Navigating the anguish, despair, and emotional pain of the loss of someone we love through death is NOT a passive experience. Our loved one’s death is an event. Grief work is defined as the process by which we come to terms with that event. This work requires many intentional and arduous tasks.
First, we must open ourselves up and embrace the emotional pain as it floods our mind, our body and our soul. This vulnerability of opening ourselves up to emotional pain is counter-intuitive to our instinct, which usually guides us to avoid pain as much as possible. However, there is no detour, no bypass around grief. The pain must be endured until it becomes thoroughly familiar. This is perhaps the single most challenging aspect of grief work. No one wants to embrace emotional pain forever. And so, we ask relentlessly, “When will it end?”
We must seek out those who will listen to and give us permission to talk about our loss as much--and for as long—as we need. Telling our story is a vital task of grief work. Telling our story can be anything from sharing the memory of our last time spent with our loved one, where we were and what we were doing when we got the news of their death, or the details and timeline of their diagnosis and their medical history, our experience of being present at the time of their death, the joy they brought to our life and the love we had for them. Or, our story may be about the challenges we had in the relationship, the regrets we have, or the guilt we bear for not addressing issues when we had the chance to do so. Certainly, any ‘unfinished business’ we feel we had with our loved one needs to be heard and processed in order for us to now find forgiveness or resolution unilaterally. Each time we tell our story, a new and different aspect of our loss resonates within us. As we gain perspective from telling our story, we are able to slowly adapt to the changes that are the inevitable result of our loss.
We do not need to grieve alone. However, seeking out the support that we need from others often overwhelms and intimidates us. We don’t want to be judged; we don’t want to be a burden; we don’t want others to really, truly know how bad we feel. So, we put on our “I’m okay” face, and move through our days as if we’re fine. If we do reach out for help or understanding, we often discover that our support people might not be who we expected them to be. Other family members are likely grieving themselves. Their relationship with the person who died may have been different than ours, more complicated, or less close. Additionally, our friends and others close to us find it very difficult to witness our pain. They try to cheer us up, distract us, prod us to “…move on… let go… get over it…” These are just a few of the reasons that so many describe grief as such a lonely place—even within their immediate family and close friends.
Often, we need to seek support from outside our immediate circle which, again, is counter-intuitive and in itself a daunting prospect. However, the support found in a griefsupport group can be surprisingly comforting, as members of the group instinctively understand the emotional experience of loss without judgment. The group experience can often provide the unconditional support we need to process our grief on our own terms.
The culmination of our grief work is the ability to acknowledge all that our loved one has meant to us, the influence that our relationship with them has had on us; understanding how our loss informs whowe are now. And, finally, how we take that new sense of who we are—after loss—into our own future.
You don’t heal from the loss of a loved one because time passes; you heal because of what you do with the time. ~ Carol Crandall