The loss of someone you love is often so intense that you may feel physically torn apart. In her account of the first month after her husband died, Anne M. Brooks* wrote:
“The first few days I feel as though I am sitting in a tree somewhere, watching myself perform. I try to do all the right things – the greetings to relatives, the thank-yous, the speech at the service, more thank-yous, more smiles, and more greetings. I am outside myself – as if I have switched off my feelings.
Except that suddenly, right in the middle of a conversation, a wave of reality washes over me and I have to leave, quickly, to hide somewhere. I have to hold on to something when it happens – a pillow, the refrigerator, one of his shirts – because of the terrible pain in my chest. Is it my heart? If I think of him, I have genuine waves of feeling sick as well as the pain.”
It is my belief that time alone will not necessarily heal such grief. Time can dull the pain; tranquilizers, alcohol, staying very busy and exotic vacations can also be ways to dull the pain. But dulling is not the same as healing. Healing is more than surviving and coping. Healing is thriving.
Healing takes incredible courage. Rather than trying to avoid dull, and go around the pain. True healing requires you to go right through the pain. If you keep trying to deny the grief and hold it in, you will not heal. Healing requires that you experience the grief fully, embracing the pain, the anger, the desperation and the depression. Only then will the grief truly release you and let you go on to live life fully and joyfully.
I’ve put together some suggestions on how to move through grief toward healing. These are general suggestions; if you are presently grieving, your situation may be different. If you find yourself not sleeping for several nights in a row, or becoming stuck in a major depression, or thinking suicidal thoughts, you need to see your physician or mental health provider at once.
7 POINTERS FOR MOVING THROUGH GRIEF
- Be clear with yourself and others that grieving is the main work you are doing right now. This work is as real as building a house or starting a career or raising children. To actually choose to move through grief and not to avoid it is real work. The goal of your grief work is emotional release. To feel the pain and heal it is the work you are doing now.
- Give yourself the time you need to grieve. It takes time. Do not try to be productive in other areas of your life. You may well need to take time off work or from your other duties. Healing is a slow process; don’t rush yourself or let others (however well meaning) rush you.
- Find a safe place to grieve. A place where talking and crying and screaming are okay. A place you don’t have to keep up a pretense that everything is okay.
- Find a safe person with whom to talk. A dear Sister at St. Scholastica in Fort Smith once said, “In His Divine economy, God heals people with people.” Find someone who has been willing to go into their own suffering so they will not judge you for going into yours. Someone who can simply be with you in your pain, will let you talk, rage and cry and will not try to make it “all right,” will not try to fix it and will not try to advise or lecture you.
- Express what you are feeling and thinking. Move that energy out of your body. Talk. Cry. Scream. Write. Sing. Take a rubber hose and beat up a phone book. Rock a pillow and wail. Throw paint on a canvas. Do whatever you need to do to express what is going on inside of you to the outside world.
- Treat yourself as gingerly as you would if you were just diagnosed with a terminal illness. As you grieve completely and deeply, you –will be open, raw, confused and vulnerable. Some researchers are finding that grief lowers the immune system, leaving grievers open to any number of illnesses that a healthier immune system would fight off. While you are grieving be very good to yourself–very- nurturing to yourself.
- Realize that you are working on a quality of being in which there is the potential for holiness Think about the term “a broken heart” – it has two aspects. On one hand there is definitely the suffering of a broken heart, and on the other hand is the freedom of opening up a heart that may have been closed. Opening the heart in such a manner can lead to beauty and richness of the inner soul which may not have been apparent before. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross put that thought this way, “should you shield canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their carvings.” People who have made their way honestly through great sorrow are nudged to their depths and can give so much to others simply by the realness of the Presence.
*The Grieving Time by Anne Brooks, Delapeake Publishing, PO Box 1148, Wilmington, Delaware 19899
Written by: Lee Cowan
Alzheimer’s Arkansas Programs And Services
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