Sexual Violence and Grieving

Yesterday was national Grief Awareness Day. When I saw this day on the calendar, my heart went out to the many ways that we experience grief surrounding sexual violence. We experience grief in both abstract and very tangible ways.  

As survivors of sexual violence and loved ones of sexual violence, we naturally grieve many things. We grieve the person who once was, before what happened; or what could have been if it never happened at all. Maybe we grieve the possibility of a happy childhood. We grieve feelings of safety, control of our bodies, feeling “normal.” Perhaps we have changed our appearances and grieve the comfort of being our full selves. We wrap ourselves in all the could have and should haves and grieve what could have been if we’d just… 

Coping with sexual violence is all about grieving what happened.  

We also grieve the many who have been lost to sexual violence. A year before I started this work, a friend of mine was raped and murdered. The grief surrounding such a violent and inexplicable form of death was perhaps harder than anything I have ever experienced. It shook my world with its brutality and senselessness, especially against someone so vulnerable, kind, joyful, and innocent. Unfortunately, sexual violence and death intersect regularly. We see this through the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s movement, we know that femicide is often accompanied by sexual violence, and we also know that experiencing sexual violence increases suicidality significantly.  

All this to say that if you have experienced the loss of someone you love in conjunction with sexual violence, we see you and you are not alone. We know how overwhelming and confusing and horrific it is. We know that it’s not okay. We are here for you.  

No matter what form your grief takes today, and whether you are experiencing that grief personally or just want to support those who are, we invite you into vigil today. Take some time to sit with your grief, share memories and tears, light a candle, be in community with those who support you.  

We know, however, that grief doesn’t last one day, and part of the point of this day is honoring the forms that grief takes. We must give ourselves the time and space to grieve to truly heal. It is a long, hard journey, but it is so worth it. While you grieve, we encourage you to: 

  • Give yourself grace. Grief is hard and you may be feeling extra fragile right now. Lean into it and don’t beat yourself up for not meeting your “normal” capacity. Be gentle with yourself.  
  • Take your time. Grief doesn’t have timelines or deadlines. You may feel like you need to rush through it to attend to responsibilities, but grief doesn’t go away just because you have responsibilities and it will take time.  
  • Try setting boundaries. While we attend to our grief, setting boundaries can help us to take care of ourselves. It’s okay to say no to things or put less things on your plate. It’s okay to focus on you. It’s also okay to ask for help in the ways that you need, let people know how best to support you (people often want to help those experiencing grief, but don’t know how best to unless you tell them), and take breaks when you need to. We can also set boundaries by being realistic in our expectations for ourselves, while also being accountable for healthy expectations for ourselves (example: “I will shower and eat 2 meals every day”). 
  • Experience your grief. One of the best ways to move through grief is through feeling it. It can be so hard to feel unpleasant feelings like grief, but grief can manifest in so many harmful ways if we don’t take the time and attention to feel it. Try self-care and healing practices, journal, talk about it, join a support group, go to a helping professional, or spend even 5-10 minutes at the beginning or end of your day feeling your grief. 
  • Grieve in community. We know that healing happens in community, and grieving is no exception. Be intentional about surrounding yourself with healthy support systems, faith communities, or support groups. Share stories, memories, feelings, ask for help and support, or even just sit together in silence.  
  • Listen to your body. We know that our bodies hold our experiences, emotions, and traumas. Be intentional about listening to your body, resting when you need rest, moving when you need movement, and incorporating healing movement practices. Be sure to nourish your body in the ways it needs – there’s a reason grief is often associated with people bringing casseroles over!  

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