The 3 phases of dealing with grief in a healthy and holistic way
Can anything good come out of death?
Written by: Paul E. Wanvig, published in English: 2. March 2019
First published in Medium Magazine (Norway) 04.2015
Losing a person who is close to us can be a tremendous strain, which can immediately trigger shock, deep pain, and despair. People that have experienced this often wonder: Is there a way to cope with grief that doesn’t involve endless pain, despair, emptiness, and suffering?
In this article, I will share how my wife, Maria, and I have worked through the shock and grief of losing our son who died four months ago.
I am grateful that our extensive education in holistic medicine, shamanism, and psychology in Germany has given us a healthy and holistic manner to deal with death, as has proved helpful during this difficult period.
But when my father died, I had no idea that dealing with grief in a healthy way was possible.
My father's death
I was a typical daddy’s boy who hung around the legs of my father since I was little. He is one of the few people I've met who never said a bad word about others. He was always there for me when I needed help, cared for me, and he took me to all my sporting activities—and there were many of them.
In November 1996, he was found unconscious in the woods when had he gone for a walk with his dog. It was discovered that several of the blood vessels in and outside his heart were clogged. The only thing that could save him was a bypass operation that ended with a major complication, which left his brain without oxygen for more than three minutes.
When he woke up, we knew something was wrong. The next 12 months before his death, on December 23, 1997, were a true emotional nightmare for me. The man I was dearly fond of was gradually fading away. He changed from being a vigorous athlete to a skinny, aggressive man, who was constantly screaming, and he could not recognise me when I came to visit. Seeing all this shook my life fundamentally. As I became more uncomfortable, it became normal that I dreaded to see him.
On the day before Christmas Eve, the phone rang early in the morning, and an icy feeling came over my body. My heart almost stopped beating, because I sensed that... it was over.
Christmas would never be the same again, and the pain lasted for the next ten years.
I did not want to grieve
At the time, I thought that the church had all the knowledge on grief processing. Since I'm not religious, it would have been unnatural for me to go to a priest to help me deal with the grief, so I chose a different approach.
Instead of searching for other help, I decided to put a lid on my endless despair, loss, and self-reproach that I should have done things better, visited him more often, and said the right words in the last year of his life.
I had to control my emotions, since my job required that I was able to make demanding decisions on a daily basis. For many years, I lived like a machine without much feelings. The only important thing in life was to function.
10 years of pneumonia
High fever, bronchitis, and double-sided pneumonia always came creeping every Christmas for the next ten years. Everything that had to do with Christmas placed pressure on the feelings I had hidden for so long in my emotional pressure cooker.
I dreaded every Christmas and wanted to have nothing to do with Christmas trees, Christmas food, and everything else that we associate with Christmas. I am sure it was not easy being my partner through these years.
Through Christmas 1997, I experienced my first burnout. During Christmas celebrations in 2003, I almost lost my life to my last burnout.
With the help of my dear wife, Maria, and my friend, teacher, and mentor, Walter Luebeck, I was able to break this vicious cycle after ten years in which Christmas was synonymous with illness and suffering.
Grief must be processed
This story is a classic example of how untreated grief and trauma can lead to extensive psychological and psychosomatic consequences, such as pneumonia and depression in my case.
Since then, I have met many people and clients who have experienced similar effects. Untreated grief, trauma, and self-blame can have long-lasting and often extensive consequences on all aspects of our life, such as relationships, work, and health.
When we process grief quickly and comprehensively, our suffering is reduced, and so is the risk of associated diseases.
Here I will share the essence of the experience and knowledge I have gained since 2004 about how it is possible to cope with the loss of someone close to us. "The 3 phases to heal grief in a healthy and holistic way" can, of course, be used for all kinds of grief. Examples include when you lose your job, when you suffer serious illness or disability, if you go through divorce, or when you lose a pet that is close to you.
Grief and taboos
Grief is associated with many taboos and dogmas that control much of the behavior of those who grieve and the society around us. When trying to handle grief differently from what is expected, one can encounter negative criticism and slander. Everything might be heard, from "You can’t do it like that," to "You cannot wear colored clothes at a funeral," and "What is wrong with them; it appears that the deceased was not as important to him/her," or even "Enough with this grieving; it must be possible to get on with life."
If you are tough enough to go outside the rules, customs, and expectations of behavior in the event of death, you should expect an extra burden. However, if you are able to cope with the loss in your way, you will emerge strengthened in record time.
What I share here is based on my personal experience and the experience of many clients who often are amazed that it is possible to go trough one of life's most difficult experiences without suffering and self-blame.
The purpose is not to say that you have done something wrong or try to convince you that I'm right. It's okay to disagree with me, since there are many roads to Rome, some of which I don’t know about, that deal with such a universal topic.
What is death?
As a shaman, I see death as a natural part of the lifecycle of everything that is living—what has a start also has an end. We begin to explore the soul's vision in its present incarnation when our soul is born into a new human body.
When the time comes, we leave our earthly temple and proceed to Bardo (the Kingdom of the transitional state), where we make peace with the life we have lived. The last stop is the Kingdom of Light, where our soul plans its next incarnation on this planet.
This cycle repeats itself ad infinitum until we decide to end the incarnation cycle ourselves, causing our individuality to cease from existence.
In other words, death is something a shaman interacts with as a natural part of life’s many phases. But why did I experience the loss of my own son so intensively when I, as a shaman, see this as a natural part of life—one that is lived an infinite number of times?
Is grief a disease?
As a shaman, I seek to observe nature and its natural processes when I have questions about how life works. In my quest to find the answer to whether grief is a disease that is man-made, I ended up observing animals living freely in the wild that are not influenced by humans. Here are a few examples:
Canada geese are very emotional beings. A Canadian goose grieves when it loses its partner. They can remove themselves from the group to stay by themselves and swim around in despair, sobbing sorrowfully.
Dolphins often have difficulties in accepting death and the loss of a family member, and they will often stay with the deceased dolphin for days.
Elephants are also extremely emotional beings with close ties to other elephants. These deep ties could lead to intense grief when one they are fond of the one that dies. Elephants are known to shed tears, bury their dead, go into depression, and starve themselves as a reaction to a loss.
Chimpanzees are known to despair when they lose close members of their group. The animals will often cry and refuse to eat food in the mourning period. Gorillas also show sadness and concern for their dead, whom they also sometimes bury.
Grief, not concerning humans, exists in nature. But the big difference between humans and animals in the wild is the length of the grieving process and the animals' capacity to continue living their life without letting what happened affect them over the long term in destructive ways.
Canada geese are monogamous with a partner throughout their lives. When the partner dies, the goose can mourn for several weeks and then seek a new partner, since this is a necessity for survival.
However, when humans do not let go of the pain and suffering even years after losing someone close, this is something that does not exist in nature and must therefore be called a man-made disease. In my opinion, this phenomenon is deserving of a separate medical diagnosis (today, a plethora of different diagnoses are used for symptoms that occur, such as depression and anxiety).
In my personal experience and those of my clients, it is possible to avoid grief as a disease by using "The 3 phases to heal grief in a healthy and holistic way."
The art of being human
We humans are social beings who depend on strong social structures in order to survive. Without this genetic "basic programming," it would have been impossible to develop from the caveman stage to the complex social structures we have in our society today.
When a close bond to one we love has been broken, it feels like a shot across the bow of our existence. The stronger the bond is, the greater the threat feels to our own emotional, physical, and economic existence.
The fact that we react so strongly when we lose someone we love is therefore no wonder. This is an automated response from our genetic survival system. In other words, there is a limit to what intellectual knowledge, experience, and wisdom means at the moment when we lose our loved ones. Our automated genetic system turns on and supersedes all intellectual knowledge, judgment, and experience.
Although Maria and I had thorough knowledge of the processes around death, we could not prevent ourselves from feeling like we had hit rock-bottom after losing our child, since none of us can override our human genetic programming with intellect or experience.
The art is to accept that we are human beings with the need to let out deep sorrow and grief when our existence is threatened. We are not cold machines without feelings that are just here to function—we are humans of flesh and blood who are here to live!
Does this mean that knowledge is not worth anything when we experience losing our loved ones? Definitely not! Knowledge and insight into a holistic way of processing grief will give us the map that allows us to find a safe way out of the complex jungle of emotions, rather than being stuck with frustration, emptiness, pain, and suffering.
The map that shows the way home
It’s helpful to have a model that gives us a clear view and understanding of how we find our way out of the endless jungle of emptiness, pain, and frustration. For us, this has been very helpful in our own mourning process over these past few months.
The map that showed us the way home after the tragedy of losing our son consists of three phases that I call 'The 3 phases to heal grief in a healthy and holistic way," as follows:
Phase 1: Treatment and healing of the shock
Phase 2: The Grieving Process
Phase 3: Forgiveness
Before you go ahead with phases 2 and 3, there is a prerequisite that the shock is treated first. Without this step, it will be extremely difficult to go through a healthy grieving process and to forgive ourselves, our dear one, and other involved parties. Phases 2 and 3 can be done simultaneously.
Phase 1: Treatment and healing of the shock
The shock I experienced when the doctors said there is nothing they could do for our child, and then when Wotan died, had set me completely beside myself. I had never felt so helpless. Feeling how the numbness was creeping over me, I was no longer able to cope with the world around me. It was like stepping into a bubble. I saw only Maria and myself, while the world around me became more blurred.
When we arrived home after Maria was signed out of hospital, I could not feel anything. The numbness was so intense that it was even hard for me to let the tears flow, because I simply could not comprehend what had happened. The world around us did not interest me, and I felt completely helpless, desperate, and completely incapable of knowing what was going to happen next.
These are typical symptoms of shock. When we first experience such shock, there isn’t much we can do by ourselves. In such moments, it feels like every breath and every activity presents a struggle to survive.
Seek help for treating the shock as quickly as possible
The deeper the shock is, the more competent help you need. It's not possible to process the grief and let go of what has been for as long as we are in a state of shock, which can last and give repercussions for years if it is not treated.
People who are locked in a cycle of pain, despair, emptiness, and suffering year after year, because they have lost their loved ones and are unable to let go, are still suffering from the consequences of an untreated shock. It is, in my experience, impossible to completely let go and move on with our lives without that shock being treated correctly and completely.
I have clients who continue to suffer for years after a loss. The first thing I take care of to help them is healing the shock and its repercussions that were never treated adequately. The faster you get help to treat the shock, the better.
The day Maria was discharged from the hospital, our good friend and teacher, Walter Luebeck, had visited us. One of the first things he did was to set up a complete holistic program for shock treatment. Today, we are very thankful we got help to start the treatment so quickly; it took no more than about two weeks before we could feel ourselves and the world around us again.
Who can help you treat the shock?
Severe shock and trauma treatment should always be left to experts who have special training in this, such as emergency psychologists and other specialists. Others may get help from nurses or midwives who are specially trained in helping people through such difficult times. Others get the help of a priest, coach, therapist, or a good friend.
We all have different methods, and the most important thing is that you seek out someone who is competent and whom you can trust. It is important that a shock is treated and healed completely. If you are suffering from loss, I urgently recommend that you consult a qualified therapist for treating shock, since the long-term consequences can be stressful both physically and mentally if care is not rendered in a professional manner.
Phase 2: The Grieving Process
After the shock has settled, the most challenging phase follows: the grieving process.
Grief is often defined as "an expression of loss, sadness, emptiness, betrayal, pain, and/or despair after the death of someone close."
While this expresses how grief feels or is experienced, it does not define what the grieving process is.
Let me share with you my definition of what a grief process is and how this should be done in a healthy and holistic way: "Grief is the process of letting go of what you've lost and what has been, while taking care of memories, experiences, knowledge, and adventures that you had shared together, and then adapting and reorienting your life in the light of the experience, knowledge, wisdom, strength, insight, and opportunities that arise during the process of letting go of what has been."
(Intense grief can also be experienced if we lose our job, become disabled, go through divorce, have children move out, etc.)
After death, our soul normally goes on to the divine Kingdom of Light via Bardo (the Kingdom of the transitional state) for planning its next incarnation. The soul itself does not suffer after death. It is only we who are left behind who often fail to accept that the one we love has left us.
In other words, grief is a subjective and self-centered experience that only has to do with ourselves and not with the one who has left us. The one who dies usually lets go of you and what has been at once (there are, however, exceptions to this).
The harder it is for us to let go of the person who has left us, the harder it is for him or her to release themselves and proceed on the way to their forefathers.
In other words: With our inability to let our loved ones be allowed to proceed on their path, we can prevent them from finding their way to the Kingdom of Light. The soul can possibly get stuck in Bardo, because he or she feels sorry for us and wants to stay close to comfort us. Our inability or unwillingness to let go can therefore have major consequences not only for ourselves, but also for those we love.
Gaining insight into what death really is
An important foundation for a healthy and holistic grief process of letting go is to acquire a good understanding of what death really is, since there are many opinions about this that are often based on fear. The more fear is involved, the harder it is to let go.
After the shock is integrated and processed, I give my clients access to my video seminar about death and reincarnation, which shows what happens after death from a shaman’s point of view. I then discuss the topics that are addressed with them. My experience shows that it is much easier to let go of their loved ones when they know what really happens after death.
If you are reading this article to help deal with your loss, I recommend that you contact a competent and experienced shaman or priest to gain insights into this topic. It will considerably quicken the process of letting go of the one you have lost.
The 4 steps for a healthy approach to the grieving process
A healthy approach to the grieving process consists of four steps. Here I also share a few examples of what Maria and I experienced after we lost our son:
Step 1 - Accept
Accept that the one we love has departed and that he or she is allowed to go on without us. Take deliberate actions (e.g. through different type of rituals) showing that you have accepted that your loved one has passed on and that you want to make peace with what has happened.
For Maria and me, it was not so difficult to accept that Wotan should be allowed to continue his way without us. The trigger for this was the shamanistic funeral ritual that Walter held for us at the oak tree where Wotan was buried. There, we opened up our hearts and consciously let him go. On one hand, we wanted to keep him here, but it would have been a self-centered act that would have made it difficult for him to move on. We showed real love from the depths of our hearts by consciously saying to him, during the ritual, that we let go completely and wish him well on his journey. The peace that came over us at that moment is one of the most beautiful experiences I've ever had.
Step 2 - Remember
Remember and dwell on everything valuable that the deceased has given your life as long as you've known each other. For this step, you may want to use a diary in which you can document all of the good things.
Although Wotan was not with us so many months, he was so valuable to us.
By touching our hearts in a way that we have never experienced before, he helped us to understand the value of life in a deeper way while everyday issues were put in an entirely different perspective. Having lost a child, we see the world with different eyes. What were previously problems are now insignificant details in a landscape where meaning, depth, and joy of life are at the center. This is perceived as if we are becoming much more authentic compared to daily life itself. Wotan also brought Maria and me so much closer.
During this period, I acquired extensive and valuable knowledge in the treatment of multi-resistant bacteria with natural active substances, which gave amazing results even when the strongest antibiotics did not work. This period of time also led me into an exciting path studying how the best holistic medical clinics in the world are treating and curing cancer and other chronic diseases in a holistic manner. Without Maria being so ill at the hospital, I probably would not have opened up my eyes to this exciting medical universe.
Step 3 - Adapt
Adaptation, and, if necessary, reorientation of your own life based on all the experience, knowledge, wisdom, strength, insight, and opportunities that you have become aware of through the grieving process.
What we have experienced will help shape our lives and our relationship with each other. The wisdom, knowledge, and power that we have been given by Wotan's death have changed a part of how we relate to each other, our students, clients, and people around us. By today, I have even greater acceptance that people around me may use their free will to make the choices they want, even if it means years of suffering and problems. Before, I took it somewhat personally when one of my clients or friends did not want to do even the simplest and basic things for recovery from, for example, cancer. Today, I understand that love also means that you must let others walk their own path and accept the choices they make with their free will, even if this results in a lot of pain and suffering.
Step 4 - Forgive
Forgiveness of yourself, the one you've lost and other parties involved (this step continues on in Phase 3).
If you are stuck on one or more of the steps, it may be a good idea to seek the help of someone with experience. In addition to good conversations and therapy, methods of energy medicine (such as flower essences, homeopathy, acupuncture, various forms of healing, etc.) could be helpful.
Phase 3: Forgiveness
In most cases, a healthy and holistic approach to the grieving process and forgiveness go hand in hand. Completing the grieving process without first having forgiven yourself, the one you've lost, and any other parties involved is difficult. Because forgiveness is a complex subject, it becomes a separate phase in the recipe for a healthy and holistic healing of grief.
You can get a basic introduction on the topic of forgiveness in the article "Free yourself by forgiving! Learn the 7 pillars of true forgiveness."
One of the first things that struck us after the shock subsided was self-blame. What could we have done better? What if we had gone to the hospital earlier? What if we had gathered more knowledge about problems that can occur during pregnancy in advance? What if we had eaten healthier or taken other supplements? What if, what if, what if...
The feeling of self-reproach was overwhelming at first. It did not help much that doctors, midwives, gynecologists, all the other experts, and Walter said that whatever we would have done would not have changed the outcome.
Self-incrimination can only be cured by forgiving yourself, because you did the best you could. It can be difficult to forgive only by our will, and often a lot more insight into the topic of forgiveness is needed until we manage to let go.
It is also important that you forgive the one who has abandoned you. It may be hard to accept that our loved ones have left us here alone. Additionally, forgiving all others involved (such as family and doctors) is a good step to take.
My favorite method for forgiveness is Kanseya Shai'nar, which is a special meditation method for forgiveness from the depths of the heart. By using this method, the self-reproach vanished over the next few weeks.
Can anything good come out of death?
This is a sensitive issue that can be easily misunderstood. To say to someone who has lost a loved one that something good can come out of it could be perceived as cold and insensitive.
But my life experience tells me that even the greatest trauma in my life has always had a gigantic potential of opportunities that have been there for me in retrospect. At the moment the trauma occurs, and in the subsequent weeks/months afterward, it is, of course, difficult to see a positive outlook, because the shock is blocking our ability to see and think clearly. But when the worst of the storm has settled, it is possible to see the landscape that opens up—if we want to see it.
The question is whether we are willing to open ourselves up to the good that can come out of a situation that may seem hopeless at the time.
One of my basic philosophies is that I live my own life out of the premise that there is a solution to every thinkable problem. The larger the problem is, the greater are the opportunities waiting for us on the other side—if we are willing to accept them—which then is a conscious choice we make.
The three most extensive traumas I experienced so far in my life have given me more strength, wisdom, and happiness in retrospect than anything else.
The first trauma was losing my father. Although the first few years afterward were filled with emptiness and pain, he had showed me the way to the person I am today.
The second trauma was a burnout that almost killed me in 2003, one that would change my life completely and build the foundation for the wonderful life I'm allowed to live today.
The third trauma was losing my son, Wotan. Although it happened only four months ago, I have an extreme appreciation for the time he was with us and the possibilities he opened up in our lives.
To write these words to you has been a healing process in itself for me. I hope my experience will be of benefit to you and yours. I appreciate hearing from you with your thoughts and experiences about the grief and mourning process.
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Paul E. Wanvig is a Neoteric Shaman, entrepreneur, journalist, author, speaker, bio-hacker, spiritual teacher & encouraging optimist dedicated to helping you and your family live a Fulfilled Life and ending the stress and burnout epidemic by Utilizing the Best of Modern and Ancient Scientific Practices, Medicine and Technology.
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