Grief – A String of Pearls
It seems that life is simple, however not so easy. There is no guidebook to assist us navigate our way through the many experiences and emotions we have as humans here on Planet Earth.
Some of us have experienced more loss in this life than others we may know, we can question ‘why is that?’ ‘what did I do to deserve this much pain and suffering?’ ‘how do I move on?’ are all valid questions – perhaps a bigger questions is how do I respond to all that occurs to me in life from a space of love and acceptance?How can I take it all as an opportunity to learn and heal and grow and love even more – by loving what we perceive to be unlovable can seem impossible however there is a way. Once we hold that for ourselves we can then assist others to do the same.The premise of this material is based on the understanding that each one of us is an aspect of creative source, a cell in the body of the universe and we are here walking this planet to have experience and hopefully remembrance that we are in fact that an essence of divine intelligence housed in physical, emotional, mental levels. Each of these levels or bodies have their own experience of the world however only if working in unison from the very heart and core are we able to perceive it all to be one. The sum total of all these experiences on each of those levels is what makes up ‘feeling’, this then makes sense as to when we are ‘off centre’ or caught up in emotions or thoughts that in essence we are only experiencing a small part of the total of who we are – and as such it is not surprising we feel off centre, for to be in our heart and core centre we experience and feel it all simultaneously and from here is the only place we can receive, accept, acknowledge be grateful and heal.
There are so many things, people, situations that can throw us off centre (not that anyone or anything can make us do or feel anything, we’ll explore that more a little later) if we are not coming from that centred space, we can easily take things personally and generally react, based on similar experiences we’ve had in the past rather than respond from the current moment in time and with an attitude of acknowledgement and healing.
We can only truly receive and perceive life clearly from within our centre, from where we are at cause – rather than effect.
What often happens is that something has caused us pain or hurt in the past and somewhere in our consciousness we remember that, we remember the feeling, we remember that we had to close something down in order to survive or to not be hurt more in order to protect ourselves. What often happens later in life is that a similar situation occurs (or something that reminds us of it – not necessarily consciously) and we automatically respond as we did earlier in life (often as a child) This is one of the causes of emotional immaturity – we simply have not developed and matured emotionally into an adult. Where we can choose how we will respond from a centred, mature place.
In order for maturity to occur we have to heal the original hurt, by acknowledging that was the best we could do at the time, or we could only perceive it through the eyes of a child at the time, we may have trusted someone who turned out to not be so trustworthy. Perhaps we were wanting to be loved and accepted by someone we loved and trusted and respected and that person may have rejected us (intentionally or not) at some point in order to heal and mature we must accept that we cannot change what happened in the past, however we can change how we respond to it now. We can change how it continues to affect us in the present moment and also how it may affect us in the future.
Emotional maturity – initially it is a whole new way of approaching life, that is to not react, project or judge self or other, to accept the challenges that reflect pain and to feel past the stories and the faces of the universe to accept the opportunity to love and heal self.
It’s a training of yourself to see things from the clearest place you can possibly access within yourself, even though life may appear very differently and how you perceive it is how you feel about it and how you react to it. Remember no-one can do anything to cause you to feel a certain way, it is always your choice whether conscious or subconscious that chooses its reactions. By practicing responding to all situations from the age you currently are will help you see with clarity and maturity that previously you were reacting from the emotional developmental age of a child or young adult. When we’ve had a number of impacts we can act from any of those ages at any point we are triggered by a similar experience whether we remember the original event or not.
I recently heard of a young girl who’s mother had been ill for some time and was taken to hospital, she was in for several weeks and never came home. The young girl had not been told it was likely her mother would die and not be coming home. The girl was not prepared for death, it hadn’t been talked about as no-one knew what to say, they just continued on as normal. She was hurt and confused, she could feel things were not the same yet no one was talking about it.
I don’t know exactly how this is being handled, however I can only imagine this girl interpreting life through some perceptions that could contribute to confusion and perhaps fears of abandonment throughout her life. She may have trust issues with both males (her father did not explain) and also females (as her mother suddenly left her) Without learning that death is part of life and that it’s ok to have feelings and emotions about it and know where to ask for help if we need it. Where we can create an opportunity to talk about death and what it might be like and explore some of the possible feelings that might be felt helps us in our acceptance of this loss to us and how that feels. There is no right or wrong way to feel grief however repression and denial is definitely not a way that is kind to self or healing in any way. The longer things remain undealt with the harder it is to go there and resolve as some of our energy seems stuck in the past, the sooner we can let go of holding onto it the sooner we can deal with those feelings.
Grief is not only the natural response to loss, it is the emotional pain you feel when someone or something you love is no longer in your life. Often we associate grief with the death of a loved one, this is a very intense grief, however any loss or perceived sense of loss can also cause grief, some other situations are:
- The death of a pet
- A relationship breakup
- Loss of a job
- Loss of something that meant a lot to you
- Loss of your health
- A miscarriage
- Loss of a friendship
- A loved ones serious illness
- Loss of safety after a trauma (eg a natural disaster, bushfire, flood, earthquake)
The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief, however subtle losses can also lead to grief – particularly if there is unresolved grief from another situation that hasn’t been dealt with yet – the added loss can be the thing that tips you into grief in a bigger way than you’d expect – these are often the times we try to overrule the intensity of our feeling with our minds (eg. My dog died, but he was old, I shouldn’t be over it by now, or I shouldn’t be this upset)
Losing someone or something you love is very painful. After such a loss you can experience a variety of emotions – such as deep sadness, even shock, anger, guilt. The sadness may feel like it will never end. It is not unusual to feel overwhelmed with such feelings and you find yourself crying a lot is all normal. Acknowledging and accepting them all your feelings. Feeling as you feel without any judgment of them or yourself is what leads to true healing. Although this is easy to say – acknowledge to yourself this will be a journey like no other, you don’t know what twists and turns your grief will take you on. Allow it to take as long as it takes, just keep moving forward, even if its inching forward.
We all grieve in our own way, there is no right or wrong way, so be sure to not compare yourself to others and try to do it the way they did it (or didn’t do it) as you can’t be sure they weren’t putting on a brave face or getting caught up in the grief. So give yourself permission to grieve how it is for you, there is always the potential for the experience to lead you to being a strengthened, healed and enriched individual. It may not be possible to consider that from where you currently stand, however knowing that you loved them and you want that love to mean something, the depth of your pain can open your heart to be able to love even more.
Remember there’s nothing wrong with you if you feel really deeply or you realize there is a lot of loss to be felt and grieved for in your life. There are a number of factors that contribute to how your grieving process unfolds – one is how you were trained to respond to strong emotions (eg. Was it ok to feel and express your emotions while growing up) if acknowledging and expressing emotions was not accepted then we can feel inherently flawed that we still feel strongly and don’t know what to do with it. See if some of these experiences were similar to yours:
‘pull yourself together’
‘be strong for the family’
‘Don’t be a baby’
‘think about something else’
‘you should be over that by now’
‘stop being selfish’
In some cases we are teased or physically harmed when we felt strong emotion – not because there was anything wrong with us, more that it made others feel uncomfortable by being open and honest in how we felt, or that they were trying hard to keep their emotions tucked away and that was made more difficult if we were freely expressing ours! There may have been the use of numbing substances which took the edge off – eg. Smoking, alcohol and drugs both street and prescription.
I remember being told a story of a girl’s best friend who died at the age of 15 while still at school. She was told to stay strong for the family, basically she felt it was her responsibility to make her dead friend’s family ok (she was very sad as it was the first death of a person she’d experienced all previous deaths up to that point had been animals) everyone was sad at the funeral and at school for someone to die at the age of 15 is sad. Before the funeral her mother gave her something to help ‘keep her calm’, turns out it was a valium! She too was only 15 years old. Everyone deals (or not) with grief in different ways clearly this family weren’t the type to encourage emotional expression, so all her training on how to deal with emotions and in particular grief were learned through trial and error later in life and by then there was a quite a pool of loss and grief to be felt through.
In 1969 psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced what came to be known as the ‘five stages of grief’. Initially her studies were on people facing terminal illness, however since then these stages have been generalized to include the death of a loved one, relationship breakup and other life changes perceived to be negative or a loss.
You might recognize them:
- Denial: ‘This can’t be happening’
- Anger: ‘why is this happening’
- Bargaining: make this not be happening, I’ll do anything………’
- Depression: I’m too sad to do anything’
- Acceptance: ‘I’m at peace with what happened’
Don’t think you have to go through all these stages, or any of these stages in order to deal with your grief and move into healing. They may not present in order and it most definitely won’t be neat and tidy and structured. There is no right response to loss, all experiences will be as individual as we are, with contributing factors such as how our family dealt with strong feelings or death while we were growing up. Let go of what you think you should be feeling and for how long you think you should be feeling it and simply acknowledge what you are feeling without judging it or yourself and let it go.
Grief is generally tougher in the beginning, with time assisting to ease the intensity. There can be good days and not so good days. You may recall a time with your loved one and laugh and laugh until you cry again. The challenging times become less intense and not last as long as in the very beginning as time passes. It takes time to work through a loss and don’t be surprised if from time to time the feelings come up again – eg. At your anniversary, at a family gathering (Christmas/easter/wedding/birth/death) our loss can feel as though it is here again as we experience times we would have been together or another loss compounds on our already grieving hearts. Knowing these events are coming up it may be helpful to not spend those days alone (eg birthdays or anniversaries) maybe do something with a friend, not to distract but to share with someone, quietly celebrate the time you had or simple sit and remember together in silence. Over time you may find you can talk about your loved one on these occasions and not be collapsed into a puddle of tears, however if you do that’s ok too.
If you or your loved one enjoyed gardening you may feel to plant a flower or a tree to celebrate their life, or honour their love in some way.
Some common symptoms that may be experienced throughout your journey of grieving – although at the beginning, don’t be surprised at what you might feel.
Shock and disbelief – right after a loss, it can be challenging to accept what has happened, particularly if it was sudden. You can have difficulty comprehending what has happened, how that feels and what it means, it can be too much for us to initially accept. It’s possible to refuse to accept that someone has really gone and be expecting them to show up – this is denial.
Sadness – deep sadness is the most experienced symptom of grief. There may be lots of crying, what seems like endless tears, you feel unstable emotionally, the slightest thing can tip you into feeling everything from emptiness, broken hearted, despair, yearning and deep loneliness.
Guilt – you may have gone over your time together and have guilt or regrets about things you did or didn’t do, say or didn’t say. You may feel guilty that you have moments of feeling relief that a bad relationship has ended, or that after long moments of suffering and illness your loved one has died. You may feel responsible for not preventing the death even if it was not possible to prevent. Not all these feelings will make sense, it is the mind attempting to comprehend the depth of feeling and what that means.
Anger – you may feel angry and resentful that your loved one has left or died – even if it was no-one’s fault. You may turn that anger inward and be angry with yourself, punishing yourself for still being here, you may feel angry at the person who left and abandoned you. You may also feel the need to blame someone for this pain you feel or the apparent injustice done to you. However generally there is sadness beneath the anger – if you are able to sit with it and feel through rather than reacting in anger you will get to a deeper feeling. This may take some time and practice .
Fear – you may fear you cannot make it on your own, you may feel helpless, anxious and insecure, you are now feel completely responsible for your life and the necessary decisions for yourself and perhaps your children without your loved one to assist you. You may fear your own mortality, surviving financially, emotionally. This may seem incredibly daunting particularly if your partner was the one who took care of all that when they were around. So you may feel out of your depth and not knowing where to start as well as being heavily in grief can result in additional anxiety.
Physical symptoms – besides being an intensely emotional time, our physical body also becomes affected, we may have trouble sleeping, eating, we may be gaining or losing weight, we may be experiencing fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity – the physical body does what it can to process these emotions that get tucked into our cells, so remember it’s not just emotionally that we feel the grief. Now more than ever it’s important to take care of yourself and be kind and nurturing, allow those who love you to share food or take the kids so you can rest. Try and do a little exercise even if its going for a walk around the block or on the beach, the fresh air and open space can help you reconnect with the world that still turns outside. Walking can help the body eliminate the affects of emotion.
Mental exhaustion – we can find we are thinking a lot, about the past, the future, what is happening, what will happen, how will I cope etc. going over and over what you think you could have done differently – it’s exhausting and can contribute to the physical symptoms of insomnia and eating disorders during this time. Remember now is the time of feeling not thinking. Thinking can get you caught in a loop of going round and round trying to work something out or to seek answers where there may not be answers to the questions you have. Trust that you will find the answers when it is time to know the answers, for now it is about feeling and releasing.
Now more than ever you need to take care of yourself, at these times it’s easy to slip into bad habits of not caring for yourself and your basic needs. A major loss is stressful to your systems and you can quickly feel depleted of your energy reserves and feel emotionally drained. It’s crucial to care for your emotional and physical needs now even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Acknowledge it can be difficult to eat when you are upset, remember it’s important for your healing to care for yourself – eat simple food, that is easy to digest and nourishing, eg. Juicing, smoothies or soup, stay hydrated – drinking water cold or hot. Regular small foods might be easier than bigger meals, keeping your blood sugar stable will help you process the emotions also. This is an area your friends and family can assist by making a pot of soup and bringing it over so you can simply heat and eat. Let them love you.
One of the kindest things you can do for yourself during these times is to be with your feelings, it takes a lot of energy to repress grief, the thing is it has to come out to be felt and dealt with otherwise it will cause you physical, emotional and mental pain, or anguish which can manifest in disease, depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Something to accept is that it doesn’t go away by ignoring it.
By attempting to avoid the feelings really only prolongs the grieving process. Although it’s not always a graceful process – it can be, by allowing it to be as it is without judging can help the process be a smoother one for you. Attempting to suppress grief can only be a temporary thing however we are suggesting to not repress it at all. Once you get into the habit of suppressing feelings there may never be a good time to ‘go there’.
Life has a way of helping us go there and the longer we have avoided feeling those feelings the more intense they will be – so please acknowledge the feelings, the hurt and pain in order to heal. Suppressing and avoiding can only prolong the grieving process and create additional suffering in the meantime.
It can help to express your feelings in a creative way – this might be journaling, drawing, painting. You can write a letter to the person who has left saying the things you didn’t get the chance to say, you can write a letter to your future self connecting with the grateful feelings you will have for them having been in your life for as long as they were. You might like to make a scrapbook with memorabilia, photo’s or relevant pictures and words from magazines that capture how you feel, how life has been, how you want life to be. Express the love for yourself in ways that nurture, maybe plant a flower bed or a tree in memory of who you’ve lost which becomes a new life growing from what has been lost.
Some things we may not ‘get over’ we simply learn to live with, remember this is your life and it’s up to you to life it as best you can. Your loved one would not want you to be miserable forever – this is not being loyal or faithful or being true to the love you shared. Consider yourself alive for a reason, go forth and begin to build a new life and allow yourself to enjoy it. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your loved one because you are enjoying your life and being happy, it shows that you love them enough to honour their life and also your own, you are still here, so be here and learn to live your life in a new way.
A string of pearls – each loss becomes a grain of sand in the oyster shell. As each grain of sand initially causes pain, ultimately over time it becomes a beautiful, valuable, pearl. String them together and wear them in your heart.
Copyright © 2012 Source Centre