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Your Guide To Grieving What Could Have Been

Written by: Chelsea Haines, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


A guide to grieving what could have been. This was a requested topic from a follower on Instagram, and instead of just speaking about it, I created a guide to dealing with grief. Particularly grieving what could have been. Due to the nature of this tricky topic, I decided to reach out to an expert in loss and grief, Di Atherton, a certified Death Doula and Grief Guide.

Upset and depressed woman sitting by the ocean crying with her head in her hand.

Grief is not reserved for funerals.

Grief is a natural response to loss, and while it is often associated with the death of a loved one, that same feeling can a rise from unfulfilled expectations and missed opportunities. We are often impatient to move on from this feeling when in reality, we're doing ourselves a disservice by not honoring the death and grieving process. Experiences of grief over ‘what could have been’ are a valid and incredibly hard period to go through. If you're wondering what that includes, the list is endless, but some common ones the community mentioned are:

  • Loss of a job

  • Ending a relationship

  • Immigrating

  • Losing loved ones (including pets)

  • Loss of a certain period of your life (College days, living at home, a season of travel)

  • Big shifts (kids moving out)

  • Missed opportunities

If you've experienced any of these and the low thereafter – you might have been grieving a loss. The common response is: “What's gone is gone.” Usually accompanied by a sense of: “Get on with it." While this may push you to go back to work and life, it usually results in a lasting and unresolved sense of grief and loss that lives in the body, spirit, and in the quiet spaces of your mind that land in your nervous system as dysregulation and the constant feeling of “going into battle” from the moment you we wake up. If we want to show up for ourselves, loved ones, work, and purpose, then dealing with this grief is imperative to our happiness and ability to truly "move on."

The Expert:

Di is Certified with Sacred Dying South Africa as a Death Doula and Grief Guide (SDSA Cert. CEOLD). After the death of her husband and soulmate of 38 years, she first experienced just how hard grief could hit. In her recovery, she decided she wanted to use what she learned to support others walking the path of grief. What I loved about Di is how she wants to normalize this part of the life cycle. Everything dies (including opportunities and times of our lives.)

Yet we run away from the reality of death. It’s swept under the carpet, not talked about, ignored. Until it happens, and we can't cope for one more second holding that much grief in the body. After her own experiences with grief and working her way to the other side after loss, Di dedicated her life to serving others in this way. She now offers 1-on-1 grief packages and even runs virtual and in-person "Walking the Path of Grief" retreats. She even delves into grief workshops for corporates. With over 25 years of experience in the mind, body, and spirit field, this Reiki Master and personal development specialist is the perfect person to shine a light on this topic.

Why do we struggle with grieving so much?

I couldn't figure out why grieving was an emotion and experience so many of us struggled with. Di teaches that it's likely because we don't make time for grief. Compassionate leave is only three days. Three days to come to terms with your entire world changing.

Compassionate leave is reserved for death, and there are no compassionate leaves nor compassion built into companies and society for all the experiences that so often cause grief. Compare that to maternity leave of 3 months (in some places worldwide.) Di explains that we don’t allow space for the grief process. We are expected to “move on'' in a very short space of time. Because the grieving process is so uncomfortable, people also don’t know how to act around someone who is grieving, so often end up doing or saying inappropriate things or, even worse, avoiding the person completely.

How can we deal with grieving?

Di creates a non-judgemental, safe space for grievers to talk about what they are experiencing. She witnesses their pain. She includes energy work (Reiki), either hands-on or distant, to support the body, which is holding all the unexpressed emotions. She explains that this isn't just for deaths, but her guidance and support extends to those going through changes in their life and the loss of what could have been as well. Through our discussion, I developed a 6-step grieving guide for you to try in the meantime:

6-Step Grieving Guide:

1. Acknowledge and Validate Your Emotions:

  • Understand that grieving what could have been is a valid and normal response.

  • Allow yourself to feel the range of emotions, including sadness, anger, and frustration – and maybe even bouts of relief and joy – without guilt.

  • Create a safe space to express and process your emotions without judgment.

2. Reflect and Accept:

  • Reflect on the situation and accept that what could have been is now a part of your past.

  • Practice self-compassion and be kind to yourself as you navigate this journey.

  • Embrace acceptance as a key step towards finding peace and moving forward.

3. Seek Support:

  • Reach out to friends, family, or a support group who can provide empathy and understanding.

  • Consider seeking professional help, such as coaching, therapy, or counseling, to guide you through the grieving process.

  • Surround yourself with individuals who uplift and support you during this challenging time.

4. Redefine Your Perspective:

  • Shift your focus from dwelling on what could have been to what opportunities lie ahead.

  • Explore new possibilities and consider alternative paths or goals.

  • Cultivate a growth mindset and view setbacks as opportunities for personal growth.

5. Engage in Self-Care:

  • Prioritize self-care practices that nourish your mind, body, and soul.

  • Engage in activities that bring you joy, such as exercise, hobbies, or spending time in nature.

  • Practice mindfulness and meditation to cultivate inner peace and resilience.

6. Celebrate:

  • Celebrate each milestone as you move forward. Remember, this isn't about moving ON; it's about the ability to move forward.

What to do with the anger:

Allow it to be expressed again by creating that safe, non-judgmental space. This is not something that can be fixed. Di explains we have to “feel to heal.” If you cannot go through this with a grief guide or counselor, then this is a space you may need to cultivate for yourself. Often the grieving person really just needs someone to witness their pain and to be there. Not to try and fix it – you can’t fix someone’s grief.

Some parting wisdom on grieving

Grief is deeply misunderstood, and death is feared in Western society. It is sad that, unlike many other cultures with some beautiful and profound rituals and traditions around death, it is not accepted as a natural part of the cycle of life.

“We are not going to live forever. The Tibetan Book of the Dead reminds us to live each day as if it was our last. Some find that morbid. But it is a reminder to make the most of our life.” – Di Atherton

If not a reason, then a purpose.

What I do know for sure is that humans have a unique ability to find meaning and purpose in the face of adversity. How many times have you heard of people with incurable diseases or ailments conquering what should be impossible feats? Or becoming world-renowned speakers? Their pain led them to their calling.

All of those stories remind us that the strength, possibility, and ability within us is immeasurable.

I can't tell you that what you're going through has a meaning, but I can tell you that by taking time to grieve, you can use this time to grow, evolve, and blossom even more into your purpose-driven life.

You're not alone.

One of my favorite things about working with my team at The Gut Health Agency is realizing how interconnected it all is. Many people's inability to deal with their grief is what leads them to burnout. Grief is held in the gut.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Chelsea Haines, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Recently featured "The Gut Health Coach" by Yahoo!, Chelsea Haines has a unique way of helping high-performers heal. She doesn't claim to know best. Her mission: to remind you that YOU are the expert on your body, only you know precisely what you need, and you are not "crazy" for feeling how you feel. Her expertise stems from personally healing autoimmune disease paired with formal degrees in psychology, gut health, and mindfulness. She’s the Founder of The Gut Health Agency, where a team of health coaches & Registered Dietitians merge health coaching with clinical testing for increased patient compliance and lasting habit change ‒ a needle-moving combination not otherwise seen in the gut health space.



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