Grief is a lonely drift between life and death, joy and pain, the beautiful and horrid, between heaven and hell. To be in grief is to capture a glimpse of each, as though one could see around the corner to something near but not yet. A place all must visit one day, but few will pause to observe, to let it change them, to stretch and twist them into the beyond. That is the difference between a life lived in whole and one lived in part.
Sometimes loss comes like a blazing forest fire, burning and consuming the beauty of life in a massive and raging inferno. Yet, there are times where loss burns slowly, one tree at a time, holding us captive to realize the brokenness of this world over and over again. Then there are some whose forest has been long devastated, but they have gone on living so long, they know no other normal and they don’t even realize how much has been lost.
Grief takes on many different forms and hits us in different ways. But what’s true for all who live life long enough to experience the crippling loss of life or relationships, is that it is all pain. The loss of a marriage, the death of a loved one, failed dreams, realizing you never had the mom or dad you needed or deserved—we could go on and on. Some grief is obvious; some is hidden in plain sight.
REASON #1: UNWELCOME HOUSE GUESTS
Grief isn’t a linear process. There are stages and phases for sure, but it’s not as though we can ever “get over it” and be done with it. When we first realize loss, our world is turned upside down. The essence of grief takes up residence in our life with no regard for what our life was like before. It over-stays its welcome and destroys whatever semblance of normalcy, stability or happiness we once had. Uncertain of how to even find two pieces of our broken world to put back together again, eventually, we do indeed pick up the pieces and find a way to live life again.
But grief isn't done with us. At some point in life, we’ll be reminded of what’s been lost and what will never be again. The unwelcome house guest intrudes upon our life once again, and we must go back and pick up the pieces of life once more. This happens over and over again, albeit a little easier each time it happens. The reason why people struggle with going through grief is because it’s not something that can be completed, as though life can be made whole again. There can be, however, a point at which the pain of loss and the joy of life can coexist together. That is the hard work of grieving: to find our way to that place where we can experience a new, different, and fuller life.
REASON #2: PUSHING BEYOND OUR LIMITS
It might help to think of grief as a more generalized term that encompasses a myriad of other emotions. Think of every emotion a person can experience, things like:
But now amplify these emotions and mix them all together in one experience in one moment of time. That is the experience of grief. It is no wonder why some simply shut down and choose not to feel anything, because the volume and intensity of emotions is so overpowering. If our capacity and bandwidth to experience emotions before loss is wide and deep, then slowly but surely we can work through the grieving process each time the wave of loss hits us. But if those muscles we use to feel and experience emotions were weak before the loss, then it’s easy to understand why so many struggle to work through their grief properly. It’s easy to ignore the pain or minimize the loss. If it’s a choice between trying to move forward with life or being consumed with the ache of loss and falling into a pit of depression, then I think the choice is fairly easy and obvious for most to make. This leads us to the third reason why grieving is so hard.
REASON #3: AVOIDING VS. LEANING INTO PAIN
It’s human nature to avoid pain, particularly if we don’t see a purpose in it or a way out of it. What most people don’t understand about grief, or perhaps what most simply have a hard time believing, is that going through the pain and leaning into it is the only way to deal with it so that it doesn’t seep into our wounds and cause infection throughout the rest of our life.
If loss is sudden and tragic, the experience and expression of pain can be messy. It oozes all over the place and can’t seem to be contained. It’s common to fear the real possibility of falling apart in the most unwanted places. No one wants to be hit with sadness and grief in the middle of a work meeting, shopping for groceries, or dining with friends. So, it’s easy to isolate and it’s easy for others around us to shy away out of fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
The very thing we need to heal becomes so hard to obtain: safe connections with others where we can express our pain and receive the gift of empathy, presence and acceptance. But without these safe places to just be a mess and work through the emotions and thoughts, we find ourselves either ignoring the pain in order to maintain connections without awkwardness or hiding in isolation to feel what is true but without the connections we need to heal.
COMMITMENT TO A NEW LIFE
It takes incredible strength and courage to be willing to lean into the pain of loss and to invite others to be present with us through it all. How people respond can be incredibly healing, but it can also be indescribably hurtful and rejecting. It’s easy to avoid the ache, but if you do, life will never be full again. Relationships and experiences will be lived in half measures, simply surviving until the next loss overwhelms us again.
If you’re ready to lean into the pain and rebuild a life that can be full again, reach out to us to work through all the obstacles. We understand the suffering, we know why it’s so hard to work through it, and we know how to help you find your way to wholeness again.
Written by Ly Tran, LPC-Supervisor
Photo by Kat J on Unsplash