Photo Credit: Thad Zajdowicz
Most of us think of grief as a normal response to loss, and it is a completely normal and natural response. Unfortunately this definition of grief doesn’t tell us much about the nature of grief. It doesn’t tell what to expect and it certainly doesn’t give it purpose and meaning.
So I’d like to broaden the definition of grief because what’s missing is that grief is essentially an adaptive and transformative process. It’s something programmed into us to help us get from one place to another.
Grief is a painful yet necessary process that serves as a bridge from one way of life, the life with the person who has died, into a new way of life without them. That bridge may feel more like a tightrope walk over a chasm filled with snapping crocodiles, but it’s a bridge nonetheless, and a bridge we are meant to cross.
Even though the new life we create out of the ashes may not be one we would have chosen, grief, fully experienced, brings to us the capacity to live life fully again. Ultimately this is the reason we grieve…not to be miserable for the rest of our lives but to integrate our loss into our hearts and minds so that we can reinvest in life.
When grief works we move into that new life bringing with us all of our love and memories of the life we had and the person we lost, while still embracing the new life that is emerging.
When we fail to understand this broader definition of grief, there is a real danger of short circuiting the process and ending up in a prolonged state of misery, a state of misery that can consume the remainder of one’s life.
Ultimately the grieving process is more than the yearning for what we had and lost. It is about healing our hearts so we can live again.
P.S. I wrote How to Survive Your Grief When Someone You Love Has Died for people in the first few months (through the first year) of grief, to avoid many of the pitfalls that lead to short circuiting the grieving process and prolonging the pain.