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Antidotes to Despair

Day 39: Antidotes to Despair

As I walk with people in their grief, I am in awe of how humans keep getting out of bed and navigate the pragmatic difficulties of their new reality (most name that there isn’t much choice in this). Yet in this work, I have come to see humans as incredibly gritty and stubbornly hopeful without even knowing it.

One pattern I have noticed that sets some grief journeys apart from others is when people engage with something generative. When I say generative, I am speaking about some act of creation, some production of something. This could be noticing how good it feels to chop carrots at the end of the day in order to make the stew; it could be making your kids lunch; it could be writing about the struggle of your new reality; it could be caring for your houseplants; it could be writing a note to your friend; it could be drawing, painting, dancing or composing a song. It could be editing a video, taking a class, or some attempt to learn something new.

I want to be very clear that these generative acts do not typically happen early on in grief, yet the seeds of them are already inside the griever, just needing some time and rest to germinate.

One reason it feels important to “generate” is that it gives us a sense of control over our lives which is often shattered in deep grief. Creating something or generating also allows our brain to access its natural desire to hope and imagine, both of which are diminished in acute grief.

I ask my clients to start small—these “generative” tasks need not take a lot of time, and can be as simple as adding intention and attention to something you are already doing (such as making yourself lunch). I have noticed that small, daily acts of creation and generation early on in grief allow grievers to access hope for their life, even amidst all that has happened.

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