In the first few weeks and months of grief we experience numbness and shock. Just like the body’s physical reaction to trauma we go into shock, our psyches protect us from experiencing the full reality of a death. This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s how we’re wired and thank goodness for that. Rather than experiencing the full reality of our loss, we get it dripped in a little bit at a time.
If you don’t see how this works, think back to the first week following a death. This is the time you had to make or finalize the arrangements, attend the wake and go to the funeral. Around you was the buzz of activity but through it all you felt a bit like you were swimming underwater. You were going through the motions of the accepted protocol with some degree of numbness.
After the funeral you probably had the experience of picking up the phone to call the person who died or walking in the door expecting them to be there. In those brief moments you forgot that they had died and each time you were confronted again with the reality of their loss…drip, drip, drip.
I believe this is the psyche’s way of protecting us from an experience that surely would make us go crazy if we tried to swallow it whole. We don’t have to dive in all at once but we do need to get out of the way to allow the experience to unfold naturally and organically.
In my experience this is the fastest and most complete way through the grieving process…feel it. Stop trying to stuff the feelings. Stop trying to manage the feelings. Stop trying to control the process.
Rather open yourself up to the experience of grief. This is the vulnerability grief requires of us and when it’s done with us, it lets go leaving us scarred and strong, the real kind of strength that’s not dissimilar from the process of tempering steel. Going through the fire makes us strong and remakes us in ways we would never have imagined.
Photo Credit: Robert Michie
Healing means becoming whole.
Period. End of story.
It does not mean returning to a previous state of being as I heard someone say on the radio the other day.
All it means is becoming whole.
After the experience of death and the grief that follows, that wholeness will be dramatically different from what we may have experienced before but it is wholeness nonetheless.
It’s a wholeness that incorporates the experience of loss into who we are.
It’s a wholeness that incorporates the lessons we learned through the grieving process into who we are in the present moment.
And most important of all, it is a wholeness that incorporates the memory of the person who died into our very being. That includes everything they ever gave us, the things they taught us, and the way they loved us.
Now that is wholeness and it is where grief takes us when we have the courage to follow.
P.S. More on what it means to heal from loss and grief
Healing means becoming whole.
Photo Credit: Adrian van Leen
Every so often I get a message from someone who is grieving the death of someone, usually a parent, who was abusive. To say this complicates grief is the understatement of all time.
The mix of grief and abuse is so confusing. So what’s really going on?
This one death is triggering multiple losses.
1. The actual death of someone you love in spite of the abuse. No matter how horrific the abuse this person was still someone you loved and the grief you feel is very real.
2. The hope that you might someday get the relationship you always wanted. No matter how much we know intellectually that we’ll never have the parent we want, there is always a part of us that keeps hoping…and when they die that hope dies too.
3. Not only the hope is lost but also whatever relationship you were able to establish as an adult. These adult relationships tend to be rather tenuous at best, and yet many manage to establish some kind of relationship with the former abuser. This hard won relationship also dies when they die.
There is no easy solution for this kind of grief. It is by definition complicated grief and therapy is what’s called for. The issues involved are just too complex to treat this as a normal grieving process.
What this death can be is an opening to doing the healing work necessary to move forward in life without the brokenness and shame that abuse creates.
If you’re looking for a therapist who can address all these levels of grief, you might find this article helpful. I would ask the same questions about their experience with abuse as I suggest for grief.
I hope this helps,
Photo Credit: Billy Alexander