I know, I know. Who does that? But we welcome joy - do we not? If we are going to engage fully in life, we will experience grief. The natural cycle of life is - birth, life, death - with many, many small and large cycles of this sort throughout this particular experience we term “my life”. Grief is a major part of loss and loss is a part of change. In resisting grief, we lose our opportunity to acquire and finesse the skills to navigate essential aspects of a fully lived life. Change is the one constant we can rely on in this world. Learning to live well through change and loss equates to sailing across stormy seas with an adequate ship. Our culture sends us disturbing messages about what is normal in response to loss and the process of grieving. Some of the messages we receive, both direct and indirect, include:
• We should get over a loved one’s death in a matter of days to weeks – maybe months in the extreme case. • Intense sadness and bereavement equates to depression that needs to be medicated. • We fall short of ceremony and ritual that honors a person’s life and instead focus on the loss only. • We resist death as if it were the enemy rather than the natural conclusion to a process that has a time limit. • Our language and cultural habits do not support one another’s loss processes, most of it inhibits it or diminishes its value and importance. • We lack understanding about many types of losses that can have an extreme impact on us and need time to recover from. Divorce, the ending of important friendships, loss of our hopes and dreams, loss of pets, financial loss - are just some examples.
Ways in which we might honor our loss process and open to grieving more readily are:
• Never put a time limit on the grieving process. It takes as long as it takes. A significant loss such as a child, a beloved spouse, a sibling, a dear friend may take years to grieve. For particular losses, we may grieve at times till our own death. I remember asking my grandmother, who lost her son at the age of ten to scarlet fever, if she thought of him much. Her immediate response was, “every day”. Enough said. Because we have funerals and wakes that last a matter of days does not mean that this is the appropriate grieving time. Grieving takes as long as it takes till our heart begins to mend from being broken or wounded by losing a loved one or an important aspect of our life. • When I lost my dear friend and my dear cousin, I wailed, I sobbed; I cycled in and out of crying for a long time. My heart felt like it was going to break, again and again. I thought the feeling would never end as I was experiencing it. I lost interest for a time about most of my life, forcing myself to walk through the motions - no appetite, no enthusiasm, no joy were the theme for quite some time. Needing medication in order to function once again is a personal decision, but our culture seems to rush to medicate without allowing adequate time to feel the fullness of the loss, allowing ourselves to naturally return to life after our own particular grieving needs are met in whatever time that means for us. • Our mainstream wake/funeral time is so brief and so quick to come after the loss, that we are rarely in an emotional or mental state to honor the individual well. Our gifts of life come through our experience of them, and then often, the loss of them. Looking at and cherishing those gifts are part of healing from loss. Finding ways to do this in time as the healing process evolves can help our hearts heal as they embody what was once there. • Our inability to naturally welcome death, when we have the opportunity to do so, means we lose other opportunities to say goodbye well, review life and make amends and peace with our inconsistencies or lingering troubled relationships. • “You’ll feel better soon”, or “it will be all right” are not phrases that help or soothe when our hearts are breaking. No words are better than words that indicate that things will be fine when we are in the midst of despair – we are just too far away from that point of return to care. It can actually hurt more if we feel expected to acknowledge that this “all right” time will come by imposing trite phrases on anyone while they are in the depths of despair. • Losing a dream for our life can break our hearts just like the death of a loved one. Our dreams are our dear friends that live inside us and hold great meaning to us. Minimizing these losses by hurrying through them without giving them good attention and finding meaning in them only diminishes us.
We are all challenged to break the culture norm by casting off these indirect or direct messages that there is something bad or wrong with intense grieving. Losing out on a vital process that helps us actually recover, and then deepen our life experiences, means more loss in the end. Compounded losses lay heavy in us all when we do not honor our lives through grieving well and opening fully to this process. Welcome grief as the teacher and guide that it can be.