By Karen Nicola M.A./Grief Coach

Who likes work? Possibly, just the word, W-O-R-K, fosters negative memories of pulling weeds in the ivy bed as a kid.  At least it does for me.   But for the sake of honesty, there is some work I love to do.  Possibly you enjoy certain types of work as well.  For instance, I really enjoy ironing.  The transformation of wrinkled shirts to crisp, pressed ones ready to wear is very satisfying.  In addition to a quality iron and ironing board, I always toss in a favorite movie and I’m set to iron while revisiting old classic stories.  How about you, do you enjoy yard work? Maybe it’s washing the dishes . . . or cleaning your boat?  Just now, think of one or two types of work that you like doing and identify what it is that makes it enjoyable for you. What tools make your work more satisfying and productive?

What is Grief Work?

As I continue to coach others through their grief journey, we often explore that to grieve well means doing grief work.  What do I mean by “grief work?”  It is quite simple; grief work is paying attention to the grief journey and responding in healthy, appropriate, honest, and useful ways.  It means facing the emotions and dealing with them in the moment.  This can sometimes be awkward.  When we are in the middle of a busy day and a wave of grief overtakes our thoughts and feelings, it is awkward to excuse ourselves and interact with the grief.  However, when we do, we are always better for it.  So, what do I mean when I say, “deal with the grief?”

Grief Work Tools: Paper and Pen

What are the tools needed for grief work?  My favorite tools are a paper, pen, or pencil.  Keeping a small notebook handy helps us have an immediate place to capture the wave of emotions in the moment.  Sometimes a good night’s rest changes the perspective of the monumental pain and we awake ready to pour our hearts onto paper.  As confusing as it might feel, allowing the random, messy, and unpredictable thoughts, pain, confusion, and fear onto paper somehow brings clarity.  Journaling, random writing rants, poetry, letters addressed to God or the deceased are all excellent release tools for our emotions.  As you experiment pouring your heart out on paper you will discover which forms of pen to paper are most effective for you. And then do it regularly, like brushing your teeth or doing the dishes.

Grief Work Tools: Exercise

Another tool includes exercise.  Often the buildup of grieving emotions is released during exercising.  When we exercise, our body is fueled with fresh oxygen and that is just what is needed to put us back on the healthy grief path.  In addition, positive hormones, such as endorphins, are released that give us a better frame of mind.  Exercise also helps us rest better.  As grievers, we need all the assistance we can find to improve rest during grief.

Grief Work Tools: Forgiveness

A huge and often painful part of grief work includes forgiveness.  When we find ourselves in the vortex of blame, regrets, and guilt, it is time to get serious about grief work.  It is time to be honest, take responsibility for what is real and true.  It is time to be forgiven and forgive others.  It is hard work and for many they need some assistance to navigate this section of the journey.  It takes courage and hope.  One little step at a time can lead you the whole way until you are out from under the shadow of remorse and suffering. Forgiveness is the best way to begin healing the pain.

Grief Work Tools: Respite

Other tools for grieving well include gardening, taking up a hobby, fishing, hiking, sketching, painting, or listening to music. Choosing any of these types of activities connects you to a brief respite.  It is a way to experience self-care.   For a time, the intensity of grief can rest while we engage in activities that comfort.  I realize that some do not have the leisure for quiet alone time.  Consider discussing your needs with your family, friends, or colleagues to help them understand the importance of attending to your grief so you can grieve to the best of your ability.

Grief Work Tools:  Resources

Tapping into educational and support resources are additional grief work tools.  Some of those might include:

  • Join a grief support group
  • Attend a workshop or seminar on the topic
  • Find a grief coach or therapist
  • Research web sites and blogs that you resonate with
  • Check out books that can be supportive and useful for your grief
  • Arrange for a few visits with your pastor or spiritual mentor to discuss issues of faith and God as it relates to suffering.

Reaching out to resources puts you back into the driver’s seat of your grief life.  You educate yourself and move from fear, uncertainty, and ignorance toward peacefulness and application of new knowledge.  These are important grief tools.

Why Do Grief Work?

In short, grief work is simply paying attention to your grief, interacting with it, and responding intentionally in ways that you know will help you heal and discover restoration.  Even when you don’t feel like it, trust the grief work you do now will have pay offs in the future.  Your grief work can open the way to hope, encouragement, understanding and satisfaction.  Considering the option of disengaging with your grief and allowing it to rule you, trapping you in suffering; grief work is such a better choice. Putting into practice some or all these grief tools can transform your grief into something you look forward to doing, because you know it will help you feel better and that is deeply satisfying.

© Karen Nicola 2020

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A friend to the hurting heart, Karen Nicola has known the inexpressible experience of watching her precious three year old son slip away in death to leukemia.  In her desire to make sense of the pain, she discovered Biblical resources that comforted and brought healing.  Her book, Comfort for the Day, was written so others could access these same resources. Karen has done several grief workshops and webinars for Beautiful Minds Wellness. You can learn more about her work at