- Ward Just, The Weather in Berlin: A Novel
For profound grief it would not be unusual for the healing process to take one and a half to two years. Bereavement means there will forever be a part of your heart that feels the loss. Healing does not erase the pain. Healing means an ability to return to your own life.
Grief has an intensity of emotions that everyone must learn to cope with. Movement through the feelings is what keeps each of us mentally healthy. The whole world has stopped for you because of the loss. Slowly, very slowly the world will return to your awareness.
Learn to sit beside your experience of loss. There will be ten minutes when you don’t think about it, then two ten minute periods in one day and those ten minutes will grow to fifteen or twenty, and then you’ll be surprised a whole hour has gone by and you didn’t cry.
Then you’ll find yourself smiling at something, and don’t shut down the smile because it feels like a betrayal. The smile is a sign of movement. Movement is too often disregarded by the grieving person because to embrace it becomes twisted into the false idea it would be to dishonor the loss. What emerges is a myth ” I can keep them alive by being miserable.” Moving on slowly over time is a gift no one should turn their back on.
William Worden in his text on grief counseling offers four stages when someone has suffered a loss. The first is to accept the reality of the loss, the second is to feel the pain and adjust to your life without the other, the third is to emotionally relocate that person and the final part is healing which is when there is more comfort and less pain.
Grief is not well respected as a process in our culture. There are many different ways to grieve and the time frame is very different for each person. Our hearts carry the wounds of grief differently. Pay attention to how you remember them. Find someone to share your memories with and take time to describe the details. Create a ritual of candle lighting or choosing special pictures to hang. I was able to create a panel for the Aids Quilt, which was very healing.
Profound grief can take many forms. The loss of a child is one of the most difficult trials a person can face, and yet for the children who are still alive it can be crucial for a parent to find their footing again.
Not being loved by a parent can be difficult to bear for a lifetime, it can either set the stage for mental illness or resiliency.
The element of surprise usually makes grief harder to deal with. The resonance of 9/11 is in part due to the shock and surprise of what happened. If a parent dies and it is expected that is more manageable. A suicide can be a very complicated grief because suicide is both a surprise and often a very angry act. Guilt can make all grief impossible to cope with. Get help to decontaminate the guilt. Don’t walk around with secret damage.
Grief needs to be honored. In America we give people about a week and a half to talk about it. None of us want to face our own mortality so we step away from grief in others. As W.H. Auden said it “Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.” Many times therapists are in the necessary role of being a witness because no one else is honestly available.
It is terrible to feel too alone with grief. Not having a partner to share with can make the loss more unbearable. This is why the divorce rate is high after the death of a child.
There are many aspects to grief that add to whether or not grief is bearable. It is very important to not offer platitudes about the future to someone grieving. Grief is all about remembering the past, with a giant hole in the present while the future is completely unimaginable.
Truly being able to wail is very helpful to making grief more bearable. The ability to allow deep noises that may not even sound human gives weight and substance to the locked up emotions. Imagine my surprise more than 20 years ago that no one really wails at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Wailing or keening honors the grief within.
Reading a 2006 NYTimes book review by Thurma Lynch about Sandra Gilbert’s book Death’s Door reminds us that “death’s door is always ajar.” Gilbert “is properly doubtful of the ‘closure’ notion.” Closure is a very misleading word. Therapy is a place where the pain of grief is witnessed. In a culture that shuts the grief process down, therapy can be helpful.
While it is odd to believe that closure is even possible, it is possible to carry their memory without sacrificing your own life vitality. It is crucial to find a way to care about yourself while you grieve.
“Grief is not a process of forgetting. It is a process of learning to cope while we remember.” – Doug Manning
Three Terrific Links for Online Support
Modern Loss-”Candid conversation about grief. Beginners welcome”
Lisa Frank Mixtape-”Grief sucks. We’re here to help with a special mix tape just for you.”
Actively Moving Forward with Grief-College students supporting college students grieving the illness or death of a loved one.
Miscarriage is too often overlooked. Melissa Lafsky Wall wrote an essay titled The Silent Sorrow
My daughter-in-law got a special tattoo to honor her miscarriage, a way to honor what was.
Two Excellent Videos
Caitlin Doughty, a mortician and writer in Los Angeles, CA creates wonderful videos to help us make death & loss a more acceptable part of life. The first is about Talking to Your Kids About Death:
The second is how to talk to people who are grieving:
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala- the tsunami kills everybody in her family
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies by Therese Rando Ph.D. An excellent book for grief.
Intimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live by Marie de Hennezel
I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One by Brook Noel & Pamela Blair
Landscape without Gravity: A Memoir of Grief by Barbara Lazear Ascher
Making Toast by Rodger Rosenblatt
Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner
Movies About Grief
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Nicole Kidman & Aaron Eckhart portray a happy couple who’s life does a 360 when their son dies. She is inconsolable & raw with anger.
Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School (2005)
A husband recovering from the death of his wife. Fate helps him begin to move on with dance.
12 and Holding (2005)
How 3 twelve year olds deal with the death of their friend/brother. Again, each one handles their grief very uniquely.
Broken Wings (2002)
An Israeli family truely suffers from the loss of their father, Truely devastating for the mother & four children left behind.
The Son’s Room (2001)
Learn how each family member struggles with grief in their own way. It is a very honest portrayal of the unbearable pain of the death of a child.
You can read more about grief at my blog.
The above quote says it all. When you pursue what matters to you, you are nourished by the energy. Fatigue can grow from a life too saturated in routines like work, watching television, eating, and sleeping. Determining meaning in your life is important work. It is work that will require your attention for a lifetime because meaning will constantly change. This is illustrated delightfully in the Broadway play “Avenue Q” which uses Muppets to describe 20-somethings searching for purpose.
I asked my daughter at 15 3/4′s what was hard about being a teen and she responded, “Deciding what’s important.” I laughed with delight because that’s forever work, not just the challenge of adolescence. Routines that stifle creativity, imagination, and chance should be suspect. Responses such as chronic fatigue or the disease of depression or anxiety can be signs that the soul is weary.
Feeling constantly exhausted might be a message from your soul that you are running away from life by being too busy. It’s easy to get lost in doing too much which drains our energy so we are too depleted to do the work of connecting with others.
Sleep hygiene really is important to living well. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. You are rested when you wake up without an alarm clock. Don’t take naps for longer than 20-25 minutes.Try to keep your bedroom as a place for sleep, sex or rest.
Something to consider: on March 7, 2011 the National Sleep Foundation took a poll and discovered that 95% of people report using some technology device an hour before bed. Lauren Hale, one of the researchers says this is a problem because the devices are “…often light-emitting, which can suppress the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin and make it harder to go to sleep at night….and the psychological effect of being stimulated.”
Try the App called DEEP SLEEP by Andrew Johnson It’s been very helpful to many people.
Boredom & the Cure for Boredom
Nice can be oh-so-not interesting and yet it is the choice we make more often than not. Stop interrupting yourself, authenticity can be refreshing.
Boredom is not all bad. Its greater purpose is to inspire people to be more creative about their lives. Our lives often lack imagination and creativity. Try this simple exercise: Take a few moments and add eight to ten years to your current age. Picture yourself dead at that future age. What would you want for those eight to ten years? What would be important to you if that was all the time you had left? Brainstorm about what new directions you might pursue.
Just as winter brings spring fever, the death of boredom can restore meaning to life. Start small: Awaken your curiosity by studying the weekend section of your local newspaper and choose to try something unusual. Go on to larger ideas: Begin keeping a journal for each of your children.
Buy blank books and write to each of your children about who they are and how you delight in them. I’ve done this for my children since they first arrived and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my life. I’ve even persuaded their father, uncles, a teacher or two and a few special friends to add some pages. This is an ordinary way to be creative. If it’s too late for your children, do it for your grandchildren, or someone special. There are many ways to add creativity to your life.
Creativity Revealed: Discovering the Source of Inspiration by Scott Jeffery