Lessons in Grief: Diversify
The night my father died of cancer, he pulled me in close and whispered, “Diversify.” At the time, I wasn’t really sure what he meant -- Financially? Emotionally? Creatively?
But as I grieved over his sudden and unexpected death, this profound moment, and my father's mysterious message, burned in my memory.
Pops was diagnosed with terminal cancer in his early 50s, and he was gone in 10 days. I was completely unprepared for the reality that would follow his death. I quickly learned that grief never stops, that there’s no manual that explains how to handle the emotions or a quick fix to make them go away. I found that a single moment in life, like the joyous birth of my wonderful daughter, can bring the pain of loss back to the surface. And at the same time, like Kalil Gibran so eloquently describes, "the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."
I also found that people did not want to talk about it. Grief and loss make people uncomfortable (unless it's someone super famous; then, somehow, it becomes cool to grieve, well, for a day). I met so many people who wanted to talk about it, but didn't know how or where. And I wanted to help, to DO SOMETHING.
So I did the thing I do best: tell a story. That is what I do: through art and through acting.
“Speed Grieving” was born out of my need to heal from grief, yet it has become so much more. It is a tool to help others struggling with ravaging emotions that most of us have no idea what to do with. I had a vision of millions of people watching this short film and holding discussions and educational events at hospices, hospitals, universities and medical schools. The idea has been to share the story so people will start talking about the grief, and my dream is for no one to ever feel they are alone in the grieving process.
It’s been a long and incredible journey from this dream in my head to the amazing reality of the film going to over 15 festivals. With the the release of the DVD, which includes not only the film, but a grief discussion guide co-written with social workers and grief experts from Cancer Support Community, the dream has come true.
So what did I learn on this road? What can I share?
1. Create space for your feelings. Give yourself license to feel whatever you want, whenever you want. There is no such thing as inappropriate feelings. “Speed Grieving” is about a woman who thinks she is too busy to grieve. I think we can all, especially women and mothers, relate to that feeling of having way too much to do and not enough time, but creating the time to feel your feelings is key. And ironically this will create more time for the good stuff, because you aren't so busy fighting off your grief. Here is the tricky part about grief: feelings won't come when you want; they come when they want. You are not in charge of them. But if you make more space in your life, and have the courage to feel the emotions, trusting they will pass, they won’t get stuck in your heart and blindside you later. Meditation and yoga are great tools for this. Journaling is an amazing outlet, which is why we are including a journal with each copy of the “Speed Grieving” DVD.
2. Find your people. In Speed Grieving, the lead character is so surprised by friends who can't be there for her, and random people like a doorman who reach out and touch her heart. I found I was so surprised by who could go there and who couldn't. You soon realize who the friends are that always leave you with a smile on your face? The ones who make you feel loved, supported and okay no matter what you feel? Find the people who CAN talk to you about it. They may not be the people you expect. And check out your local community center, bereavement groups, church or temple, etc. -- you might just be surprised by how good it feels to be with other people going through the same thing you are.
3. Write yourself a prescription for self-care. I am serious. Sit down right now and pretend you are a doctor (you can tell I have a 2 year old) and write it out. What makes you feel taken care of? Is it a Hot bath, a walk in the snow, a massage? Or maybe it’s a haircut or a trip to the gym? Commit to taking amazing care of yourself. Treat yourself like you would someone you love dearly.
4. GET BACK UP, help someone else. Maria Shriver herself is an incredible example of this. There is magic in helping another, because service helps us heal. I don't know why, but I just know it works. It's the same reason 12-step programs work. For me, I had to make a movie. Ask yourself what does your heart call you to do? It can be going and holding babies at a local hospital or volunteering at a local elder care facility. It gets us out of the small picture and helps us see the big picture. Do it in honor of the person you lost. Where would they love you to go?
Whatever you do, allow your pain to be transformative. I transformed my own hurt into something that has the power to help so many people. And to me, that's what life is about.
I'm giving 100% of the proceeds from "Speed Grieving" to Cancer Support Community, because their whole mission is the idea of no one being alone through any aspect of cancer - including loss. I want everyone to find more peace, more joy, more growth and I so hope you will buy a copy, send a copy, suggest it to a hospital or library in your neighborhood. Buy it for a friend or relative who has been through a loss or who is going through anticipatory grief right now. Buy it in loving memory of someone you miss. Get a copy and get a group together, talk about it, help yourself and others heal.
In honor of my Dad, I “diversified" my grief, emotionally and creatively. You can, too.
Alysia Reiner is an award-winning stage, screen and television actress who has appeared in such films as Sideways, winning a SAG Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. After the loss of her father to cancer, Reiner chose to honor his mantra of 'make a difference, have fun' producing the short film SPEED GRIEVING, which has been invited to over a dozen film festivals, has won multiple awards and is now for sale on DVD at www.speedgrieving.org. Follow Alysia on Twitter @alysiareiner or visit her website for a complete list of film and TV credits at www.alysiareiner.com.