Your and Your Grief

Edgar N. Jackson has written the following in his book Your and Your Grief:

We have always recognized that grief—the despair and shock you feel now—is one of the most excruciating pains a person can endure.  We also know that it is a natural pain, and that the healing power lies within the wound itself.  One of the wonders of our minds and bodies is that while scars may remain, most wounds do heal.  Grief helps relieve the part of the pain that can be relieved, and helps us endure the part that must be endured.

At first you feel that you cannot meet the tasks of even the next few hours.  You dread tomorrow and next week.  Such fear is natural.  But if we find our way through today, tomorrow will be able to care for itself.  And somehow, as difficult as it may seem now, the power of life will enable you, as it has helped others, to face death and yet to grow to value life more.  You can increase your strength.  You can  increase the strength of those who share your loss.

Members of the family—your family—will differ in their reaction to grief.  This we expect, since no two of us are alike.  If one has always met life’s problems with strength and assurance, it is reasonable to assume that he/she will meet this experience the same way.  One who has been easily distressed by circumstances may be so disturbed by the encounter with death that he/she will need guidance and special help.

When we lose forever someone whose life was lovingly and thoroughly enmeshed with ours, we are engulfed by something far deeper than daily, normal disappointments or frustrations.  We suffer the loss of love, of emotionally security, of a life-sustaining presence.  The pattern of our days is shattered beyond recall.

One doctor said that grief manifests itself in a state of emotional shock.  The person is confused, slow to act, and unable to function in his usual manner.

The second physician said that grief causes an anxiety state.  The stability of the person’s life has been disrupted, and he is overcome by a gnawing fear that he seems unable to control.

The third physician said that the person in mourning suffers such deep depression that the life processes are retarded, and that he therefore cannot think or act clearly.  The physician points out that it is a temporary state and usually does not need special treatment.

The grief you feel may resemble a state of shock, acute anxiety, or deep depressions, but it may actually be none of these.  Whatever form it may take, it is an emotional state induced by special circumstances and it has to be dealt with in a special way.

You may be worried by the waves of intense distress you feel.  You may even fear that you will “lose your mind.”  On the other hand, the death of a beloved person leaves some people absolutely drained of emotion—they wonder why they do not seem to “feel a thing.”  They worry about this; they think they are “strange.”  Others react with hysteria.  Remember, there are times when it is perfectly normal to act in ways that are not normal for you.

When a man or woman in full vigor is stricken, we cannot accept it as natural or well-ordered.

We search for answer when we are forced to face tragic or untimely death.  Our reason demands some sort of explanation.  It is an impossible task; there are no easy answers, no satisfactory ones.  The only answer that could truly satisfy us would be the return of our beloved one, and that we know cannot happen.

Our grief is made more poignant by our lack of understanding; it is made sharper by the fact that it was unexpected; it seems more cruel, because when death is sudden or untimely it always finds us in the midst of plans and hopes and dreams that must not be forever unfulfilled.

With such sorrow, we cannot expect to function normally.

You may be unable to eat or sleep.  Every task seems too great to tackle.  The person who is usually anxious and depressed will be chained by inertia.  The energetic person may keep frantically busy, consciously or unconsciously hustling and bustling in an attempt to escape the full impact of his/her loss.  You may feel irritable and “fly off the handle,” and then be upset about it.  You may want to talk incessantly, or you may want only to be left alone and in quiet.  Fearing all loss of control, you may keep yourself under impossibly rigid control.  All these feelings are natural.

But when the expression of your feelings is delayed, it may become more difficult and damaging.  A study of ulcerative colitis revealed that most of the persons examined had suffered acute grief several months before.  Other diseases have also been traced to grief that had turned itself inward, that had not been expressed.

When you are stricken by grief, you are suffering a disease of the emotions caused by facing the reality of death.  Slowly, heavily, painfully you learn to let the past go and to turn your mind toward the future.  It may at first seem to be a bleak, impoverished future.  But it is something you have to bring yourself to accept.

Grief that is not understood, that is forced under the surface, that is not met with compassion, can then show up in disordered behavior, unpleasant physical symptoms, and a disorganized emotional state that my persist for a long time.

Grief that expresses itself naturally, and sorrow that is not suppressed or made into a way of life, allow us to emerge gradually and go on about the important tasks of life—changed, to be sure, but not basically different from the person we were.

Why do we grieve?  First of all, we grieve for ourselves.  If we stop to think clearly and logically—and now, how difficult that may be!—we realize that the person who has died is beyond the problems and feelings of those who mourn his death.  So our sorrow is for ourselves.  We are sad because we are suddenly, painfully deprived.  We ache because we are separated from someone we love and need.  We feel this even when we know that death was a release from torment.  We feel it even when we admit to ourselves that we would not wish the suffering one back.

Second, there is fear.  Our world has changed suddenly, and we do not know what is ahead.  That’s one fear, and others may stem from the circumstances of this death.   Yet perhaps even more frightening are the childhood fears that are sometimes suddenly and terrifyingly awakened.  Often adults, without realizing that they are doing it, instill fear of death in a child, making it a dark, horror-filled mystery.  “If I should die before I wake….” has caused more panic in young minds than most well-meaning parents realize.  This fear of the unrevealed future, and the realization that someday each of us must pass into it, does not show on the surface as we grow up.  We avoid thinking about it.  Then suddenly it is something that happens to someone near and dear to us – and we cannot escape it any longer.  The fear that has stayed in the background all these years suddenly comes to the surface and causes panic.

And third, there is insecurity.  Insecurity means that the sold earth under your feet is crumbling, and you have nothing to hold on to.  This feeling, also, may go back to childhood.  The dependable grown-ups upon whose stability our small worlds rested “went to pieces” when death occurred.  They cried.  They said and did unpredictable things.  Our feeling of being secure in their care was shattered; and that insecurity, like fear, grew up with us.  So now when death takes a loved one from us, our world totters.  The future threatens us.

Death is as much a part of life as birth and the years of growth.  Nothing causes us greater unhappiness, and yet nothing is more certain.  Death is natural.  It is not to be feared.  It is to be anticipated calmly, as a step in the progress of a person’s soul.  Even when death is untimely or accidental, when our health and our spirit are strained to the utmost, it still must be regarded as the release of a spirit into a condition where it can find the fulfillment the Creator intended.

To reason this over and over until you accept it helps banish not only your fear of death but also your feeling of insecurity.

Take time now to ask yourself why you are grieving.  Reason tells you that you need not fear death.  Reason tells you that death if part of the natural order and will not shatter your world.  Reason tells you that the loved one is beyond pain and that you are grieving primarily for yourself.  You may not understand this at once.  But think of it again and again.  Eventually you will feel the healing process begin.  But first you must experience the pain of realization.

Don’t condemn yourself.  Most of us have such feelings of self-judgment and guilt after we have lost someone who was close to us.  Those nagging doubts and recriminations grow from any close relationship with another person.  But no one can foresee all that may happen, and no one can go through life doing everything possible to meet every possible turn and twist and change and shift.

We all know that we could have done some things better.  To chastise ourselves by dwelling upon our natural, human actions does not make anything better; but it does slow up the process of getting our deep feelings back in balance.  We cannot turn the clock back and do anything differently.

If you want to cry, then cry.  If you want to protest against the injustice of life, do so.  It is better to “let your feelings go” than to bury them deep, where they can fester or eat away at you.  Face the full pain of your loss, for your pain is not only deep—it is healthy.  It means that you are alive.

“Blessed are those who use their sorrow creatively for they shall find a security that is not shaken by circumstance, but rather produces the fruits of enriched sympathy, heightened understanding and deepened faith.”

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