“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
– William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act III, Scene III
Mourning is about reality. At the very beginning, your body tries to save you, to keep you from taking the full thrust of your grief. You find that you use phrases to help you take that loss in small increments so that you can stand the pain, bit by bit. You may hear yourself say that your loved one is lost, or gone, or that he isn’t with you anymore. However, you must be brutally honest with yourself here by saying that your loved one is dead. You must be authentic and clear … you must be real. Only by “looking death in the eye” can you strengthen and redeem your wounding. For “only the wounded healer can heal.”
In ancient Judaism, there is a story about the covering of your heart being torn at the time of death. In fact, there is even such a ritual, in which a piece of your jacket lapel is torn at the cemetery edge during a funeral. This rending of your heart, which is symbolized by the tearing of your clothing, reminds you that your wounding opens you to the opportunity of redemption—for as the defenses that socialize you and keep you intact are torn away, you become your undefended self, the real you. From this place of openness and vulnerability, you can connect, in an undefended way, to both your intuition and essential self, allowing you to communicate and interact consciously with others.
For, in this earliest stage of grieving, you feel detached, losing the ability to focus and concentrate. This distraction is a way to deal with pain. Yet if you face the pain, if you are honest with yourself, if your language expresses your true feelings, then out of the pain can come healing, and out of that pain, you can reconstruct a new way of living. It is not about recovery—don’t use up your energy in that way—it is about being authentic and clear with your feelings and letting yourself have them.
This is the first time that anger pokes its ugly head up, out of the wound in your heart. You feel like an amputee. A part of you has died, and yet, like an amputee, you still feel the phantom pain of the loss of your loved one.
People who have historically handled their feelings by repressing them will reach for that pattern once again. Instead, allow your anger to come up, and even though it is painful, express it outwardly. Otherwise, your anger will find a place to reside, and the only place left to you is inside. This internalization of your anger is how you get sick. This is how you get crazy. This is the stage in which you have to think about the simplest realities of life and take care of your basic needs, such as eating, sleeping, physical requirements, and health. You have to treat yourself gently, as if you were your own child.
The first stage was courage and choice. These are the things that you must choose to do for yourself, and have the courage with which to follow through. Unfortunately, we all wish that we could rely on others—mates look to one another, children look to parents, and parents look to outside friends and family. On some level, each of these connections has its place. On the other hand, since everyone in your immediate family has suffered the death of a loved one, there is little capacity within the nuclear unit to help one another. There is only your own resource, and you must reach for it, as “the only way out is through.” Now, when you have lost your equilibrium, it is important to find a stable and balanced way to approach the day-to-day of living. For example, there will be times, even in the darkest hours of your grief, where something will strike you as funny and make you laugh—that is a good thing. On the other hand, if you go overboard and find ways to make yourself feel better by using food, alcohol, sex, or drugs to an extreme, then you will be out of balance. The key is to stay conscious—to pay attention to yourself and to deliberately avoid using self-destructive means to suppress your pain.
People who grieve can live again. The key is to give yourself permission to grieve. Such feelings are so powerful that if you do not experience and express them, they remain inside, causing illness and even death. Take inner time for yourself through journaling, meditation, prayer, and any creative activity that allows you to express actively what is difficult to express verbally If possible, find a grief counselor to guide you and your family through this process, so that at a certain time, on a specific date, you will confront your grief in a safe and contained environment.
Right now, think about those things that will help to complete this strategy:
- Take care of yourself. Nurture yourself and get plenty of rest.
- Create a routine that helps you pay attention to the practicalities of life, including your work and social calendar. Getting back into a routine will help return you to a pattern of balance and stability.
- Recognize that men and women grieve differently, and use my empathic process to reestablish a connection with your mate and other family members.
- Create new routines and rituals to help you through the grieving process. Rituals allow you to begin anew, reconnecting you to your inner core and thus guiding you up out of the descent.
- List three things you’d like to let go of in your life (things, people, and feelings) and do it.
Gail Green is the author of The Only Way Out is Through: A Ten-Step Journey from Grief to Wholeness.
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