Of all the uncomfortable experiences in the spectrum of emotions, grief seems to be one that people most seek to avoid. While some cultures are more accepting and demonstrative about their grief, this culture often teaches us to drug it, deny it, and bury it away.
Although there are many losses that trigger grief reactions, this article will focus on handling the loss of a loved one. For unless we refuse to risk love (as many do!), this is an experience we will all face, over and over in our lifetime.
I remember, when I reached forty, thinking how lucky I’d been, not to have lost anyone close to me. Ironically, shortly after that my oldest son died at age 19. While this experience was certainly difficult to live through, it also created many positive teachings, for which I will be eternally grateful .
I became acutely aware of the huge amount of grief felt on the planet on any given moment. I began to truly understand that indeed, grief is a vital part of life. And that we are wise to prepare ourselves for grief through education and personal work. Grief is not a single state of mind but a generic label for a specific process that occurs all through our lives. We tend to let it accumulate unresolved. Then when a huge loss occurs, all unresolved grief will also surface. It is then that people can find themselves overwhelmed. I know I did!
So. how does one educate themselves about the grief process ?
Well, in my own experience, it was useful to know that grief has predictable stages. As I went through these stages I knew they were normal and that indeed, I was not going crazy. (although at times I still wondered…) And most importantly, there would be an end (of sorts).
So what are these stages?
Initially, there is usually shock and disbelief, often followed by denial and anger. Eventually, if we allow the process to allow deeper feelings like sadness, we will eventually move on to acceptance. But, like any other emotional process, grief can get stuck, causing an inability to get on with a fulfilling life. Often, guilt or fear of letting go, get in the way. Sometimes we need to ask for help. (Not a popular idea, I know!)
Everyone will have their own way of grieving. These stages are not experienced in any particular order and will repeat themselves over various periods of time. We will think we’ve reached acceptance and are moving on, when earlier stages of grief will momentarily take over. I call those times, "grief attacks".
While this process may not sound too inviting, there is truly much to gain through loss. Now I see that each loss can teach us many of life’s valuable lessons about living, if we let it!
For example, some of the more valuable things I learned through loss (though don’t always remember were:
1) That life is so precious that not a moment deserves to be lost through unconscious living.
2) That self-pity can destroy us and is not at all the same as grief.
3) That the more I deny my feelings, the less alive I feel.
4) That we all have huge impact on the lives of others, however insignificant we may feel.
5) And finally, that we live in a very giving and loving community for which I am truly grateful.
For each of us the lessons will be different. It‘s like the old saying, "Every dark cloud has a silver lining". And so it is, even in grief.