GRIEF IS A “NO NO” IN OUR CULTURE
Grief is one of those bad words in our culture. We don’t talk about our feelings of sadness and grief even in the worst of circumstances like death of a partner, child, or parent. It’s just too much for people to get close to and actually lean into. But I am finding more and more people willing to talk about their experiences of grief in memoirs, in books, on videos and to other friends and family members as ways to process our grief. Writing allows us to feel the emotions more fully. These opportunities can help us practice being in that “suck” or painful emotion; ie, not being afraid to wade into it a bit.
SHERYL SANDBERG’S COURAGEOUS MEMOIR ABOUT HER GRIEF JOURNEY
Moving into being with grief can help us when it comes into our lives personally. In her book co-authored with Adam Grant Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg writes “I think when tragedy strikes you have a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past 30 days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void.” Suddenly superwoman became very human. This is Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook and the author of Lean-in, a book she wrote several years ago to empower working women to find balance and resilience. Now, in her new book she is talking about her grief: Losing her second husband of 47 years old to a heart attack on a vacation.
I’d like to stop here and examine this idea of “giving into the void, or the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even grieve.” This is the definition of acute grief. Immediate and powerfully overwhelming suffering. However, the grief journey is varied and different for every person and every event and can move from this acute kind of suffering to milder versions of subtle grief, as your relationship with your loved one changes through time. Sameet M. Kumar, Ph.D in Grieving Mindfully (2005) calls grief a “Spiral Staircase” in which you will have periods of renewal followed by deep intense sadness, and sometimes you will have setbacks, but you will keep moving through the grief and you are actually making progress up a staircase of growth riding the waves with mindfulness. Or, he says, you can think of it as a “journey through a labyrinth or a pilgrimage towards your spiritual quest… a walking meditation.”
GRIEF AS THE MIRROR OF LOVE
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Grief Model shows 5 progressive stages of grief flowing in a progressive manner: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Kumar explains the complexity of the many emotions of grief, as Kubler-Ross, but says they spiral in and out as you move through your grief, but each time you are moving farther through it, so the complexity can be very powerful. Kumar says, “ Just as you are in a relationship with someone, your emotions are different each day. Love, anger, happiness, distress, gratitude and frustration; all of these emotions are the natural process of being in relationship with someone. “ Same it is with grieving the loss of that person. Maybe you can see grief less intensely when you think about it this way. You’ve already been in many relationships and learned how to work with all these emotions.
There are many positives to allowing your grief to process. Kumar says “Grief is the mirror of Love—it is because of a connection to another being that you suffer pain. The pain of loss is the potential to learn more deeply how you can love as a human being.”
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT GRIEF HOLDS US BACK
What Sandberg learned with the help of Grant, (a psychologist and writer) is that there are three myths people cling to that make it harder to spring back from adversity. Sandberg calls these the three P’s: Personal, Pervasive and Permanent. She was stuck in them herself.
1) They somehow believe they are responsible for what happened to them
2) That sadness must carpet their lives from wall to wall
3) They will never feel better
I can totally relate to this. See if you might have some of these same beliefs and begin to question them. These are not true, but because it feels so bad, we let a part of us convince us that it is permanent. This book is a primer for the bereaved to help them recover and find happiness again. Her rabbi calls the book “Lean in to the Suck”. (Time Magazine April 24, 2017, Luscombe, p. 38-42)
THE GRIEF JOURNEY AS A REBIRTHING —AN INTERNAL CHANGE PROCESS— A TRANSITION
And there’s another way to look at the Grief Journey. When we grieve we have lost our sense of identity. It is a transition just like divorce and retirement and other big midlife transitions. When our identity changes through suffering is when we feel the most distress — our emotions are an object of our distress. But actually, the emotions you experience are signals to you that the person you thought you were, and related to the world in the past, has now changed because of your loss. You are actually gaining a new identity out of the grieving process. I call this Rebirthing and it is an opportunity to find parts of yourself and feelings that you may have never experienced in your life until now and find a new identity or New You. This is an opportunity to transform yourself by moving through your grief journey.
So, the key to grieving is to allow yourself to feel your feelings and not to be afraid of them. When you lean into them, you allow them to flow and process through your brain and into your memory slowly as you process the events and feelings. This is a major attitude shift, but it can bring the happiness and rebirth that awaits you when you open to “the suck”.
MINDFULNESS IS THE FIRST STEP
Many people need support to get into their sadness and pain. When we believe it’s permanent, we are focused on the future and not the present. Future Thinking is very dangerous when you are in a transition. The best way to get started with allowing yourself to grieve is to practice some form of Mindfulness, or the ability to be present to what is there right now and allow it to be here without judgment. Tara Brach articulates mindfulness as “two wings of mindfulness”: 1) Noticing what is here (in your body) and 2) Allowing it all to be here. This 2 winged process allows you to be with your feelings, and then to feel them and to process them. Letting go of the desire to judge, to resist, to set unreasonable expectations, or to drop into despair and depression, are all temptations or ways we try to stop the grieving process. Just try to stay in the process however you do it — riding the waves until they stop as you get back into your life and start living again as you keep on the grieving path.
FINDING HAPPINESS AGAIN
When you are open and able to be in the present moment again, you can experience the natural emotions that you feel day to day. These are often positive feelings that get missed when we are running away from our grief or sadness and anything we are telling ourselves about it. People who have meditated for a while often speak of that ability to experience joy again in their daily lives when so much was covered up before. The mindfulness research shows that positive feelings and compassion are generated as we tune into the neutral space of our bodies, the world of nature around us, and our senses—all found in the poignant present moments of our lives.
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