Working With Grief
“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Last week I attended the BCCDA Conference. The last workshop of the day was about grief, by a grief coach Dr Catherine Hajnal (http://www.catherinehajnal.com/ )
This is my attempt to interpret what I learned and what that means to me, my clients, friends, family and community.
What constitutes a loss?
We grieve when we lose someone or something that matters to us. This “mattering” is defined individually: nobody can really measure whether the lost of a cat or a house tree would matter equally, less or more than the loss of a job, a friend or an entire country.
Losses may include big life events, from immigration to unemployment, death of a loved one or the loss of a house due to a disaster.
But even “happy” events may involve a sense of grief: a child moving away from their parents home to start college, marriage, getting a job, moving to a new house.
Because “happy” events are usually celebrated, the loss is not acknowledged and we may even feel guilty for our secret grieving.
Losses are never about “one” event: a single loss will always involve history, people, places, things or processes that may complicate your emotions.
When you work with people as I do, you are working with people who may be grieving for more than one thing and may not even be aware of it.
The worst you can do with their or our own grief is ignoring it and using platitudes to try to change the subject or cheer them up.
Only by acknowledging the loss, the grief and the ending of something may you allow a new beginning to take place.
The time of the heart (kairos) is different from the real time (chronos) : what a person may take a month to recover from, to other may take years…
Our society celebrates “being positive”, “cheering up” and the “glass half full”. Through acts of instant gratification and consumerism, the mottos of our times are “progress”, “growth”, “more”, “better” and “happiness and comfort at all cost”.
We are also forced to “work in teams” and people are urged to “make more friends” and “network”, competing on how many followers they have on the new social media “hype” and worried about how many of those hit “like”.
But grief requires solitude and reflection, deep connections and engaged listening.
Losses usually carry unmet needs: when experiencing a loss, people may also lose the sense of self, of safety and security, competence and contribution and connection to others.
The process may affect more than one dimension: mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally.
More than about getting over the loss, we may need to help them (or ourselves) to discover and learn how to live in a new way, a difference sense of “normal”.
One loss that was not acknowledged in this workshop was the collective loss caused by social inequality and oppression, by climate change and a culture of waste and pollution.
They didn’t talk about the deep grief for the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems that support our lives.
They didn’t talk about the expected losses to come: the loss of freedom, quality of life and the shame and frustration for feeling unable to change things around the enormous predicaments we face as our civilization and systems slowly crash.
This conference took place last Thursday and Friday (March 10 and 11). On that same Friday, Naomi Klein, autor of “This Changes Everything” spoke at the SFU Public Square (you can watch/hear the entire presentation here, the good stuff starts at the 16th minute)…following her presentation, there was a screening of the documentary of the same name, which I watched at home…you don’t know whether you should scream, cry or celebrate after watching it, as it shows both “sides” of the coin, with one side with more “coins” than the other.
I learned a lot about how to support my clients, co-workers and friends when they are grieving for a loss, real or imaginary.
The things that don’t help are denying, minimizing, avoiding or what’s called disenfranchised grief.
What I didn’t learn is how to support myself and the others out there who everyday face the awareness of the status of our world.
This excellent article by Adrian Ayres Fisher, “On Pretending That What’s Happening Isn’t Actually Happening” resembles my own process of grieving. While I have many other (personal or professional) reasons for grieving, starting by the fact that I am living my life away from the land and people where I was born, my journey through a much deep grieving started a few years ago when I “got” (emotionally and spiritually, more than mentally or physically) the length and depth of our collective predicaments and where we are heading…
As Adrian in the above article, what has worked for me has been finding the others, connecting with nature and embracing compassion.
This type of grief never goes away, no “five stages” work here and if they do, they are never a lineal process.
But through this grief, I am slowly discovering the true mining of life and interconnectedness. And that alone is a hidden and unexpected gem.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~ Rumi