As human beings, we often aren’t aware that our existence in this world is temporary and that our physical bodies have an expiration date. Additionally, we live in a culture that doesn’t teach us how to deal with losses, so no one prepares us to face them. In this episode, we will explore the topic of grief from a comprehensive perspective, aiming to deconstruct myths and embrace healing. To delve deeper into this subject, who better than Daniela Hidalgo, a thanatologist and grief specialized therapist.

Any attachment object triggers grief, varying in intensity based on the level of connection we have with that object. Usually, we associate grief with death. I’ve come across situations where, when I ask someone if they have experienced a loss in their life, they respond with a “no” because no family member has died. However, there are many other significant losses that can also trigger grief, such as a breakup, the loss of a job, the death of a pet, or a change of residence. Nevertheless, these losses often get minimized and normalized in our society, making it challenging to adapt to the new reality we face.

Vero Weiland: Daniela, first of all, what is the grieving process, and what is its purpose?

Daniela Hidalgo: Grief is an adaptive process of detachment, and we enter into it, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we realize it or not, every time we experience a loss. Loss, on the other hand, refers to everything I had and no longer have or everything I deeply desired and will no longer be possible for me to have. For example, the loss of a dream: imagine a couple who desires to have children biologically but cannot due to fertility issues. There is a longing, a desire, an expectation of life that will not be fulfilled. On the other hand, in the first part of the concept, “everything I had and no longer have,” it is precisely associated with the death or physical loss of a loved one, whether it be a person, a family, a pet, the loss of something like a job, uprooting, having to flee one’s country for some reason, or even when you have the intention of “emigrating, this is what I propose and what I want.” Even in that case, there is a loss because I have something, a reality, a situation, a life structure that I lose, that I exchange for another. So, every time I have one of these life situations, I enter a process of grief, whether I am aware of it or not. I always give the example that for me, grief is like suddenly something happens in my life, like “the light goes out,” and suddenly I find myself in a kind of river, on a makeshift raft, something fragile, something that moves, that wobbles, that I don’t quite understand what it is, and that river I’m in is called grief. It is a process that will allow me to adapt to a new reality, but beware, because it is a reality that I didn’t necessarily ask for, that I don’t like, that I don’t recognize as mine, and therefore it hurts to be there. And that’s where the term “grief of pain” comes in. So, what is its purpose? First and foremost, it serves us because it is necessary, or rather, when I experience a loss, I enter this process, I’m already in grief, whether I am aware of it or not. What is the purpose of elaboration? The conscious elaboration of grief has to do with “taking responsibility for this, not for what is happening, but for myself as a human being, as someone who has experienced loss. I am in a place that is uncomfortable, strange, that I don’t like, that is difficult for me, and the elaboration of grief involves understanding all these strange sensations in order to manage and transcend them. That’s why the importance of elaborating the grief process.

VW: When reality doesn’t align with our expectations, for example, when we lose our dream job (or what we believe to be our dream job), that’s when we start to debate with ourselves and obscure the part where we fail to realize that we are experiencing a significant loss. So, you seek out someone to talk to about it, and what happens? Suddenly, they say, “time heals everything,” suggesting that grief will completely disappear with the passage of time. However, in reality, time is a factor in the grieving process, and each person has their own pace and healing process. What are the main myths, apart from “time heals everything” (which I believe is one of the most commonly heard myths), surrounding grief, and how can we debunk them?

DH: I I also believe that this saying is one of the most popular ones. I get the sense that it’s as if we all shared the same grandmothers throughout Latin America, because in some way, in some aspect of our life stories, we all have a similar phrase where time is depicted as the wise teacher who can heal everything. So we sit there with our arms crossed, waiting for something to happen. It’s not about that. Time is indeed an element that contributes to the process because it can be utilized in our favor, but time itself doesn’t heal anything. What heals is what we decide to do during a specific period. The grieving process is absolutely active. It seems that, under this premise, again, we have to simply sit and wait for something to happen. And there’s an element that, for a long time, I believe has relieved us of our own responsibility. It’s like saying, “Okay, what I have to do is sit here and quietly wait for this pain to pass and be cured” because I have nothing to do. So, I place the responsibility for my process on something or someone else, in this case, on time. But there’s something that can be incredibly empowering and liberating: realizing that no one is going to come and save me, that I am responsible for my own story, for my life structure. I am not a victim of something because what will happen in a year if I don’t feel healed? Time didn’t heal me, so I enter a process of victimization. Everything I’m saying is not intended to pass judgment on anyone experiencing grief in this way. It’s not about doing it wrong; we’re already doing enough just by staying alive. Our existence is an end in itself, especially when we are experiencing grief. But it’s also true that there are much more constructive ways to confront such a situation. So, what to do with time? Work on our process, stay connected with what we’re feeling, understand each of the emotions that arise within us in order to comprehend them, to see where they originate, what is triggering them. These emotions are important information coming into our hands, and if we manage them, we can transcend them. And that’s where the significance of time lies. Time will help us gain perspective, broaden our vision of things, but we also need to assist time so that it can help us. Time does its part, but when do we do ours? That is one of the myths that, I believe, repeats itself the most. Then, there’s another one that I think can be quite tough, and it’s related to the topic of time: “grief lasts for a year.” I often come across people in therapy who come to me after a year, saying, “It’s been a year already, and nothing has changed. I feel worse.” So, grief lasts as long as it needs to; there’s no specific time or exact measurement to determine its duration. It will last as long as it needs to. There are individuals for whom the grieving process lasts less than a year because they have worked on it, because they have tools, because the process has affected them from a different perspective. There are people who will need more than a year. Here’s an important point: we also bring a lot of information from other cultures. The Eastern cultures explain interesting things, such as “you need to live a year to feel that you’re progressing in grief because you need to experience birthdays, important dates, in our case, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, their birthday, mine, etc. This seems to help, and yes, it gives you some perspective, but there are no set timelines. The timelines are defined by the process we are experiencing. And perhaps a person who spends two years going through a grieving process doesn’t mean they did it wrong; maybe they did it perfectly and wonderfully because over those two years, they acquired tools, discovered aspects of the structure they were living in, recognized elements within themselves that contributed to their growth. So, if it took you two years to heal from this process and complete the grieving process, that’s wonderful because it took you two years of working with yourself, and that’s the constant aspect of time and the work we do on ourselves in different stages of our lives. Therefore, this saying is connected to the concept of time. In this sense, I have a very personal opinion related to my profession: I don’t believe that grief is overcome; it’s like saying, “I will overcome what happened to me.” In my understanding of what it means to elaborate on grief, it involves managing our emotions, but in the end, it’s not simply about overcoming the pain or accepting it (which is another thing we seek), but I don’t believe that’s the ultimate goal of the process. For me, grief processes are about learning to relate to what we have lost from a different perspective. For example, I experienced grief over the physical loss of my mother; she passed away several years ago, and I couldn’t understand my process and everything I went through, which was incredibly tough, strange, and horrible, by merely accepting that she had already passed away because I accepted that maybe two minutes after seeing her lifeless. For me, learning to relate to her involves having other forms of connection with her that go beyond her physical presence in this plane. It doesn’t matter our belief system, this has nothing to do with the faith we hold or our general belief system; it’s about the possibility of understanding that our love, the one that connects me to my mother, extends beyond death. Death itself cannot take that away from me; I continue to be a daughter of the woman I will always be a daughter to. That doesn’t change because she’s no longer here physically, and I relate to her from a different place. I relate to her through my way of being, through my senses. There are certain smells that are her; they smell like her, and it’s a way of connecting. So, when you reach that point where you learn to relate to what you have lost from a different place, it’s also one of the elements to understand that you have completed your grieving process. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt occasionally or that I won’t shed tears for her from time to time (that’s also important), but I learn to relate to her from a place beyond simply accepting her physical departure.

VW: To reach this point, we have to engage in introspective work, which also greatly helps us in the process of grieving. Sometimes, people face complicated grief and have this notion of “I was told that grief lasts two years, I’ve already been grieving for two years, three years,” and they constantly feel pressured to conclude something that is not linear but rather has its own time and rhythm. And when we arrive at that understanding, for example, in the way you now relate to your mother, I lost my father three years ago, and I say, “it’s not that I lost him, our relationship evolved.” In this case, reaching that understanding that we are not just this physical body, but rather an eternal energy, an eternal soul embodied in this temporary physical form, reaching that point where you comprehend that death doesn’t exist, that death is just as natural a process as birth, but to be able to work through the grief, we need to understand that we are experiencing a loss, even though we sometimes only identify death as a loss. At the beginning, we mentioned some types of losses. Could you explain to us how many types of losses there are and what they are?

DH: Losses resemble life itself. We are born, we have our physical bodies, the dimensions in which we are born, etc., and we undergo changes, and these changes entail losses. Because I had a concept of myself in my childhood, a reality I know, a way of living that later changes, and those changes imply losses. Alright, there are changes that I may like, things I enjoy, things I celebrate, but in general, life has a constant, and that is impermanence: nothing lasts forever in the same place and in the same way, unless you plant a tree in a location and leave it there until someone decides to cut it down. But in life, the constant is the impermanence of things, and it’s precisely when we understand this that we realize there are many situations that resemble and involve loss, leading us to experience grief. We were discussing the reality of wanting to become a mother biologically but being unable to do so due to a situation in my body. That also represents a loss. Another example: “I always wanted to be a doctor since I was a child; it was my calling, but I couldn’t because I had to take care of my siblings.” There, a loss of the things I desired, which are part of my great aspirations. Not these ethereal things like when I wanted to be a cowboy as a child, but that didn’t create a loss because I understood that being a cowboy didn’t apply. But it is true that we go through life experiencing constant losses. And here’s a very important point because when we pause to understand what is happening to us and identify that what we are experiencing is grief, and we manage it as grief, then we can become individuals armed with more tools than we probably already possess, with the ability to perceive life situations from a different perspective. On the contrary, what we usually do is escape from our own emotions, saying, “I won’t think about this,” and since we are experts at numbing ourselves, we keep ignoring how, time and again, we are experiencing losses and accumulating unprocessed losses. This happens to us; I’m not sure if it happens to all human beings, but there is a large number of people who have this vital situation, and when we start therapy, when we consume podcasts like this, when we have access to different information, when we begin asking ourselves different questions than we always have, we possibly arrive at that meeting point: “Ah, this is grief, so how do I manage it?” Like grief because that’s what I’m experiencing. There are different types of loss, and here’s an important point to mention. It seems like we go through life with a kind of thermometer to determine which loss is the most significant, the toughest, the most difficult, the most complicated. I believe it’s the one you are experiencing without having the necessary tools to manage it at some point. Let me give you an example of someone in therapy who explained to me that he attended one of my conferences and was working through the loss of his brother. During the conference, a person mentioned that she had lost her husband, with whom she had been married for years, and she couldn’t cope; she couldn’t understand how the bed could feel so big. And he told me in therapy, “I felt bad because what I was thinking was, that lady is struggling, not me. I don’t have the right to complain; I don’t have reasons to complain.” And I interrupted him there and said, “Be careful because having perspective and seeing another person’s pain doesn’t mean that yours is smaller or less valid or less legitimate. Your grief, your pain, and your feelings of anguish, sorrow, and unrest are as valid as that of the lady who unfortunately witnessed her husband’s death.” So, there may be different intensities, but it doesn’t mean that mine is the toughest and yours isn’t because who would want to win that prize? Ultimately, this isn’t a competition; it’s more about understanding that the most challenging loss is the one you are experiencing and for which you don’t have the necessary tools to manage it.

VW: In fact, these losses generally go unnoticed because culturally they are not recognized. I am specifically referring to symbolic losses, those that exist in the mental realm and are experienced only by oneself, hence only one feels the pain. It can be the loss of a dream, an expectation, a goal, or an illusion. Why is it necessary to acknowledge and process grief in these types of losses?

DH: Returning to the analogy of what grief means to me: I find myself in a situation where I am on a river, floating on a raft, trying to continue my life from there. There are other elements in my life that distract me and make me believe that I have already moved on from that stage, but there is a part of my life process that remains seated on that raft, drifting aimlessly on the river. When I stop recognizing my own processes, I begin to accumulate a series of situations, emotions, and sensations that, if left unaddressed, do not disappear; they simply stagnate in my life. What could be a perfectly natural, expected, and logical emotion can transform into a completely different emotional state. We may start experiencing anxiety, depression, or other emotional disorders that are linked to the lack of management and recognition of our grief, because grief is significant and transformative in that way. In fact, besides not being acknowledged by society, this also presents a difficulty. It is paradoxical because when we go through a grief process that is socially recognized and receive too much attention, it can hinder our progress due to the burden of people around us offering clichéd phrases and superficial advice like “stay strong,” “you can do it,” or “don’t worry, just let it go without shedding tears because crying won’t help you move on.” We are bombarded with a plethora of information and decisions that are not our own, originating from our environment. On the other hand, the lack of recognition or validation of our process can also pose a challenge, as we are social beings living in communities. Not being acknowledged can complicate the grief process.

It is important to note that grief is a completely individual process. While it is true that we may find similar situations where we can relate to the rest of humanity more than we realize, it is also true that the situations I have experienced, my personal history, emotional structure, abilities, and personality are unique. Everything associated with my grief process is absolutely distinct. Therefore, it is crucial to understand each individual’s process. Otherwise, we will accumulate unpleasant emotions that we do not recognize, manage, and ultimately transcend. We can observe how some people do not know why they cannot sleep at night, why they experience anxiety attacks, why they feel depressed, or why they have episodes of social anxiety and panic attacks. These are signs that certain things have not been properly addressed. While generalizing about grief is an error, as not all cases are the same, it is true that many individuals struggling with addictive processes are actually experiencing unrecognized grief. Consequently, it becomes easier to seek something to fill the void, to increase adrenaline, and to escape from emotional states such as sadness, anger, or guilt. We start consuming substances that help us forget and, in a way, invade our brains with other hormonal structures to avoid confronting what is difficult, painful, and uncomfortable. Therefore, it is necessary to learn to see ourselves, to listen to our own bodies, and to stop numbing ourselves. We live in a society where we are perpetually numbed, spending our time scrolling through social media, watching television, and nightmares occur when we are asleep, not when we are awake. Waking up can be uncomfortable; no one likes to acknowledge their sadness. However, it is absolutely constructive to realize it, manage it, and ultimately transcend it.

VW: As human beings, we tend to seek ways to numb the pain. We take an aspirin to relieve a headache, which may work temporarily. However, after approximately thirty minutes, the headache returns, and we fail to realize that we are somatizing emotions, that we are not releasing the burden by not acknowledging a grieving process. For instance, when we are going through a complicated grieving process and working on our healing journey, it is very common to somatize these emotions and not recognize that behind the physical pain we experience, there is an unresolved emotional wound. How important is it to acknowledge that we have pain as part of a grieving process?

DH: Vital. Pain is the almost natural consequence of “I am hurt” or “this hurt me.” If I am not accustomed to having something, we already mentioned that loss is everything that I had and no longer have, or something that I deeply and genuinely desired but will not be possible. When the rules of the game change, when I am in a place that I don’t recognize as mine, but it turns out to be my life, and I say, “What is this? I don’t identify with it, I don’t know who I am in this reality,” that hurts because emotionally, we are wounded, we are affected. My therapist said to me, “But how does it hurt? Where does it hurt?” to which I responded, “Well, it’s just a way of saying it.” Of course, it’s like suddenly nothing physically hurts, but I feel the pain. The pain is related to feeling downcast, feeling lost, feeling like this life doesn’t belong to me, as if someone took me out of one reality and placed me in another, and I say, “This is not it.” So, when I acknowledge that I have this sensation that something hurts me, I can begin to take actions like self-compassion, which has nothing to do with pity. Self-compassion is so healthy, and it’s not about saying, “Poor you, you won’t achieve it.” That is pity, that is somehow invalidating myself, saying, “You don’t have the tools for this, poor you.” Self-compassion has to do with the ability to calm myself, to listen to myself, to understand what I need. If I need to cry, I cry; if I need to hug myself, I do; if I need to run, scream, or rage, it’s all part of self-compassion. And generally, to reach that place of self-love, of self-compassion, I need to recognize that something hurts me, that emotionally, I am wounded. A study at Harvard, which has nothing to do with holistic approaches, although I respect all spiritual paths, but let’s focus on science. This study conducted by a neuroscientist at Harvard explained that when you and I have an argument and I grab a stick and hit you on the head, causing a wound, okay, there is a wound, and I attend to it. But if I sit far away and insult you, saying something that offends you, where you feel affected by what I say, the exact same effect is generated. Cerebrally and hormonally, your body understands it the same way as if I had hit you on the head with a stick. But we go through life with broken ribs, a broken arm, a scrape, and we don’t attend to them because we don’t understand how the emotional structure has as much impact as when we have a headache from being hit. So, when we become aware of this, we understand how vital it is to realize that I feel pain, that I am genuinely hurt, and it’s okay. Feeling hurt is not the same as everything ending; on the contrary, everything begins. It’s the start of a precious journey of self-discovery, self-love, self-care, self-compassion, self-protection, and what better moment for this than to realize that we are in pain. Moreover, women specifically have a brain designed to preserve the species; that’s what our brain structure is made for. And of course, society has progressed so rapidly that the brain is trying to catch up, but what moves us the most as human beings is the vulnerability of another person. If I tell you that I feel sad, you will want to come and comfort me. Now imagine this same situation but with ourselves; we would be much more aware human beings, even capable of genuinely loving others when we learn to love ourselves. And many times, it’s all part of recognizing that something hurts me, that I am hurt by something.

VW: The thing is, we also live in a society where vulnerability is synonymous with weakness, where it doesn’t allow you to become vulnerable to your emotions, and as a result, emotions are suppressed. We are social beings, as you mentioned before, and we want to be in the game with others, but you have to hide your emotions because of the infamous “what will people say,” “you shouldn’t show sadness or weakness because you’re a man, and men don’t cry.” They have devalued that vulnerability, not allowing us to express ourselves. Besides this point, what other factors can make the grieving process difficult, and how can we overcome them?

DH: Before addressing this point, I would like to mention the following: I believe there is no place of greater courage, bravery, and strength than vulnerability. We are suppressing our emotions, and in the end, we are all stuck in the same game that someone invented, and we no longer want to keep playing, yet we continue repeating the same patterns over and over again. We need to put a stop to it. If we no longer enjoy this game, let’s change it and show our vulnerability. Perhaps at first, people will see me strangely, wondering, “What happened to this person?” But eventually, they will get used to it, and if not, it doesn’t matter. I will become accustomed to showing my vulnerability. This doesn’t mean I will go through life crying because that is not healthy. It is not for society’s sake, but for my own. However, it also means that when the day comes that I want to cry, I will cry, and that is okay. The fact that men crying is something that still surprises us in the society we live in today, with the ability to access free information, is curious. We still think that men shouldn’t cry. Men who come to me for counseling often express, “I have to be strong,” and I ask them, “Does being strong mean not crying?” To which they respond affirmatively. On the contrary, it means that you can cry, and nothing bad will happen because it is part of the process. I remember in my life, the men in my family cried: my father, my brothers, everyone cried, and there was support. So, initially, it seemed strange to me to see men who don’t cry because their masculinity dictates it. I wondered, “How is that possible? How does crying affect masculinity?” But again, if we don’t like the rules of this game, we need to change them. If we don’t change the rules, let’s change the game; that’s also valid. These kinds of decisions often come into our lives when we accept the pain of a loss. When we have nothing more to lose, we lose even the fear. On the other hand, what can make grieving difficult? There are many factors that can make the grieving process challenging, and one point I want to highlight is what I mentioned before: what hinders the process for me may not be the same for you. In fact, the same situation can have two different polarities. For example, social recognition can either be a positive or negative element that hinders the process. In the case of a death, how close was I to the person who passed away? What kind of relationship did we have? If it was a close relationship, that is what will make it difficult because my daily life was associated with my connection to that person. So, if that routine is lost, my life becomes chaotic because I don’t understand it. If I used to call my sister three times a day, who do I call now that she’s no longer here? That can be an element that hinders the process. On the other hand, one of the things that make grieving difficult is a fractured relationship, a situation where there was separation, a reality in which I somehow feel guilty for distancing myself from what I lost. So, we can see how a completely opposite situation can hinder the process. One thing that helps a lot is the satisfaction of having fulfilled our duty. When I feel that I did everything I could with the resources I had at that moment, elements like guilt lose their power, and the burden of conscience fades because I understand and place above the vital situation that I did my best with the resources I had at that time. This can apply to any loss. For example, in the case of losing a job, “I was fired, but I did the best I could with the resources I had at that time.” It fractures things like guilt, which is usually present but, due to the shame it generates, we don’t talk about it, and it creates great difficulties in the grieving process. Guilt is an element that can greatly hinder the grieving process because when I feel guilty about something, what usually happens? If I dare to tell someone, they want to get me out of that emotion, so they say, “Don’t worry, it’s not a big deal, don’t think about it.” This invalidates my emotion and prevents me from managing it because they want to quickly pull me out of the emotion and guilt. When I acknowledge that I feel guilty, the pace should slow down. It is not necessary for other people to acknowledge it or accompany me in the process. It doesn’t matter. If I am aware that I have this emotion, I can start managing it myself, realizing why I feel this way, what is triggering this emotion. When I begin to dissect the situation, I start to identify the root of that emotion, and then I can manage it and ultimately transcend it. It’s not about pretending that everything is okay; it’s about confronting that uncomfortable emotion in order to understand it.

VW: Speaking of guilt, how can we seek forgiveness towards ourselves for any situation or action that may have occurred during the grieving process?

DH: First of all, I believe that from self-compassion, it is important to recognize that we are not perfect. Most situations that are complicated are so because we don’t know how to handle them; they don’t come with a manual. If, for example, I have a child who becomes rebellious during their adolescence and does things I don’t understand, they don’t come with a manual, and neither do I come with a perfect parenting manual to do everything perfectly. Therefore, there is an expectation associated with having to do things right, but what if we don’t? It’s better to do things well than perfectly. We can’t believe that we are perfect beings who never make mistakes; that’s not the case—we will make mistakes. If we are worried about making mistakes, don’t worry, we will make them. That’s what life is about—making mistakes but learning not to repeat the same situation that led us to make those mistakes. Guilt, which is a genuinely legitimate and uncomfortable emotion, is perfect because it comes with information; guilt has something to tell us. So, the first step is to understand that we are not perfect, and that’s okay. The second step is to understand that the grieving process is extremely complicated, and we make decisions that we later analyze and think we shouldn’t have made. Generally, we are seeking our well-being. For example, if I distanced myself from a situation where I couldn’t cope, and that situation had a connection to someone’s death due to an illness, during the time of the illness, I distanced myself. Okay, I understand that I may feel guilty, but what was the reason for distancing myself? Was the person who passed away perfect? (Because it often happens that some people can’t tell others when they are doing something wrong.) What if this person who passed away had elements that weren’t necessarily positive for my life? It has a lot to do with expanding our perspective of what is happening and taking responsibility instead of blaming ourselves because feeling responsible for something is very different. I feel that taking responsibility has to do with not being proud of what I did, realizing that I could have done things differently, and committing to taking reparative actions. I will propose that from this moment on, I will have better relationships with people, including myself. If I was fired because I was doing something in a certain way, I will improve it and do things differently now. I will seek reparative actions, and I do this from a place of responsibility. But if I continue to dwell in guilt, I end up playing the victim because someone who feels guilty all the time cannot do anything—it’s like having my hands tied. If I take responsibility, I can take reparative actions, learn to forgive myself, and forgiveness also involves shaking the foundations of guilt. If I have guilt about something and I go to the pillars that somehow support that guilt, I can move them, question them, and weaken them, and then they start to crumble until they eventually fall apart because it’s part of the process. However, to do that, I need to acknowledge the guilt.

VW: At some point in our lives, we have all experienced the loss of a loved one through death. Typically, those close to us can feel overwhelmed when hearing our emotions and thoughts during moments of loss. As a result, we often refrain from sharing them. However, it is essential to discuss the grieving process and explore how we can help release these emotions and feelings that we ourselves suppress. How can we facilitate open conversations about grief and provide support to those going through it?

DH: First, we must begin to address these topics. As I mentioned before, it seems like we were all raised by the same grandmothers. It doesn’t matter if I’m from Venezuela; I’m sure someone in Mexico has heard things like “don’t say that, or you’ll attract death.” There are many subjects we avoid discussing because it seems like talking about death is somehow summoning it, as if we have superpowers, and it becomes a taboo surrounding things that are so natural. It’s like they say, “don’t talk about it,” but still, these ingrained phrases we grew up with, such as “the only certain thing is death,” that seems acceptable, but when we sit down to talk about death, it becomes “don’t say it because you’ll attract it.” Moreover, we have a bias towards negativity in general. “If you laugh too much, you’ll end up crying,” “what comes quickly, goes quickly.” We live in a society with many fears…

VW: And we are constantly convincing ourselves that, in the end, it happens. “Oh, it’s true, I cried because I laughed so much…”

DH: Exactly, you cried because you watched Titanic, but of course, we start convincing ourselves, and that’s when our brain begins to show us. If your brain believes that something is possible, it will find the tools to achieve it, and if your brain believes something is impossible, it will search for excuses to justify the impossibility of it. We have to be careful with what we tell ourselves because our vocabulary constructs our reality. That’s how powerful we are, but talking about death doesn’t make people die, I assure you. On the contrary, it starts to make us more aware of life because there’s very little to do about death. If I die, there’s nothing more to do, but the people who are still alive have many possibilities and many things to do while we’re alive. So, talking about these processes is extremely powerful and empowering. Everyone has a phrase to say that we’re fine even when we’re not. Let’s start normalizing talking about these things. When we become aware of the number of situations that are grief, and also realize that we are social beings and therefore surrounded by people who are experiencing grief all the time, we could ask ourselves: How am I behaving with my closest group, my partner, my children, my parents, my grandparents? How do I treat them in their moments of grief? How do I react to their vulnerability? How do I feel about my own emotions and theirs? And let’s start normalizing it, talking about things that are “weird.” They will no longer be weird when we get used to talking about them. When the pandemic started, it was very strange to wear masks, and then we all started wearing masks. We got used to it because it’s also true that we are beings who adapt to things, but we have to start taking steps, and I believe that part of it is asking ourselves: Who do I have around me? How did I behave with this person when they went through this situation? What did I say to my spouse when they got laid off? We need to ask ourselves these questions, and here’s an important point about the environment of someone going through grief and the person experiencing grief: we have to know how to communicate our needs when we are grieving and when we are beside someone who is grieving. It’s about asking, “What can I do? What should I do?” Give me space, okay, great, I’ll take the kids to the movies so you can stay here and cry for a while. It’s about the need to talk. I need to express what I feel, for example, I feel very sad, but please don’t give me solutions because we tend to want to fix everything when all we need is to cry and for you to be my shoulder to lean on. It’s uncomfortable to see someone cry, maybe the first time, perhaps the second time, but by the third time, you get used to them crying, and it’s okay. So, it’s all about taking small steps, starting with our closest circle because trying to change the world might be a bit challenging at first, but little by little, let’s change our inner circle.

VW: It often happens that, for example, when I experienced the loss of my father, I felt that many people distanced themselves. The discomfort of not knowing what to say because the loss of a mother or father is something very intense, so they don’t have the tools to approach it. Close people who don’t know how to approach and give you a word of comfort because they feel obligated to say something when all we really need is for them to listen, as you were saying. So, these same people who are usually very close to us start to distance themselves. What advice could you give to someone who feels uncomfortable or doesn’t know how to support someone going through the loss of a loved one through death?

DH: I can think of three things initially. The first one is, be careful if you feel uncomfortable with someone else’s unpleasant emotions. “What bothers you, checks you.” What is happening outside only has an impact if something inside is being touched. Otherwise, it passes and that’s it. For example, seeing people cry doesn’t affect me. I’m not saying I lack empathy, but it doesn’t make me uncomfortable because of the nature of my work. I see people crying every day, and I can attune myself to the process. If it’s challenging for you to see someone cry, ask yourself what’s going on within you. I think it’s the perfect moment to sit down and reflect on yourself. Why is it difficult for you? What is your relationship with crying? What does it mean for you to see someone cry? What is it about that person that stirs something in you? And do this analysis without judgment. Life generally, and this is something I believe in, leads us to specific places and connects us with the right people to see aspects of ourselves. That’s part of the game of life. So, I don’t believe in coincidences. If you’re interacting with someone, especially if it moves you, there’s a reason for it. Find out what that reason is. And for that, you need to ask yourself questions that you hadn’t asked before: Why is it difficult for me to cry? You mentioned something crucial about the physical loss of your father: people didn’t know how to console you. People can’t console you. I think there’s also a burden on us to say something that will make the other person feel better, like, “My father just passed away, what do you think you could say to pull me out of this?” Well, there’s nothing humanly possible that can change that. So, the expectations we have on our shoulders are quite high. You won’t be able to relieve me. Perhaps you can help me a little, and here comes the third thing: sometimes we can be a bit more pragmatic. Let’s not believe that a single phrase will change someone’s reality. Maybe, eventually, there are phrases that click with us, but we shouldn’t actively seek them out. In fact, there are some ready-made phrases out there like “my deepest condolences” or “I stand by you in your grief.” I don’t think any of those phrases have much effect, but they’re there if you want to fulfill some social expectation. However, I believe that when you know you won’t be able to alleviate someone’s pain, you stop trying to do so. I think pragmatism can be more effective. “I made chicken soup, here it is for you.” You just found out you have a disease? “I have my car available every Tuesday at 6 pm to take you to chemotherapy.” “I can bring you tuna sandwiches every Monday for the kids to take to school.” In other words, let’s be a bit more practical because that might bring some relief, depending on how close we are. I think that can help.

VW: I would appreciate it if you could provide some recommendations on what kind of activities can help us cope with grief.

DH:  I don’t like standardizing tools; there are things I do with one person and not with another. What do I consider important when looking for tools? The first thing is that if it’s not going to add value to you, it’s unlikely to subtract value. In other words, if you tried keeping a journal and it didn’t work for you, you let it go and move on to the next thing. That would be the first point. But I also believe it’s very important to understand who you are as a human being. For example, how does your brain work? What are your channels of representation? We have three: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory. If I’m auditory, like in my case, keeping an emotions journal doesn’t serve me much because writing is not the cognitive channel I connect with the most, it’s not the one that represents me the most. Instead, when I record things, when I speak and reflect, I find information and gain different perspectives. I can achieve the same goal as a journal but through audios, by listening to myself. Talking to oneself is a good exercise because I’m reflecting, but moreover, listening to my own reflections makes my brain perceive the information differently and leads me to reflect again. For this, we first need to discover who we are, get to know ourselves, and learn to be with ourselves to understand what is most efficient. On the other hand, I believe cardiovascular exercise has absolutely positive effects on hormonal structure. Additionally, there is information at our fingertips to trigger dopamine and reduce cortisol levels. Something that can help us is engaging in gentle exercise like walking on flat terrain. If I start climbing or dancing, cortisol will increase slightly, which is not bad because cortisol is part of who we are, but it’s important not to be overwhelmed by it. However, cardiovascular exercise like walking can be a powerful tool. For example, walking can be especially useful for someone kinesthetic because while engaging in physical activity, I have the capacity to reflect, think about things, and see life from different perspectives, which provides me mental clarity among other benefits. There’s another thing I consider fundamental, and that is breathing. The basics are so efficient that they become transparent, and now that we see everywhere people saying “breathe,” it loses a bit of its power. But it’s true that conscious breathing is a powerful tool. Now, what type of exercise or breathing? Each person has different ways and can adapt it, but the rule is to inhale for a certain number of seconds and exhale twice that amount. For example, if you inhale for three seconds, count one, two, three, and exhale counting one, two, three, four, five, six. What does that do? It helps reduce brain waves and the hormonal structure of our body, decreases cortisol, and increases dopamine, achieving many effects simply by breathing. There’s another exercise that I consider powerful, and it’s asking yourself, but be careful, it’s important to understand that all exercises complement the grieving process. If I’m working on my emotional structure, all of this will have an effect, but if I leave everything to this, it’s like delivering an unfinished task because it’s all I could do. Now, let’s consider how we want to feel. When we experience grief, one of the things that often happens is thinking “I won’t be able to do this,” “I won’t know how to live,” and then life shows us day by day, even dragging us, that we are capable, that “here I am, maybe not well, but I’m alive.” And as I mentioned before, your existence is an end in itself. We are not mere human beings, we are human beings, and the fact of being alive is already an end in itself. So, part of what can help us is considering how we want to feel. Maybe there are things we won’t understand, like “I can’t see my life without this person” or “I don’t understand life without this dream I had.” We understand that and it’s part of what we need to embrace to transcend. But we can also look a bit further and think “how do I want to feel?” I still don’t understand how my life will be, I still don’t know where I will go and what I want, but usually we can know how we want to feel. For example, I want to feel peace. So, I start working towards the goal of having peace, tranquility, motivation, and feeling animated. There’s something very important that we often think about, and that is “I want to be happy.” Happiness seems to be being in a state of ecstasy all the time, but that doesn’t happen. Ecstasy is wonderful but it lasts as long as it lasts. So, happiness is something more than ecstasy, and that’s okay. The concept of happiness, just like success and love, I think it depends on each person, but in these concepts, happiness often has to do even with tranquility, serenity, calmness, and feeling at peace. This may sound a bit strange because there may be someone who only wants to be joyful, and that’s okay, but we are not joyful all the time. Constantly seeking joy also means disregarding the other emotions, and that’s not good either. I understand that my goal is peace, so I know where I want to get to, I know what I want to prevail in my life, and I can start building my path because I know where I want to go. That can also be very powerful. Thinking about how I want to feel.

VW:Of course, we often seek happiness outside ourselves when in reality we create that reality. These processes of self-awareness we were discussing earlier, what truly brings you happiness is getting to know yourself, understanding who you are, what you are capable of, what you are not capable of, recognizing your vulnerability, validating your emotions, and not suppressing them because that is where true strength lies. True happiness is when you release all those emotions and feel free because you have unburdened yourself. So now that we have been talking about all these reflections you have shared with us about grief, I would love to ask you: what does death mean to you?

DH: Death, for me, is the transformation of what we are, which, in my view, is energy. I believe that there is more evidence supporting this as a reality, and not just an idealistic perception from metaphysics back in the 60s, but rather scientific evidence. I love it when science comes to verify what people have been saying for years because it confirms my belief that we are energy. I have witnessed people die, I have seen a body that one second is alive and the next second is gone, just a breath. It’s the same as what brings us here, as it initiates a process, a cycle in our history as energy, and it changes. For me, death is the expansion of consciousness. I believe that death is the transformation of energy, it’s the next step. What we experience here is only a fragment of what life and the universe truly are. I don’t have proof of what I’m saying, but I also have no doubts. Just like love, happiness, and success, I believe that death is a concept that we create and shape ourselves. And since we have the capacity to choose what we believe in, those who choose something different, something tragic, something painful, can also choose something that brings peace, that provides a perspective that things progress. I have seen people I love and who are pillars in my life die, so I don’t allow myself to think that life is anything other than that, the transformation of what we are. That doesn’t mean I don’t shed tears for my mother from time to time, but I know the foundations of my belief system, and I return there. It’s like my home, where I reconnect with her, where I relate to her from a different place.

Let’s remember that as human beings, it is normal to experience the pain of loss, but it is essential to give ourselves the space and time necessary to process our grief in a healthy way. Let’s not be afraid to express our emotions and seek help when needed. Incorporating activities that help us cope with our feelings and seeking forgiveness towards ourselves are important steps in this process. Let’s learn to accept that life has its own pace, and each person processes grief differently. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The important thing is to find the path that allows us to heal and move forward in our journey of life. We hope that this conversation about grief has been helpful and enriching for you.

Thank you for allowing us to share the message with you.

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