Introduction to a Discussion on Grief
This is not a lecture. I prefer to call it a discussion.
The first part, which you are reading now, is a discussion. Here will I talk about grief and how it affects us.
The second part,which will come in a later post, will be advice on how to deal with and work through grief.
I would like you to use the ideas expressed in this discussion as thought-starters or as a catalyst for introspection. Please note that what I say here does not on its own have the power to help you process your grief. However, you can take these thoughts about grief, reflect upon them, apply them in your life according to their relevance and then it will have the power to change your life. Most of all, honestly applying the exercises that will be presented in part two will empower you to understand your feelings and grieve effectively in a positive and beneficial manner.
While reading the discussion, even though it is only me speaking, I expect you to start a dialogue with yourself. Pause and reflect, as many times as you want to. Sort and discard, keep what is relevant and talk to yourself about grief. Please keep a pen and notepad handy, take your time and write down any thoughts that occur to you as you are reading.
Part 1: A Grief Discussion
Is there a difference between living a life filled with grief and living a life where grief is an essential and necessary part but not a difficult or dominant part?
Think about this for a moment.
There are two important things to understand and consider.
One: Grieving will last a lifetime.
Two: Grief is good.
That must seem like the most callous and cruelest things that one can say to anyone who’s lost someone whom they truly and dearly love.
And yet both statements are very true.
If you’ve recently lost someone, would you rather grieve now or later?
Would you want to get it over with as soon as possible and move on with your life?
Grieving is not the same as mourning. Mourning is limited. Two weeks, perhaps even two years. Grieving is limitless. It lasts a lifetime. Mourning is a series of accepted social and cultural rituals that you do as a mark of respect or as part of a tradition. There are rules and guiding principles on how to mourn. You know what to do, or if you don’t, there are people whom you can turn to and ask for guidance, your elders or a religious or community leader.
When it Comes to Grieving, There are No Rules.
Grieving is a very personal process. It is internal even though it is often evident externally in your appearance and in your actions. For instance, there is a fixed period for mourning, more or less, according to social, religious or cultural norms. After the mourning period is over, it is considered right to move on. In fact, it is considered appropriate, normal, natural and even healthy to do so. It’s generally other people, friends, family members, colleagues at work or those belonging to the community you live in who are giving you permission to stop mourning and resume your life. Mourning is therefore an external socially acceptable requirement, which may not always be voluntary but it is something that you do because you are expected to.
Grieving on the other hand, because it is a very personal and internal process can take unexpected turns and continue inordinately. Grieving unlike mourning can last a lifetime. Though this may sound very depressing and frightening, feeling the loss of someone whom you truly love will and does last a lifetime. You may not constantly feel or be aware of the loss but there will be moments in your life many years after you experience a tragedy, when you can still feel the loss, almost as powerfully as if it happened yesterday. This is something that you have to accept, understand and be aware of.
Just as moving on with your life following a tragedy is important and nothing to be ashamed of, grieving or the fact that it can last for a lifetime is nothing to be afraid of.
Grieving Can Get Out of Control, Only if You Allow it to.
It is important not to avoid grief. Embrace grief so you can understand it. Grieving produce a lot of mixed feelings – pain, sadness, anger, guilt, helplessness, outrage, shock and in some cases, even relief or a sense of freedom.
Grief is good because it defines the strong relationships that you have built and the bonds that you have forged in your life. The feeling of loss that you have is something to be treasured. Why? It shows that you care and proves that your love for someone gave you happiness. That’s why you are feeling sad, now, at this very moment.
Think for a few moments about the happiness that you enjoyed.
Did you recall happy moments or incidents from the past when you were together? Did you remember the good times you had?
Now, do you think that you will be as happy as that, ever again? You are wrong, if you tell yourself, that you will never feel that happy again because the person you love and who was the source of your happiness is no longer with you.
You can and Will Feel Happiness as Intensely as You are Feeling Sadness.
Be honest and be humble. Do you think it’s possible to accept that grief is good and that it will last a lifetime? Is it a burden? Or is it a means to channel your emotions so as to attain freedom from bottling them up?
Is it right to think and reflect over what happened? How much of introspection is fine and when does it become brooding and negative?
You will know the answers when you are brave enough to ask yourself these questions.
Is grieving a necessary process?
It is. It helps you to connect and enjoy your different lives, the one before the tragedy and the one after the tragedy, the life that you have yet to live. Telling someone who is grieving that he can enjoy his life after a tragedy may seem very odd. It also may seem contradictory because on the one hand I am saying, grief will last a lifetime and also that you can enjoy your life. Is it possible?
It is, if you take control. You can and should seek the support of others to cope with grief but only you can give yourself the permission to move on and live your life according to your terms.
This is the cycle of life. Time heals everything.
Know the Five Stages of Grief and Recognize Them When You are Going Through Any of Them.
The five stages of grief were first mentioned by Doctor Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, published in 1969.
The five stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
Before we begin to examine the five stages, I would like to clarify a few things.
The five stages of grief do not occur progressively, one after the other. It is possible to experience them in any order.
It is not necessary that one goes through all the 5 stages. You may experience some of them and it is also possible they may overlap or occur simultaneously, thereby preventing a clear distinction.
The five stages of grief are not to be seen as neat, compartmentalized methods to grieve. They are at best an attempt to explain how time heals all wounds and why it is necessary to endure rather than resist emotional turmoil, to channel our emotions instead of bottling them up.
The five stages of grief can help us to understand what our varying emotional states are trying to tell us, and help us to cope with a tragic loss in a graceful and least damaging manner.
The 5 stages of grief can be used to interpret the intense feelings that a person goes through before, during or after the tragic loss of a loved one. These stages are relevant to all those who are involved, those who have lost a loved one, any individual who is dying or is terminally ill as well as those who have endured suffering and survived a painful ordeal.
I request you to reflect on the 5 stages so you can subject your own state of mind to introspection and analyze your individual situation.
Denial is the state where one unconsciously evades facing the truth, ignoring or even distorting reality in order to protect oneself from being affected by a tragic incident. It is a classic defense mechanism that people involved in a tragedy adopt in order to postpone going through the pain and the suffering. Sometimes a person can recognize when he or she is in denial. At other times, it may require someone to point it out externally, such as a close relative, friend or counselor. It is normal to go into denial before, during or immediately following a tragedy but it is equally important to recognize that it cannot be used as a shield forever. You need to step out of denial, accept the truth, in order to emotionally heal and return to a healthy reality.
Anger is a very strong negative emotion that can potentially cause damage to the person who feels it as well as those around. It is natural to feel angry when you suffer. However, it is important to be aware that it is not the time to take action but to allow your feelings to calm down. Anger can put anyone in a confused state where one does not know whether they are angry at the person who is dying or is dead, at fate, god, other people such as doctors or friends or themselves. It’s one way of trying to explain the tragedy or put the blame on someone or something. Experience anger like you would go through a storm, try to stay safe and grounded. Take precautions so that you don’t hurt yourself or others when you are angry. And when it’s over, ask for forgiveness if you acted rashly and also forgive yourself and others for hurting and being hurt.
Bargaining is an attempt to prevent or change the outcome of a tragedy. In the process, it can change a person or make them adapt illogical methods. The interaction could be influenced by religious beliefs or even past experiences. It is not practical. Once you realize the futility of trying to create an alternative reality, you will be able to focus your energies effectively to see more clearly.
Depression is a trying phase where strong emotions can cloud rational thinking. To feel depressed is natural and unavoidable. It is often accompanied by intense feelings of sadness, remorse, regret, fear and guilt. It may alter normal behavior and may produce tendencies towards the extreme. Seeking support and succor from family and friends or even professional psychological counseling can ease one through depression. Fear and uncertainty about what is to come can make you feel resigned and listless but there is hope and understanding within it if you look for it. Depression is the proverbial cloud that hides the silver lining. Following this intense emotional stage, one can heal and emerge stronger and resilient from the ordeal.
Acceptance takes one from the emotional plane to the rational plane. An air of finality and being resigned to consider the inevitable defines one end of spectrum. On the brighter side, it is the ability to objectively view the situation with a certain amount of emotional detachment. Facing the hard facts can be liberating and even contagious in the sense that it can enable those involved in the tragedy to guide one another to see things from the right perspective. Once you accept, you can go about putting things in order and resume living your life.
A final mnemonic note; to remember the five stages of grief, remember DABDA. The first letters of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance form D-A-B-D-A, DABDA.