Female nurse is holding head with hands in the clinic

Grief exercises and strategies

In the moment

If you find yourself experiencing a moment of grief, try this exercise to honour and acknowledge your feelings while also comforting yourself. This should only take about 30 seconds.

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Close your eyes (if you can) and put a hand over your heart.
  3. Imagine a beach scene (the sand, the water, the sound of the surf, etc.). 
  4. Now imagine getting into the water and being hit by a cresting wave.
  5. First, picture yourself fighting the wave. Imagine trying to control the direction of your body, or even trying to swim.
  6. Next, try to imagine yourself being loose and responsive. Your grief is like those waves. Let them wash over you. 
  7. Breath out slowly and relax. Allow your body to rise and fall with the waves. Find yourself bobbing up on the surface when a wave passes.
  8. Now imagine the waves have subsided. The water is calm. Allow yourself to rest in this stillness.
  9. Open your eyes when you feel ready.

The feelings that come with grief (sadness, anger, fear, guilt) can be overwhelming. Just like waves, intense feelings of grief can rise and crest unexpectedly. These pangs are short and intense. Once they subside, the water is calm again.

However, healing from loss means accepting that waves of grief will continue to hit you. When you try to outswim, avoid, or fight those waves, you miss the slow healing that comes with facing them instead.

Reflection and growth


A lament is a specific type of writing that has been used for hundreds of years. Some people call it the “language of pain.” The lament’s purpose is to let witnesses know our pain, while also inspiring hope. 

This exercise will help you compose a lament about your pandemic experience. Let these prompts guide your words. Write wherever, whenever, and however feels most comfortable to you.

  1. Give voice to your experience. Acknowledge that your experience and feelings are valid.
  2. Identify the key issue. Reflect on what is most problematic or painful in your situation. 
  3. Speak your emotions. Identify your anger, pain, heartache, or sadness.
  4. State a request. What help do you need? If you had a magic wand, what solution would you hope for?
  5. Assurance of being heard. What do you need to feel heard? Who is the support person you can share this with?
  6. Affirmation of trust. What other times has someone been there for you?
  7. Express gratitude. Give thankfulness for the space to speak your truth.
  8. Personal assurance. Affirm to yourself that you will be okay, you are not alone, and this too will pass.

Now that you have completed your lament, you can share it with a trusted person, or you can keep it private. 

The Matrix


As we describe in this program’s appendix, it’s possible to get stuck in a loop on the Away side of the Matrix. This can happen when your moral pain leads you to behaviours that soothe you in the short term, but don’t move you to the Toward side in the long term.

Even if you somehow free yourself of all the difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories on the Away side of the Matrix, that doesn’t guarantee you will find yourself on the Toward side. And you should know that you can make Toward moves even in the presence of yucky internal experiences on the Away side. On the Matrix, you’re just trying to help yourself spend more time on the Toward side than you did before. We all make Away moves! 

It’s important to be kind to yourself. Rather than focusing on what not to do (“Do not make Away moves”), focus on what you can do (“Do make Toward moves”) to move yourself closer to what matters to you.

Fill out the chart using the following prompts. Start in the lower-right quadrant and go clockwise.

  1. Lower right: Record your losses and why they have been painful to lose. What do those losses represent to you? What values that are important to you do they reveal?
  2. Lower left: What thoughts show up for you about these losses? And what feelings?
  3. Upper left: If you are caught up in these thoughts and feelings, how does that influence your behaviours? What kind of things do you do in response to feeling that way or having such thoughts?
  4. Upper right: What behaviours can you do that will express what those losses meant to you? (These might be different from the losses you have experienced or the ways you have expressed these values in the past. The goal is to find new and diverse ways to express the values that your losses represent.)

Remember you don’t have to decide if the thoughts and feelings on the Away side are true or false. Once you have finished the four quadrants, look to the centre of the Matrix and notice (with kindness and curiosity) how your responses show whether you are moving toward or away from what matters to you.

The Matrix
Tap and hold (or right click) the image to save and/or print it. (Alternatively, you can draw two lines on a blank journal page to make four quadrants.)