“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak; whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.” William Shakespeare, Macbeth
GRIEF AND LOSS: BEARING THE UNBEARABLE
LOSS; for something that we all go through, it seems somewhat surprising how often we try to avoid and defend against grieving that loss. Whether it be loss of a loved one, loss of a pet, or loss of a hope, dream, ideal, or opportunity, the feelings evoked often get buried, denied, minimized, or dismissed. Society has strong prohibitions in place against being “too” emotional, some cultures more so than others. People are described as “doing well” or “not doing well” depending on the amount of grief that they are showing or appear to be experiencing.
I see it differently. I view the “brave face” as a way to keep at bay and delay the natural, albeit, scary, grief process that must occur in order for us to truly heal. I view psychotherapy as a sanctuary in which you can truly feel safe to explore, acknowledge, and share your pain and the depth of your suffering. In the Bereavement Counseling that I offer, I do not place a limit, value, or judgement on how intense or “primitive” your feelings may seem; how far back the feelings may go, how “small” the loss is, or when you “should” start feeling better, much less “how long it takes” to “get over” someone or something. WHAT IS IS.
If you think that I sound like someone who might be able to be help you with your grief, please feel free to call (512) 339-1694, text, or email me email@example.com to ask any questions you may have or to set up a counseling appointment.
To be sure, the intensity of the feelings brought on by grief and mourning can be excruciating and raw. Loss can stir up a range of powerful feelings: disbelief, unbearable sadness, loneliness, yearning, pining, despair, anger, guilt, shame, remorse, regret, fear, love, and/or hate. Acknowledging and “holding” these intense and sometimes contradictory feelings can be so very difficult, especially when some or all may be true at the same time! Grieving hurts like nothing else. It’s usually very hard to be left, no matter what the circumstances. So, it is only natural for us to want to try and protect and spare ourselves from as much suffering as possible. Self-preservation would seem to dictate that it’s just better “not to go there”. Messages abound such as: “Try not to dwell on it”, “It’s time to just let go and move on”, “Just don’t think about it”, “Try to stay busy”, “She’s so strong”, “He’s holding up well”, “She didn’t even cry!”, “It takes about a year”.
Of course, some amount of grieving is expected, desired, and condoned. There often seems to be an assumption that those who appear to show little or no feelings whatsoever, or don’t appear to spend “enough time” grieving, must be avoiding mourning their loss. Grieving is very personal and each person grieves differently. It is indeed impossible to know what lies in the hearts of others as far as grief goes.
Not only do we wish to protect ourselves from facing the pain of loss, I believe that we also wish to protect our loved ones from our grief. We don’t wish to make others feel uncomfortable or sad. How often do we apologize for crying? “Inflicting” our suffering on others could create more distance as the other moves away from us in order to ease their own discomfort. Were this to happen, we might then also feel guilty and responsible for the other’s discomfort, leading us to feel even more alone and even worse. So, we then try to figure out the optimal emotional distance to be in order to get some relief from our own suffering, but not overwhelm our loved ones with our anguish and our pain.
This works in reverse, as well. Our wish to comfort friends and family in their time of loss is often mitigated by the fear that we may “make them feel even worse / more sad”, should we “say the wrong thing” or express our own sadness as well. It often remains a dilemma then; how to comfort others while also not “upsetting” them at the same time. We often “don’t know what to say” to someone who is mourning. We remain uncomfortably quiet with the sadness that we don’t know how, or, are too afraid, to share. The sadness, then, goes unspoken, unexpressed, un-shared; remaining within our hearts. And, the one who has suffered the loss is also, unfortunately, left to grieve their loss alone.
Protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our relationships with them are powerful reasons not to face the depth of our sorrow. The grief would seem like too much to bear. What if we become inconsolable or are viewed that way? So we deal with our emotions the best that we can, often in private, and try to “move on”. After all, death is a part of life, isn’t it?
The difficulty with this approach, however, is that the pain of loss does not simply fade away with time if left unattended. Instead, grief has a way of taking up residence in the body and leaking out over time in various ways. It may show up as depression, anger management issues, anxiety, addiction, or chronic pain, to name a few.
SO, WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
I think that the Bereavement Counseling that I offer can help. I believe that RELATIONSHIPS HEAL. I think that the way to the other side of loss is to go all the way through the grief. The presence of someone who will listen while offering care and compassion can help us through our grief. For IT IS WHEN WE RECEIVE THE GIFT OF COMPASSION THAT WE ALSO LEARN TO BE COMPASSIONATE WITH OURSELVES. It is from this compassionate place that we can be open to and curious about whatever feelings may arise, whether they be sadness, tenderness, fear, anger, or joy. To be “held” (metaphorically) and “joined” by a caring other in the midst and depth of our sorrow and vulnerability (rather than being left alone to deal with these sometimes frightening, confusing, or overwhelming feelings), is a profoundly healing experience. It is my belief that BEING IN A PLACE OF DEEP CONNECTION with another MAKES IT EASIER TO BEAR AND MOVE THROUGH THE GRIEVING PROCESS, EACH IN OUR OWN WAY, EACH IN OUR OWN TIME.
I am very interested in learning more about others’ experience(s) of grief and loss, whether the above article fits with your own personal experience, and what is and is not helpful to you as you move(d) through the grief process. Please feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts on the subject.
If you are experiencing a loss and/or are grieving and wondering whether Bereavement Counseling may help, please feel free to give me a call (512) 339-1694, text, or email me. I look forward to hearing from you.