Everybody Needs a Sanctuary During Grief

sanctuary_grief_purple heather field_green treesAt first glance, a number of characteristics could be used to describe the way ‘grief’ operates, and none of them produces an effect consistent with the words ‘refuge’ or ‘sanctuary.’ The very nature of this process that leads us toward healing when we choose to enter into it is the reason everybody needs a sanctuary during grief.

Grief crashes upon you like a wave. It bounces you around and twists you inside out. Grief sends your emotions into a tailspin, and up and down like a roller coaster, until you’re emotionally spent. Grief is unruly, messy, and disorderly. You’ll go forward and then backward. At times, you’ll question your sanity.

And then, you may feel empty, disconnected, in a fog. One moment you’ll want to talk. The next, you don’t want to talk to anyone. You’re ravenous, and then the thought of food nearly makes you sick. Completely out of the blue, you’ll start to cry. Sometimes you can’t even figure out why. You may be anxious about your future, confused about what to do. You’re distracted. Overly sensitive. And often exhausted.

The force of grief is impressive, for sure. Yet, grief is exactly (and purposely) designed as your means of healing and restoration. You cannot (and should not) experience the full force of grief 24/7—yet you need a safe place (a refuge or sanctuary) where you can retreat and allow yourself to truly ‘feel’ what you’re experiencing.

A Refuge or Sanctuary

You need a place where you can take off the face you present to the world and just be who you are at the moment. You still have to function in the world—at work, in your family, at other places where you have responsibilities. Yet you need a place where you can let your guard down. You need a place where you don’t have to make conversation. You need a sanctuary where you can replenish your energy and release your emotions safely, where you can sob it that’s what you’re feeling and punch your fist into a pillow if it will make you feel better. You need a place where it’s safe to be yourself – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Getting all of this ‘stuff’ from the inside to the outside is part of the healing process, and it’s how you’re able to work through it and finally let it go.

My home was my sanctuary. For a long time, it’s the only place where I felt truly at home with myself and where I didn’t feel out of place. It’s where I could relax and just ‘be,’ whatever that meant at any particular time. I was relieved when I came inside and closed the door. Yes, at times I was very lonely. But there was peace at home. And I needed peace!

Everyone needs a sanctuary—but take care that your sanctuary of peace doesn’t evolve into an excuse to over-isolate yourself. Isolation is a temptation that is oftentimes easy to fall into during grief. There’s a fine line between ensuring that you have time alone to rejuvenate and to process your grief versus spending too much time alone because it’s just too hard to make the effort to be around people.

I think the entire idea of a refuge, a sanctuary, can be summed up in a quote I read from Alan Wolfelt, and it was my inspiration for this article: “Sanctuary – A place of refuge from external demands. A space where the mourner is free to disengage from the outside world. A place where the need to turn inward and suspend will not be hurried or ridiculed.” Especially during grief, a place like this is essential.

Think about your sanctuary. Be sure you have such a place to retreat to. And don’t feel guilty about going there. See your sanctuary as a positive place – because it is!

Blessings to you on your journey to healing.

© 2013
Author: Judy Brizendine
Photo courtesy of fotofrenze




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4 Responses to “Everybody Needs a Sanctuary During Grief”

  1. Dear Judy,

    Sanctuary is such a healing, hopeful word, and your piece brings me back to the gifts of sanctuary in my life. I had and have my home. Yes, the house where I can close the door, but even more the 71 acres of beautiful land with trails and sunset views where I live. Here, on the land, I knew I was part of the natural cycles of nature. I trusted I could wilt and brown and then come up green again. I had my dogs here with me, one old one who died a few years back and a younger one because I knew I didn’t want to live without a dog. So I had this loving canine friend that demanded nothing other than food, water, to be close to me, affection, and walks–all things I needed, too. Finally, I had and have two wonderful sons who grieve with me, a therapist who has stood by my side for more than five years, and a few dear friends who allow me to come as I am and express how I feel (most of these friends are therapists themselves). So I have been given healing sanctuary in the last 7 years since my husband received a cancer diagnosis. And I am grateful.

    It’s a gift this morning to express the gifts of my new life. Off I go to share your piece on FB.
    With gratitude and thanks for your gift,
    Elaine (http://elainemansfield.com/)

    • admin says:

      Dear Elaine,
      What a beautiful, personal, touching, and eloquent message. Thank you so very much for sharing.

      I share some of your personal gifts of sanctuary in my own life. I had a sweet dog who was precious company and she died almost exactly a year after my husband died. My wonderful daughter presented me with two kittens (a brother and sister) a month later on my birthday – and those two little creatures brought life and smiles back into my home again. They have always been affectionate and like to stay close. In a number of ways, they’re more like dogs than cats! They are now 14-1/2 years old, even more affectionate if that’s possible, and still bring warm smiles each and every day. They followed me around, snuggled next to me when I sat down, and slept near me at night. I needed them as much as they needed me–and they were (and are) a constant blessing! I have a very special daughter who has always been close, but after her dad died, she was closer than ever. I don’t know what I would have done without her, especially during my deepest times of grief. We supported each other through the darkest time we had ever faced. She has always been a breath of fresh air and she lifts the spirits of all who are around her. The beauty and wonder of nature never cease to amaze me. That’s one reason your photos are so meaningful to me! Nature, to me, is a direct connection to God–and is able to touch me in ways that are difficult to put words around.

      Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I, too, am so very grateful–for sanctuary, and for being able to connect with people like you through my writing.

      Bless you,

  2. Dear Judy,

    I remember well time spent in my sanctuary. In the depths of my dark closet, just a line of light shining under the door, there I breathed deeply during the early years. The darkness of the closet offered a particular comfort that the lightness of day didn’t offer. I cried without interference from my other children. I prayed without interruption. In my closet I felt closest to my twin daughter who had lived just 16 years. It was in the back of my closet that I placed her wooden trunk. It contained those personal belongings that I chose to keep.

    Today, nine years later, when the sadness overwhelms, going to my sanctuary brings me peace.

    Sanctuaries…a most important component in the grieving process.

    Many thanks for writing a beautiful article on the importance of sanctuaries.
    Caroline, author of Heaven’s Child, http://www.CarolineFlohr.com

    • admin says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and personal experience, Caroline. I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter and cannot imagine the pain of such a loss. I’m glad you were able to carve out a sanctuary for yourself – a place where you could be alone, even when others were in the home with you. It’s so important.

      Thank you, too, for your kind words.

      Blessings on your ongoing journey,