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The Gift of Grief
All the passages below are taken from the book “On Grief and Grieving” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. It was published in 2005.
Grief is the intense emotional response to the pain of a loss. It is the reflection of a connection that has been broken. Most important, grief is an emotional, spiritual, and psychological journey to healing.
There is wonder in the power of grief. We don’t appreciate its healing powers, yet they are extraordinary and wondrous. It is just as amazing as the physical healing that occurs after a car accident or major surgery. Grief transforms the broken, wounded soul, a soul that no longer wants to get up in the morning, a soul that can find no reason for living, a soul that has suffered an unbelievable loss.
Grief alone has the power to heal.
Think of a time when someone close to you experienced an important loss. Think of his life following that loss. Then think of him a year later. If he grieved, a miraculous shift may have occurred. If a healing did not take place, it is most likely because he did not allow himself to grieve.
Grief always works.
Grief always heals.
Many problems in our lives stem from grief unresolved and unhealed. When we do not work through our grief, we lose an opportunity to heal our soul, psyche, and heart.
In today’s culture there are so few models of grief. It is invisible to the untrained eye. We don’t teach our children how to cope with loss. People don’t say to their children, “This is how you heal after a loved one dies, this is how we mourn.”
There are a few farsighted individuals. One woman came up after a lecture to tell how she brought her children to her own father’s grave, their grandfather whom they barely remembered. She said, “I sat there and cried in front of them. I then told them a few stories about him and laughed before crying again. I told them this is what grieving looks like. I taught them everything else, why wouldn’t I teach them how to grieve? I know they will experience loss and death in their lives, and I want them to be able to move through those feelings.”
Few of us had parents who taught us this valuable process and modeled it for us. We will always remember Jackie Kennedy with her children, publicly mourning her husband and our president. In the aftermath of his death, she looked to a model of the past for guidance. She found her archetype in the funeral of Abraham Lincoln, which she followed for her own beloved husband. When it came to her own death, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis again taught us how to conduct ourselves in the face of death. She died surrounded by her family and her books. At her funeral her son described three of her attributes: “love of words, the bonds of home and family, and her spirit of adventure.”
Yet we are still left unguided. What happened to the grieving families after the funerals? What was their first grief like? How did they survive? To whom did they turn for support? How did they cope and heal?
While some mourners have access to bereavement counselors and other health-care professionals, most people today feel very alone in their grief. They long for a pathway through their pain and isolation. They unconsciously seek models, which are few and far between. They turn to family and friends who are often unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the grieving process themselves.
Not knowing how to handle the pain of grief, we avoid it, not realizing it is the pain of the loss we are trying to avoid. A pain that will strike, no matter how much we try to avoid it. Yet by avoiding grief we turn our backs to the help that grief offers, thus prolonging the pain.
Why grieve? For two reasons. First, those who grieve well, live well. Second, and most important, grief is the healing process of the heart, soul, and mind; it is the path that returns us to wholeness. It shouldn’t be a matter of if you will grieve; the question is when will you grieve. And until we do, we suffer from the effects of that unfinished business.
Unfinished business encompasses all those things we haven’t said or done. The feelings we wish we allowed ourselves to feel. Those feelings that we have ignored and not attended to. Unfinished business from old wounds and previous losses can resurface in our current grief. It makes our present grief feel overwhelming, bigger than the loss we are currently experiencing. For example, unfinished business from the loss of a father can reemerge at the funeral of a coworker whom we didn’t even know well. Fortunately, unresolved pain always makes itself known and steps up boldly, if inconveniently, to be dealt with.
Grief is one of life’s passages we all experience. It is one of life’s equalizers, a shared experience for every man and woman who lives. But though it is a shared experience, most of us go through it as little islands of pain. Most of the people around us don’t know how to help. We want help but probably wouldn’t even know what that help would look like. We just know a major loss has taken place. We know we can’t bring back that loss and we can’t take away the pain. Our pain makes others very uncomfortable. Our pain reminds them of their own, it reminds them of how precarious their lives are too. It is their own pain and fear that cause others to say such things as “Get over it, already,” or “It’s been six months, are you going to grieve forever?”
At a lecture, a woman named Meredith shared her story. Meredith’s friends were telling her she just wasn’t herself— what was going on? She explained that it was the twenty-fifth anniversary of her mother’s death. One of her friends naïvely asked, “It still upsets you twenty-five years later?” Meredith replied, “I don’t fall apart and I do feel healed, but I don’t forget.” She remembers the mother she had and still grieves for the child who lost her innocence too soon.
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.
The time we take following a loss is important in grief and grieving as well as in healing. This gift of grief represents a completion of a connection we will never forget. A time of reflection, pain, despair, tragedy, hope, readjustment, reinvolvement, and healing.
The time after a significant loss is full of the feelings that we usually have spent a lifetime trying not to feel. Sadness, anger, and emotional pain sit on our doorstep with a deeper range than we have ever felt. Their intensity is beyond our normal range of human emotions. Our defenses are no match for the power of the loss. We stand alone with no precedent or emotional repertoire for this kind of loss. We have never lost a mother, father, spouse, or child before. To know these feelings and meet them for the first time brings up responses from draining to terrifying and everything in between. We don’t know that these foreign, unwelcome, intense feelings are part of the healing process. How can anything that feels so bad ever help to heal us?
With the power of grief comes much of the fruits of our grief and grieving. We may still be in the beginning of our grief, and yet, it winds its way from the feelings of anticipating a loss to the beginnings of reinvolvement. It completes an intense cycle of emotional upheaval. It doesn’t mean we forget; it doesn’t mean we are not revisited by the pain of loss. It does mean we have experienced life to its fullest, complete with the cycle of birth and death. We have survived loss. We are allowing the power of grief and grieving to help us to heal and to live with the one we lost.
That is the Grace of Grief.
That is the Miracle of Grief.
That is the Gift of Grief.
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