On loss, grief and grieving

One of the most frequent reasons for clients attending our Centre involves the matter of loss and consequent grief.  There are so many levels of these highly charged occurrences and the individual emotional reaction that accompanies them.

Loss can be relatively minor yet reactions can be potent. In grief, whether recognised as such or not, memories, fears and feelings become magnified – sometimes apparently out of proportion. Loss, whether of a loved one or a seemingly less significant, though personal part of life, can be an experience of desolation: 

I am walking along a familiar street. My footsteps are reluctant, hesitating, drawing back to avoid the pain toward which they are leading me.  I am walking, in fact, towards knowledge; the knowledge and the need to accept that someone very dear to me will never be near me again.

In that moment, dragging myself toward a fate of unwilling comprehension, I am numb to the world around me, with self awareness present only by an indescribable sinking feeling within. The torment in my mind, so overwhelmed with grief, persists with the belief that I cannot conceivably continue my own life. This thought or feeling or concept within me is unbidden. The future is temporarily meaningless and time, a massive obstacle. I have literally hit a wall of despair. Confusion, sorrow and heartbreak reign within me as I long only to escape this torment and find relief by travelling some unfamiliar path to deep comfort with the deceased. 

Such, on one occasion, was a fragment of my reaction to the loss of a loved one. Even the months of tears that were to follow had not yet become a reality.

Throughout our lives we must face innumerable losses and consequent grieving. Each occasion though, is different – always individual.  The loss of a treasured pet or experiencing childhood rejection may be as painful in some circumstances or at some stage of life as a physical loss through tragedy, illness or death.

In the pain of grief, the pleasure of one’s daily comings and goings simply disappear, replaced by emptiness. Nothing can fill that void. Not company, love, sex, drugs or money; not material goods or distractions. In grief, there is nothing but grief.  The effort and fatigue and disconnection persist as a scramble of total dis-ease where hope and purpose seem pointless. And without hope or purpose, the way can be opened for black depression to manifest.

This is the time of need for faith; a belief that perhaps, just perhaps, there is a future … an existence beyond this mortal planet … a place of consolation which is completely beyond our comprehension here and now … might present a fragment of hope. But, struggle as we might, in utter grief that possibility can seem extraordinarily remote.

The beginnings of my way out of pain in that recollection above came primarily from the obvious. This loss in fact, was not all about me. Others were immersed in grief for that person in their own way, too. People actually needed me, too: a baby, small children and dependent others. Though indeed, within that realization I also learned that I must make even more effort. This stage was a struggle but little by little, tasks and duties became easier and over time, a long time, the anguish began to ease.

There were other things too. The skills one learns along the way re-emerged as necessities. A certain faith I am fortunate to possess – and times of prayer. Reading and reflecting, journal writing, exercise (especially purposeful walking), healing places, art and music, occasional humour and quiet conversations with family and friends … ultimately, stillness of course – and the supreme power of love.

And so, from loss and grief, there can be growth. For some this may seem ridiculous or something of a mystery. But it is the truth. And healing becomes possible when our appreciation of living and our contribution to life become sufficiently enriched to help us know that loss and its darkness is just as important as all the goodness and joy we can take so readily for granted. Without the dark, who can ever truly know the light?