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In the Midst of Uncertainty and Grief, Here's How to Let Go

In the Midst of Uncertainty and Grief, Here's How to Let Go

By Shelby Forsythia

A lot of grieving people—myself included—have trouble with surrender after loss. In addition to reckoning with big, existential questions —Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do pets die? Where is god in grief? Why here? Why now? Why me?—we’re often plagued with practical questions as well. Should I leave my job? Should I sell the house? Should I hire a caregiver? Should I reconsider having children?

When we’re devastated by grief, questions that we would normally keep relegated to the distant corners of our minds join forces with questions we’ve never thought to ask ourselves before and pound our brains with query after query, exhausting us with their relentlessness and impossibility.

In a futile attempt to answer these questions, our minds perpetually gnaw on data, regurgitating and re-digesting every scrap of information we have in order to make sense of what’s happening. When we don’t have tangible facts to work with, our brains invent them, offering up possible storylines on the grand mental buffet of what-if. But in the chaos of life after loss and the mental messiness of reorienting to the world again, our brains’ ultimate response is recurrently, “I don’t know.”

Needless to say, it’s frustrating and overwhelming to be a grieving person with a brain. It’s scary too, because life is hard to live without certainty.

Our society is deeply attached to knowing-for-sure. Certainty is trustworthy and solid, a foundation to build upon, a bedrock that’s safe. Grief—the intimate recognition that we live in a world where anything can happen—sits in direct contrast to certainty. One client I worked with referred to her brain as “marinating in uncertainty.” That about sums it up.

And grievers try to be certain. We work desperately, to go back to the drawing board in our minds under the assumption that if we can just locate an answer to something, anything, we won’t feel as lost and scared as we do right now. If we can just find something to be certain of, maybe we could find a way out of the unending experience of loss. But we can’t. Sometimes, heartbreakingly, there’s just no way to escape uncertainty.

So how do we let go of our relentless quest to find answers after loss? We practice trust.

And don’t mistake me here. This is not trust in the world or trust in other people or even trust in ourselves. It’s an expectant, futuristic kind of trust that reassures us something else is on its way. This kind of expansion-oriented trust takes us out of the driver’s seat of our lives and reminds us that we do not have all of the information we’re ever going to have, this is not all of the life we are ever going to live, and this is not the only perspective we’re ever going to see.

Try these affirmations on for size:

  • “I trust that one day I will have more information than is accessible to me in this moment.”

  • “I trust that one day I will understand in a way that makes sense to me.”

  • “I trust that one day I’ll have an answer to this.”

  • “I trust that one day I’ll have the clarity that I’m seeking so vehemently right now.”

Observe what happens in your brain and body and spirit when you say these affirmations out loud. What does it feel like to surrender to uncertainty while continuing to trust that something else is coming? How does your grief change when your job goes from Head Figurer-Outer to President of the Trust Committee? What happens when you shift from doggedly pursuing answers to gently opening the door for them to arrive?

Even though it can feel like a shortcoming, we are not trapped in uncertainty because we aren’t smart enough make sense of our grief. Grievers are some of the most intelligent, most resourceful people I know. It’s not a lack of intellect or desire that keeps us from the answers that we seek. Said another way, it’s not our fault that we’re plagued by questions after a devastating loss—it’s simply the nature of grief. Loss makes it so that we can’t draw conclusions about what happened, who we are, or where we need to go right away. We spend a lot of time in the information-gathering stage, observing where loss landed us and recalibrating to life in a world where grief undeniably exists.

In a world that prizes certainty, it looks and feels like a lot of doing nothing. But surrendering and trusting that answers are on their way is a powerful education in patience, grace, rest, and slowing down. Spending time in not-knowing is its own kind of information-gathering in grief.

While it feels counterintuitive, sometimes the very best way to heal from our losses is to stop hustling so hard to pin them down. The greatest—and perhaps the wisest—decision we can make when we’re wrestling with uncertainty is to release our grip on knowing-for-sure and trust that wisdom, meaning, decisions, and certainty will eventually arrive. In doing so, we admit, no, we don’t have all the answers… but that we are open to receiving them when they are ready to present themselves to us.

If letting go and trusting are difficult for you, check out Episode 7 of Grief Seeds called A Mantra for Trust. And if you’d like help learning to let go after loss, find workshops on practicing surrender and so much more on Patreon.

By Shelby Forsythia Shelby Forsythia is the author of Your Grief, Your Way and Permission to Grieve and the host of Grief Seeds, Grief Book Roundup and Coming Back: Conversations on Life After Loss.

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