Grief is one of the most healing, in my view, of all our feelings.
Yet how many of us allow ourselves to grieve for the enormous losses we experience as well as the smaller ones?
The most obvious grief is for the death of loved ones, and it is grieving that enables us to make the painful adjustment from life with our loved one to life apparently without them. If we believe in life after death, we may have a sense of them present in our lives but not in physical form. That can be extremely soothing, but still we miss being able to throw our arms around them and hug them, or to talk with them face to face. The grief that we hold for the loss of our loved ones always remains in our hearts because we cannot love and lose that physical presence and then expect to ‘get over’ the loss of someone we have loved. When we are in the midst of deep grief, life, mundane, daily life, is hard. The expression often used is that it is like walking through treacle to get anything done. Indeed doing our daily chores and our work seems almost meaningless when we compare it to the issue of life and death that is the biggest issue in all its many variations we will ever have to face. Nothing else compares to it.
The pain of the loss lessens over time and we find a way to place the experience of that death into a place of rest within ourselves, but we always carry it. We especially notice a little bubble of grief emerges when we move on to good things in our life without that person and each bit of progress we make in our lives after the loss can trigger another poignant bubble of grief.
There are so many losses that we experience in life, whether it is our favourite toy as a child or our beloved pet or stages of our lives as we let go of youth and adolescence and young adulthood and onwards from there. Even on a day to day basis in very mundane ways we experience losing things or concepts that we have held dear. Even when we change our mind there is a loss of something in the belief that we let go. If we do not acknowledge or appreciate the sorrows that accompany us in our lives, we limit the range of emotions, both positive and negative, that we allow ourselves to experience.
We grieve for losses and damage on the planet and to ourselves and others.
We grieve for losses of so many habits and patterns that we hold dear. Every moment of every day we experience one moment dying to the next as our very short life trickles away sometimes very rapidly and sometimes more slowly. We grieve for losses of neighbourhoods that are familiar which hold memories for us and losses of friendships that hold our history.
Unless we have given in to our sorrow and deeply grieved for someone or some things, we do not carve out the depths within ourselves and fully inhabit those deeper aspects of us. If we do give attention sufficiently to grieving, we find ourselves somehow cleansed, deepened and purified by the process and we feel more whole and better able to experience our substance and what sustains us in our lives.
Grief is a sacred emotion that is really a gift to us and that teaches us so much about what it is to be human, to have loved and lost. How can we truly grieve, if we have not truly lived and loved? In many ways we now lack community which is so healing when we can grieve in the midst of a loving and supportive community. When we don’t have community, grieving with a witness, a therapist or a very dear and supportive friend helps enormously so we can express how devastated we are and how much we wish it hadn’t happened.
At one level we will lose everything we have ever had. Death will come upon us and because we may not have had direct experience of the next life, we may feel as if we are leaving all that we have ever known and had behind. It may be that we can look forward to being able to include everything as we cross over to the other side, but we don’t know viscerally, physically if that is true or not. Loss is a huge part of life and unless and until we can accept and expect loss and acknowledge it with our humble sadness, we somehow live on the surface of life without plumbing its depths and reaping the rewards of the gems that lie deep within us.
Grief, sorrow, sadness, by whatever word, is a very personal, tender, bittersweet feeling and it speaks to our own ability to care about someone or something. How often are we deeply touched by aspects of a film or story, to say nothing of events that occur in our lives? The difficulty is that often people want, too soon, to get over a particular feeling of grief and move on. Give yourselves time to cherish your tender, bittersweet sadness because doing so can open the door to greater joy than you may ever have imagined as long as you are aware that those two feelings walk hand in hand, and often life presents us with events that evoke both at roughly the same time. How fortunate are those people who can embrace the enormous range of emotions that are available to us and designed for our growth and healing.