They say, tell me how to touch someone who is grieving, tell me what to do when my client cries, how I can help.

So, I asked myself, where lies our knowledge of how to be with clients who are grieving?

Text: Tamsin Grainger

Grief is brought about by the passing of time, by things changing. The longer we live, the better we all know about it. Grief describes the accumulation of feelings we have after loss. Perhaps it was the death of someone or something, or the passing on from one stage to another like leaving school, getting divorced or the menopause.

Something inside us recognises loss when we hear and see it, whether in humans or animals. It is known to us, both familiar and feared. Grief is not a static state, nor a fixed entity that can be measured and defined. Indeed, we cannot hold up one person’s experience beside another’s and say that it is true and the other not.

Instead, our complicated Qi patterns at such times are dynamic and individual, affected by our engagement with others, and by what else is going on in our lives and in the world at large.

So then, if those we share shiatsu with indicate that they are derailed by sadness or pain in their response to loss, if they say they are struggling to stay alive after the death of a loved one, or attempting to move forward after a great alteration in circumstances, are there ways to support them? Are there ways which are special to shiatsu? And where do we look for the answer to these questions?

Are there ways which are special to shiatsu?

We have learned that grief is the emotion associated with the Metal Element. However, knowing bereavement as we do, we understand that it is a complex state involving the emotions of every other Element. Because the Lung and Large Intestine meridians are the expression of Metal, we might assume that working them is the best or only way to support our clients with grief. However, there is more that we can do to address it.

As I touch someone else, I cannot help but embody these four things: my personal experience, an understanding of grief which comes from the people I have given shiatsu to over the years, my direct inheritance of grief from my ancestors, and the essence of a general response to suffering which is recognisable. Alice Whieldon ends her recent article in the December edition of this newsletter with the powerful phrase, ‘Recognition is the strongest medicine there is’. In that article, she is referring to another person, the client. Here, I am writing about self-recognition. Firstly, I recognise that the loss my client is experiencing is known to me, too, as a fellow human being and, secondly, that I can live through the witnessing of another’s grief, however traumatic. To be truly present as I give shiatsu in this context, I must recognise these things. Thus, being able to work with those who are suffering is not a technique to be learned, but a state of being, and that only comes about through deep inner work. 

Going deep into this recognition does not need to be a painful process, it can be joyful because it connects us with the continual flow of Qi in and out of human form. Indeed, many who relate their experience of sitting with someone as they die, speak of joy. Whether we have or have not done this, recognising our own, individual experiences, and our resilience will help us personally and in our work.

It is in such deep work that we discover where to look for the knowledge of how to be with someone who is grieving and why shiatsu offers something special to them. When this has become known to us and we carry out shiatsu, then the touched know how to be in themselves, and we can rest.

To be in a shared situation, where others are also dedicated to the task of recognising their own knowledge of loss can be helpful. Further, it is possible to create an atmosphere conducive to recognition of grief and loss in a group setting, and that is what I hope to create at Congress. It will be open to anyone who is interested in this topic.


Curious about supporting grief? Visit Tamsin’s workshop at the European Shiatsu Congress.

Tamsin’s first book, ‘Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice: a guide to holistic bodywork in palliative care’ (published by Singing Dragon Press) will be launched at the European Shiatsu Congress.