People in Spirit purple
Photo: Randy Jacob | Unsplash

Loss

Nothing can make you instantly heal from loss. But grief can be eased, comforted and processed.

Loss is part of the human experience. If one escapes it through to adulthood, they may find it unfathomable to emotionally relate to another's experience of loss. One day, they'll know loss personally, and understand the devastation.
Others who perhaps experienced loss in childhood may have wounds so deep and unhealed, that they shut themselves off from being sensitive to your grief. They fear triggering their own unexpressed emotions.
Grief is a deeply personal response. There is no place for judgement of how a person processes bereavement.

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”

— Rumi

Culture

Cultural diversity impacts the way in which we publicly express bereavement and the sensitivity of others who witness grief.

My experience of grief as a Canadian is of people rallying to support. They offer their time and attention to talk. They bring meals and check in on you. They may offer to help you with funeral arrangements and finances. They may want to be a part of the healing process. They expect to be welcome at memorial and celebration of life services.

While living in the UK for 12 years, I experienced several losses. In all cases, the subject was avoided, as if the person never existed or it was a terrible taboo to mention them. The funerals were emotionless and impersonal (despite the person having been incredibly loved). Any gesture to help or be involved was shunned. In fact, in one case, a few relatives didn’t bother to attend because it meant taking a day off work. As a common-law partner, my offer to represent their presence was refused. In my Canadian experience, anyone and everyone is welcome at a funeral. It is each person’s right to honour and grieve for the deceased in their own way. So this was very difficult for me. When I lost my mother in Canada (while I lived in the UK), it was barely acknowledged by the people around me. When I took some time off to grieve, I was poked at regarding getting back to work.

There is an amazing culture on a Polynesian island that handles grief openly and dynamically. The Anuta tribe grieved for Bruce Parry as he left their island after a month long visit in 2007 filming for the BBC series, Tribe. There is such an outpouring of emotion that seems to a westerner to be “way over the top”. However, I wonder if this is perhaps the healthiest approach to grief: all have permission to cry out their souls, release the emotional pain from their bodies, and ultimately move on.

 

Time

Wallowing in despair can drain our own life energy, but it’s important to give time and space to fully process grief. Release emotions as they arise.

It takes as long as it takes. Honour grief fully. Cry as hard and for as long as you must. Feel it in every cell. Allow it to come up and out for complete release.
Photo: Kilarov Zaneit | Unsplash

“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.”

— Josť N. Harris

Processing Grief

Psychology says there are five stages of grief. They may occur in any order. A stage can last for days, months or even years. It is healthy to honour these stages rather than ignore or suppress them.

These stages apply to any type of loss, not only death. They apply to miscarriage, loss of a pet, loss of a relationship, and even a loss of a job or property.
Denial

Denial is ignoring the loss as if it never happened, that nothing is wrong, that you’ll wake up and it will all be okay. You may withdraw from people in order to avoid facing the loss.

Bargaining

Bargaining is an attempt to “strike a deal” (unreasonable, extreme measures) with God, yourself or others in an effort to revert the loss. You seek a miracle cure, take risks or make sacrifices to change what is.

Anger

During the anger stage, you feel angry with God, yourself or others over your loss and outraged by the pain. You vent resentment aggressively at scapegoats (doctors, hospitals, family, friends, even loved ones). You blame yourself, others, or even the deceased for the loss. The anger must be expressed and resolved. Suppression may lead to clinical depression and deterioration of physical health.

Despair

When despair sets in, you're overwhelmed by the pain and hurt. Despair is expressed by uncontrollable crying, melancholy and morose thoughts. You may feel guilt for the loss, that you're being punished, or hopeless that anything will return to ‘normal’ again. You may lose your faith in a higher power or feel life is meaningless. It’s essential to work through the despair (with support or professional help if necessary) because prolonged despair may lead to mental illness, divorce, and even suicide.

Acceptance

Eventually, you develop greater understanding of loss as part of the human experience. In acceptance, it becomes easier to talk about the loss without as much emotional intensity. You are able to tell the story and describe the pain of your loss. You can think rationally, adapt to life without the presence that was lost, and cope. Your emotions cease to be as volatile or unpredictable. You regain self confidence, purpose, and meaning. You recognize your capacity for healing and personal growth. Acceptance can arrive intermittently within any of the above stages as your capacity for understanding the human condition grows.

 

“I guess by now I should know enough about loss to realize that you never really stop missing someone ― you just learn to live around the huge gaping hole of their absence.”

— Alyson Noel

Help

Even when you are close to someone, you cannot assume how they will cope with bereavement. Be compassionate and sensitive to their feelings. Understand that a grieving person may behave irrationally, lash out and say hurtful things.

Know that this is due to the pain they are feeling. The best you can do is just be there as a listening ear. Never undermine or trivialize any loss. A person can only “move on” when they have gone through the stages from loss to acceptance.
Acknowledge

The bereaved person is likely to understand that no one knows what to say. After all, they were once in that same position. A simple, sincere acknowledgement such as “I’m sorry for your loss” is better than saying nothing. While you want to give the bereaved person time and space to heal, let them know that you are there to help if they need you. When a family or group is grieving together, they may not be able to support each other, because each is dealing with their own pain. Support from someone not as closely involved or mourning is best.

Don’t

Don’t ignore the bereavement, induce guilt (“you allowed her to drink too much”), blame (“he never should have ridden a motorcycle”), or take out anger on anyone, including God. Don’t ask the bereaved to stop crying, even if you feel uncomfortable. (It’s not about you or your discomfort. Accept the grief no matter how it is expressed.) Rejecting a person for their tears is possibly is harmful and cruel. Don’t change the subject. Don’t talk about your own bereavements. Don’t recite some cliche (like “time heals” or “at least they are no longer in pain”). Don’t offer opinions. Just listen attentively.

Listen

Be willing to listen to a person talk about their loss, over and over. There is no need to comment or interject. Just allow them to freely speak, reminisce, and work through their feelings. Give them time and space to dwell on their grief.

Cook them a meal (that can be frozen for eating later). Do chores or errands for them. Be supportive of any ritual they want to carry out (even if it is out of character, such as religious ceremony when you have always known them to be atheist). Encourage professional bereavement counselling when they feel ready.

 

“In the dualism of death and life there is a harmony.
We know that the life of a soul, which is finite in its expression and infinite in its principle, must go through the portals of death in its journey to realise the infinite.
It is death which is monistic, it has no life in it.
But life is dualistic; it has an appearance as well as truth;
and death is that appearance, that maya, which is an inseparable companion to life.”

— Rabindranath Tagore

 

  Home    Loss    Poems    About