There is no one way to express and heal from grief. Each one of us will experience it in our lifetime, and despite the thousands of books and listings for therapists, it's very difficult to find the right alchemy of solutions to help us ease the pain for us individually. So it was with great interest we learned of Nici Harrison's new initiative - The Grief Space - and how she was thinking about making a resource that could be a key component to the path of healing. We took this opportunity to ask her a few questions and her new website. 

1. Hi Nici! What lead you to decide to start The Grief Space? 

I never set out to start a business centred around creating space for grief; it has all grown very organically. It begun with my own experiences of grief and the realisation that our modern society has lost the language and wisdom to support us through this universal experience. When my Mum died in traumatic circumstances in my early twenties, I felt like I didn’t exist in my own body anymore. For years, I hovered just outside of my own experiences. Watching and waiting for the invitation to drop back into life. Communication and connection are the bedrock of our humanity. Yet I didn’t have the language or opportunity to talk openly about my grief. I felt like it was too raw, too present, too deep – all in all, I felt like it was just too much for anyone else to hear. This was when I started exploring different practices, support groups, therapists, healers… anyone who could help me piece myself back together. I have been blessed to learn from great teachers, experience beautiful grief rituals and familiarise myself with both indigenous and ancestral grief practices. Slowly this knowledge healed me, transformed me. But it has also stunned me. I wonder why and how we have moved so far from understanding the importance of grief as a universal part of the human experience. We are told to ‘get up and get on’, to deny our feelings and distract ourselves senseless. In this realisation, I knew that I wanted to start sharing what I’ve been
learning about grief with others and offer a different sort of support system: somewhere that people could give their grief space to be expressed and seen, somewhere they could connect to other people and somewhere they could learn some of the ancient wisdom of grief practices that have helped me.

2. What training did you have to go through in order for you to understand how you wanted to approach your practice, and ultimately how you devised community-led grieving spaces?
My early career as a business psychologist has meant that I’m familiar facilitating and holding group spaces for people. I am also trained as a transformational life coach and deeply informed by personal centred coaching, which gives space for people to be present to themselves exactly as they are. I was inspired to create grief circles from a training I took to facilitate women’s circles. Although this teaching deeply informs my work, it is very important to me that my grief circles are inclusive and open to all ages, genders and experiences. Personally, I have also studied mindfulness, yoga and meditation, and as a
lifelong student to all of these practices I acknowledge the influence they have on my work. Most importantly though, I blend any training that I’ve had with my own experiences of grief. I believe that life is our greatest teacher and in all of my offerings I am simply guided to create something that I wish my younger self could have had.

3. Western society does not acknowledge grief so easily. We are not meant to show weakness or being too emotional in work settings or in public spaces, which for the recently grieving can make one feel very alone or like they must suppress grief. How would you most like to try to change attitudes towards grief?
I have big dreams for changing our individual and collective attitude towards grief. On simple level I would like to normalise grief so that those experiencing it feel less alone. I would also like to educate people to understand the breadth of grief, recognising it as the normal emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. I believe that if we can start talking about all different types of grief, from our relationships that end, to the regrets we hold or our longing for meaning and connection, then we will have a better vocabulary and opportunity to talk about death. On a bigger level, I would like us to move beyond being able to talk about grief to actually valuing it as the ultimate act of love. Grief is not the price you pay for love; grief just is love. Ultimately grief is an act of reverence to life and there is so much
beauty, truth and transformation to be found within it. I truly believe that grief itself does not hurt us; it is only the barriers that we put up against it that ultimately cause us damage. As you say, we are not meant to show weakness or be too emotional in work settings or in public spaces. Not only does this societal expectation make us feel alone, it also uses a lot of our emotional energy to supress grief. In my work I talk about grief being like a river. The river of grief needs to flow, all we can do is strengthen the banks of the river and ensure that we don’t put up any dams. Strengthening the banks of our river looks different for everyone, for some it might be compassion, rest, solitude and for others sharing, community or gratitude. I believe that deep within grief is our connection to life. When we numb our grief or bury it, we also limit our capacity to feel joy, creativity and wonder.

4. We have just gone through a collective, global trauma that will be marked by a pre-and-post Pandemic Lockdown marker. What should we be trying to do to best come out of this as emotionally healthy as possible?
The first thing I would say is to create space. Create as much space as possible both physically and emotionally to integrate the whirlwind that has been this year. If the pandemic has shown us anything it’s that we’ve been living life too much in the fast lane. I have been encouraging everyone I work with to slow down and reflect on what has shifted for them in the last six months. As the lock down lifts, consciously make time to consider how you want to make different choices for yourself going forward.

This can be as simple as carving out ten minutes a day to sit with yourself, no phone, no distractions, but just the intention to give yourself space to be with whatever you are feeling. The second is to build genuine community. This could be as simple as the two or three friends that you feel willing to open up to in a more honest way, or it could mean actively seeking community spaces (in person or online) to build more like-minded relationships. At The Grief Space, I’ve been holding free monthly community drop ins on a Monday evening and they have been a deep source of nourishment and connection to me.

Thirdly, move away from putting expectations on yourself and take the pressure off. My favourite author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote yesterday that ‘you are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control, but you never had any control; all you had was anxiety’. This sums up my experience of shifting out of lockdown and is a constant reminder to just focus on being present today.

5. What are your top three resources you'd direct someone who is recently grieving a loss?
I struggle to answer this question because everyone’s experience of grief is so different and sometimes offering resources emphasises to our cultural conditioning of wanting to ‘fix’ grief. What I would say to someone who had recently experienced a significant loss is that they would benefit from finding a space where they can express their grief and feel deeply seen and heard. In terms of a tangible resource, I would always recommend finding someone that they can work one to one with, separate from friends and family. It is incredibly valuable to create time for yourself to check in with your grief regularly and be able to express your full experiences to someone separate to your everyday life. Beyond that, it’s really down to the individual. Some people love to read books, listen to music or devour poetry, while for
others the concept of comprehending external resources would feel overwhelming and they might find solace in nature. Ultimately, I believe that the greatest resource available to you is learning how to resource yourself through radical self-compassion, a practice of loving presence and acceptance of your grief as it ebbs and flows, shifts and changes.

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