can’t enjoy Valentine’s Day.  For me, Valentine’s Day is a reason to celebrate all the love around me – the love that my friends share, that the couples in my life share, even the love that my pets share: it’s there, it’s all there, you just have to be patient enough to notice it.

At the end of the day, what truly matters is only one love: do you love yourself – and more importantly, what variables add up to love in the equation of your life?

A year and a half ago – I wouldn’t have had an answer for that – I probably would’ve given you a blank stare and said something vague like “happiness.” As delightful as that is, the education adulthood has given me screams that it’s simply not enough: what makes you happy and how do you cultivate happiness in your life or within your friendships? I’m blessed: I’ve found the most fulfilling moments in the smallest of places and they do their dose of replenishing the love in the world around me.

Art doesn’t have to be in a museum and it surely doesn’t have to have a price tag; almost all of the art I’m currently into I stumbled across while wandering the streets of Los Angeles.  And it makes complete sense, if you think about it – creativity oozes from the veins of our city so it’s no wonder that it art lurks in alleyways and lays hidden to the most oblivious of people.

There’s something to be said for being awake while the city sleeps, and it goes beyond catching the glory of a sunrise – while other people are caught up in dreams that they’ll likely never remember, I’m making plans for dreams that refuse to get out of my head.  To be honest, I do my best thinking when the city sleeps.

It’s taken almost five years, but I have to admit – I love LA. I love the clusterfuck of personalities and vocations, of music genres and museums; it’s like someone threw the eclectic parts of the world into a martini shaker and let it loose above the city.

The older I get, the stronger my relationships with my parents get; getting older and wiser is difficult and they make things so much easier.  Whether it’s a funny anecdote comparing my life to any of their post-collegiate fumbles, or friend advise or a funny joke that no one else would get, my parents are my rocks and their support and unconditional love means the world to me.

One of the biggest understatements in the world is this: these two faces light up my life.  Even though I just started, I  can’t begin to explain the adoration and admiration that run through my veins every day that I get to spend with them.  They’re privy to inside jokes no one else gets and see my one person dance parties on the daily. My life is richer because they’re in it; I feel love because they’re in my life

And now, in no particular order – these are the things that fill my heart on the daily:

…getting lost in a good book, autocorrect when I’m drunk, dandelions, empty email boxes, handwritten letters, strangers who share their smiles, scream laughter, catching up with friends over mimosas, mosh pits, the first rays of morning sunshine, bear hugs from close friends, fresh music, hand-me-down clothing, writing, long runs, coincidences, and most importantly – me.