The painful process of grief can manifest itself a thousand times over throughout our day, but is more often than not found in the big changes that weave their way into our lives; the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, even the painful realization that a set idea of how our lives might go isn’t going to turn out in quite the way we would’ve liked. You would be lucky to find one person in your life who hasn’t found themselves stuck on one wrung of the grief process at some time or other.
Recognizing and understanding the grief process can help us begin to reflect on where we might need a little jolt in order to get us back on track and in the present where we belong. Those who often find themselves in this similar pattern; becoming sucked in to either the same part of the grief process, or the whole five steps (mentioned below) are also usually those who have low self-worth, take responsibility for other’s action and feelings, and those who let other’s abuse their trust time and time again.
Like the orphan archetype in their well of grief, the griever actually has a higher calling and opportunity for deep transformation, both through their capacity to experience the whole spectrum of human emotion, and to see it for what it is. An illusion.
Like a film we turn on, become immersed in, experience and radiate a huge range of emotions and reactions to, then turn off again, life is a story we are constantly writing, rewriting and trying to improve. Unfortunately, there is no option to go back and edit, only the willingness of the mind to dissolve past memories and lovingly send them on their way.
Grief can be an attachment, a fixture of the ego, something that won’t flush itself out of our systems until we confront that part of ourselves we are attaching so rigidly to. And so we come to the process itself, and all the opportunities for growth it presents:
As it is with death, so it is with any kind of loss. We deny it has actually happened. Not recognizing and accepting our more ‘negative’ or uncomfortable emotions is alarmingly common in our masculine and pseudo-positive society and lifestyle choices. Pretending everything is OK when it’s not can only get us so far.
Faking it has its merits, but when it comes to grief it has no place at all. Denial will keep us stuck up to our necks; desperately imprisoned in denial we will unlikely move or advance much further than our own doorsteps if we stubbornly chose to admit to ourselves that something has even happened in the first place.
They continued on and left me behind, we weren’t right for each other, it didn’t work out how I wanted it to… it’s OK. Take a deep breath, embrace yourself, then let the sharp pain of loss consume you.
How could this happen to me? Why did the universe let it happen? What’s wrong with me? How dare they? The irrational flickers of anger rear their ugly heads when we get to the previous stage of accepting the loss. Anger is the next natural step. It may come in the form of quiet blame, or it may come in the form of soul-shaking outrage and violently dangerous actions. Whatever way it manifests itself, it is normal and again something to accept and embrace rather than fear and suppress.
The dangers of suppressed and swallowed anger massively outweigh the instant, more pure expressions of raw anger. Anger has some integrity when expressed with honesty. And if it is directed at yourself or the universe then it can be done with an awareness that ensures it never returns but is instantly cleared out of the system and gone without a trace.
Striking bargains, expecting ridiculously high expectations of yourself or others, martyrdom comes in the form of the ego’s explanations for why this has happened. It’s probably one of the most difficult things in the world to just accept that it was one of those things, and the natural order of the world. Death is a part of life.
Even the belief that ‘everything happens for a reason’ can go too far when attached to the ego’s rationale. If I succeed in this then it will make up for what happened, if I prove to this person I’m better than them, it’ll make the break-up more bearable, if I keep chasing this dead dream then at least I’ll keep face. All rationalizations and martyrdoms are futile and will only make the suffering process harder in the long run. That said, we often have to run in circles for a while in order to see ourselves chasing our own tails. There is a perfect moment for everything and everything is occurring in perfect timing.
Grief can often give the griever feelings of over-importance as well as low self-worth. The truth of it is debatable. While everyone is special, grief can help us achieve in ways others do not, if only for the reason that we have more of a grip on reality and the impermanence of it. Then again to buy into such beliefs can breed narcissism and pride. It all depends on the individual… only we can truly know it for ourselves.
The essence of grief is the concave, moody blue lull of depression. It hurts, and unlike the intense and often immediate flexes of anger’s fist, depression can be an endurance test: wading through rivers that seem impossible to cross. Surrendering to this incredibly bitter tasting part of the process will be no fun, but again it is essential to give yourself time whilst not attaching to this specific part.
Depression can be a tricky one as it often surfaces when the other stages have been suppressed and can appear to be for no reason. The irony is that we then feel unworthy for feeling depressed all the time, whip up a new well-crafted front and grin and bear it. But the root must be sourced and dug up, and the deeper it’s buried the messier the metaphorical kitchen counter. It has to be done.
Often these ‘roots’ may even be our ‘loss of innocence’ that everyone has to some degree. The moment the child in us saw a true injustice in the world, stamped their foot and declared ‘that’s not fair!’ This can be a potent moment of grief and often needs some attention. What are the sources of discomfort for you?
The denials, the catalysts for anger? Depression will be the outcome and often puzzling to boot. Having uprooted those painful truths we will then need forgiveness and to mother ourselves.
If you are stuck in depression, you will need to enforce healthy habits after pulling out the thorn until the swelling goes down. Exercise and healthy eating are still up there with the best of cures.
The final stage, is acceptance. Acceptance rather than complete healing as, unlike a relationship or idea, the loss of a loved one often never entirely heals. Not struggling with our feelings any longer but being able to accept them and for the most part get on with our lives will be the biggest sign we have completed the grief process. Not only that, but that we have gained from it. As the Buddha said, there is suffering. It helps us grow, know ourselves better and become more resilient, compassionate living beings. Grief, above all things, can be a gift.