Human beings are mortal. We all know that, and knowing it does not stop us from being shocked when we actually lose a loved one. Some deaths are totally unexpected and others come after a battle with an illness. People respond differently to these losses, however there are some aspects of grief that seem universal.
You enter a tunnel and you are alone there. The world keeps going on and that seems preposterous. How can life go on as usual when your mother, your spouse, your child, a relative, or maybe your close friend has passed away? You know that other people have experienced loss and maybe even now are grieving, yet it feels as though you are the only one going through this.
You are not sleeping well, you wake up crying, you have little appetite. Perhaps your doctor has prescribed medication to help with the sadness that doesn’t seem to leave you. You miss the person who has died terribly. Maybe you play over scenes between you in your mind. Maybe there are regrets, things you wish you had said or done, or maybe not. Sometimes just when you think the grief has left you and you feel like yourself again, it sneaks up on you.The life you shared, or the usual phone calls or visits you had with the person you lost feel like a hole in your life once again.
“Grief is a wound that needs attention in order to heal. To work through and complete grief means to face our feelings openly and honestly….for however long it takes that wound to heal… It takes courage to feel our pain and to face the unfamiliar.It also takes courage to grieve in a society that mistakenly values restraint.” ( Judy Tatlebaum, The Courage to Grieve)
Talk therapy can be very helpful when you are filled with feelings of sadness due to the loss of a loved one. Some people prefer groups and others prefer individual , one on one sessions with a grief counselor.
Reaching out for help during these times can help you heal. Maybe not faster but certainly you can feel less alone with your grief.
Monet painted more than sixty paintings with water lilies as the main theme of his study. Over and over again he studied the flower each time finding a nuanced edge that had passed his notice in his previous attempts to recreate the flower.
Perhaps he discovered a new shade of blue or rose that he had not been aware of when he painted the impression the time before.
Much of the work I do is long term. I sit with people and learn about their lives by listening to their stories. Together we notice the automatic involuntary memories that are evoked by holding up a light to their past. Some stories need to be told over and over again so that the cobwebs that lie in each corner of the memory are wiped away and the picture gets clearer and clearer.
It is not unusual for someone to say to me. “I am so tired of these same problems. I talk about them over and over again! ” And then of course the worry is that I will become bored or frustrated. I am asked if I am tired of listening to the same ‘issues’ that are on the turntable repeating and repeating.
What if someone had said to Monet: “Enough with the water lilies! Choose another subject! ” We would have missed out on some of the most beautiful impressionist art of our time. What a loss that would have been to civilization.
We tell our stories many times over to perfect our understanding of them. We decide which impressions to etch onto our personal canvas and which to omit.
We must re-tell our stories as often as we need to. Each time we gain a new and deeper understanding of the metaphors and messages they hold.
After a long search, you found the love of your life. It was not perfect, but you connected in so many ways and it was better than being alone. Maybe she didn’t want children but you did. Maybe he said he was looking for a job, but still lived on unemployment. You came from different religious and cultural backgrounds but still shared values. Well, mostly. He insisted that separate vacations were essential to his well being and you did not agree to that. Smoking marijuana daily to soothe himself seemed less harmful than alcohol, but you thought he had an addiction problem.
After searching and searching, you found a great partner you could talk to and have fun with. One day you realize that the differences are too great and the relationship ends. Your heart breaks.
Broken hearts are painful. It feels as though your heart has literally been cut in two. You lose your appetite, and have difficulty sleeping. You take sick days off from work because you can’t get out of bed in the morning. It becomes difficult to socialize, to be around other people. It hurts to feel lost in a crowd.
These are symptoms that come if the relationship meant anything to you at all. It means you are able to attach and find meaning in connecting to another.
Although difficult, these moments of rupture are opportunities. Peer into the crack in the massive stone of locked psyche and look inside. You may be surprised to discover the soft mystery that makes up the complicated whole of the self that we usually protect in order to live our lives.