So many people are in emotional pain and grieving some type of loss from the past or more recently, and haven’t got a clue they are in grief. It is this cluelessness that may well explain in part, why we don’t talk about grief very much in western culture. Which, as someone who has struggled with complicated grief from the suicide of my daughter in 2005, really frustrates me. It has made the journey these past thirteen years very lonely; just as I suspect it’s been a lonely one for millions of other people coping with complicated grief or grief they don’t understand.
Grief, in general, is almost if not always attributed to physical death. Unless loss has been experienced as such, most people would never consider themselves a griever. For the most part, they don’t know anything about grief. It is something that happens to other people. They don’t want to think about death. (I was in that category pre-bereavement too.)
Yet, thinking about all of the different losses we collectively experience on a regular basis; many that leave people trapped in emotional pain and coping with difficult challenges that can last for years, most people have no clue that it is grief that is directly responsible for their misery, related to loss that has nothing to do with a physical death. Various symptoms of grief can be experienced from relationship breakups, job loss, abuse, life changes, illness, lost dreams, longing for what was, feeling directionless or having no hope at all, and a host of other problems we humans regularly face. In fact, none of us can get through life without some difficulty. Whatever has pained a person and not been dealt with, and for certain, wherever the pain is prolonged, this is grief.
I write extensively about this in my book Divine Healing because I am so passionate about bringing an awareness of grief and all of its effects to others to show how deceitfully ensnaring and harmful grief is; not only for those of us living with the obvious pain and suffering one would expect after losing a child or other loved one to a particularly painful death, but for extended family and friends as well.
Grief is described in the dictionary as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow or painful regret”. Well, who of us hasn’t suffered distress over a past breakup or divorce, lost income, childhood and/or adult abuse, mistakes and regrets? Even one of these experienced, if it has been painful enough, causes us to feel some or many symptoms of grief that we experience from a death. Which is why I’m adamant that none of us are so different from each other after all.
Because I was like the millions of other people completely unaware of grief, despite being a sounding board for many others’ pain from whatever difficult experience they were going through (my own adult life had been pretty good up until then); when my daughter ended hers in 2005 and my family was thrown into a tailspin of suffering that has taken years to escape (we are only now starting to feel the good), I know with certainty that our pain has not been so different from that same pain I witnessed when friends divorced, lost parents, suffered illness, lost jobs, suffered financial difficulties or were living with past or current abuse (to name a few), though the symptoms of grief can and do vary greatly. Pain is pain. Grief is grief.
Because we are taught in western culture to tough it out and survive whatever difficulty we are going through (and quickly please), any weakness is seen as a liability in many areas of community: the family, workplace, social. After my bereavement and through my consulting practice, I met countless people grieving – some a difficult death – that right after the funeral, friends wanted them to host or attend social events as usual. Bosses want them to return to work after a respectable few days off. The family were either told lies about the cause of death or didn’t understand the impact of grief and so it was carry on as usual. Almost everyone I counselled or talked to as friends or acquaintances, believed that returning to all this with a brave face was expected. Something was wrong with them if they didn’t. All were too unaware of their own suffering to contemplate that they couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing any of the above.
I fought long and hard to express myself from my earliest grief and as the years have passed, to take however long I need before I may choose to declare I am fully healed from my pain. Until then, I’m on a journey to understand my changing grief; and these days, contemplating whether or not it’s even possible to fully heal (how could I not live feeling sorrow for the loss of my child)? Never mind what western cultural conditioning may have demanded from me over these long and lonely past years, standing up to the pressure by vocalizing my needs to those around me – near and dear or further removed – has been freeing and inwardly powerful. It has led me to live authentically in every aspect of my grief, including the lowest points (there have been a few).
Whether or not you are a griever can only be answered by understanding the many complexities of grief and doing some inner digging to know what you are feeling from any painful experience you believed dealt with long ago, or avoided altogether. If you’re not fulfilled, happy or content, there likely is pain and grief from some experience. While none of us can sustain any of these feelings all of the time, your baseline functioning (how you go through life) can tell you a lot about unresolved pain at the deepest level of your being.
If digging into your inner self right now feels too taxing, having an awareness of what others are going through in grief can ignite the compassion you need for yourself to find the courage to face your own trauma and pain.
Visit Living Meditations for meditations and informational videos on grief, self-empowerment and healing.