On Grief

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” ― Jamie Anderson

Grief is just love with no place to go.

Because that individual’s not around anymore.

They can’t hear your words.

They can’t respond to your words.

You can’t express your love in any way that’s meaningful.

All that love that is inside you, in its pure intensity …

All the feelings that you have, and want to open up and share …

None of that is possible

There’s only silence now.

There’s no-one there to listen.

There’s only emptiness.

The Pain of Separation and Loss

“Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its colour.” – W. S. Merwin

This beautiful, brief poem captures perfectly how a major loss affects the whole of life.

Everything we do, and every place we go, triggers thoughts and feelings of

‘how things used to be’, of

‘how things are today’ and

‘how we wish they were’.

Lessons I’ve Learned from Loss

The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief.” – Hilary Stanton Zunin

1. The people we love won’t always be around. Life can change in an instant, and permanently. Once it’s over, it’s over, and there’s no going back.

2. Loss shows us that time passes and comes to an end. The things that used to matter don’t matter any more. Grief crystallizes values and what matters most in life.

3. Grief follows its own schedule and trajectory. There isn’t a right way to work through grief. You take it as it comes, and take it one step at a time. It can’t be planned in advance, and it’s unpredictable.

4. Although life moves on around you as though nothing has changed, it’s OK if you focus on, and honour, what you’ve lost. Your grief is real and valid, and you should give it its place. You owe it to yourself to feel and process layers of loss.

5. There are some kinds of losses that will always stay with us. We won’t recover fully, or forget what we once had. There will always be a sadness, and heartache, and a grief. 

6. Over time, you slowly learn that joy and pain can co-exist. It doesn’t take away from the pain and loss you feel. But you see it’s possible to still experience happiness.

7. The landscape after loss is unfamiliar and unknown. We’re stumbling in the dark; nothing really feels the same. We feel that we have changed, and we’re strangers to ourselves. Also, there’s nothing that appeals or that draws any more.

8.  You feel so isolated – for no-one understands. It’s something you must face, and must live through, on your own.

9. Loss creates anxiety and deep insecurity. Your world’s fallen apart; nothing’s certain any more. You don’t believe in dreams, and you’re too afraid to hope. The future just looks bleak, and is something to be feared.

10. You appreciate the people who’re sensitive and kind. Who understand you’re grieving, and who let you take your time. They don’t have expectations. They never make demands. They let you just be real. They don’t need you to be strong.  

Living with Grief

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves.

When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float.

You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float.

After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out.

But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing.

But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart.

You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself.

And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side.” – Unknown

And you will come out the other side.

Slowly. Very slowly.

After what seems like an eternity.

But you will come out the other side.

The Journey Through Grief

The following is a wonderful description of grief, and how difficult it is to process trauma, pain and loss. Perhaps you’ll find it resonates with your experience.

“As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves.

When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float.

You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float.

After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing.

But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart.

You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

The waves never stop coming, but you learn that you’ll survive them.

And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too.” – Unknown

Yes, you will survive this experience as well. Right now, the pain is awful, but you’re going to make it through.

What can we do with those lost hopes and dreams?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having hopes and dreams.

In fact, it could be argued that having hopes and dreams is really necessary for living a full life.

They help to give life meaning. They generate new hope. A hope that gives us purpose. Something to work towards.

So when we’re hit with losses, and all our dreams dissolve, we don’t just snapped our fingers and move on with our lives.

It leaves a massive hole and a raw wound that spurts out blood. We feel bereft and empty. And the pain’s intolerable.

We need to mourn these losses, and not diminish them.

These dreams – they were important. And now they’re ripped to shreds.

What is” feels very different from how things should have been.

It’s not what we expected.

It’s right that we should grieve.

Grieving is dreaming in reverse.”

The Journey Through Grief

 

“Grief…is a sneaky thing, because it can disappear for a long time, and then pops back up when you least expect it.” – Lemony Snicket

I wonder if this has been your experience?

You think you’re moving on. Life is on an even keel. You’ve done a lot of work, and the trauma is receding. The nights are so much better. You’re not triggered quite as much. Sometimes you feel you’re normal. What an unexpected thing!

And then you hit some roadblock, and you’re right back at square one. You’re living in some time warp where the trauma feels so real. Now all the buried memories are resurfacing again. You thought this was behind you. Will you never, ever heal?

This happens to us all. There are many layers to grieving. We often do not realize the extent of all that damage.

But every time this happens, and we give ourselves permission to mourn and grieve our losses, we will heal a little more.

So do not be discouraged. Just stay with it. Feel the feelings. Your mind knows what it’s doing. You can trust the healing process.     

And one day you’ll look back, and you’ll see that things are different. The past has lost its power – though the memories still remain.  

Disenfranchised Grief (A Complicated Grief)

Our society has a poor relationship with grief. It’s a topic we avoid. It is too uncomfortable.

Yet, when we’re faced with betrayal there’s a multitude of losses that we’re forced to confront, and to try to integrate. They include:

– The loss of the relationship/ marriage you believed you had had (was everything a lie and a fantasy?)

– The loss of identity, self-worth and self-esteem

– The loss of the person you thought you were married to/ believed you were in a relationship with (as they clearly deceived you and had a hidden side)

– The loss of the future you imagined you would have

– The loss of emotional safety in your marriage (and possibly physical safety, too, if there have been affairs/ hook ups, and so on)

– The loss of confidence and trust in your spouse (will you ever be able to believe a word he says?)

A Complicated Grief

And the grief of betrayal is a complicated grief. In many ways, it remains hidden for the person hasn’t died. Also, you may still be in a relationship with them. And the emotions you experience are both intense and complex. Some examples are:

– The fear of judgment (since you know people will talk; they will look for any weaknesses and tear you both to shreds)

– A powerful sense of shame (an inappropriate emotion as, clearly, you’re a victim, and should not be blamed at all) 

– In addition, betrayed partners and spouses are usually traumatized, and they frequently suffer from PTSD.

Dealing with the Taboos

Also, it’s true that betrayal, and a sexual addiction, are still taboo topics in society today.

– This leaves us feeling very isolated and alone.

– You have to wear a mask, and pretend that you’re OK.

– You can’t talk about the losses and what you’re going through.

– You can’t talk about the pain, and how long it lingers on.

This is disenfranchised grief, a grief that’s difficult to bear. It is formally defined as being:

the grief connected to a loss that is unrecognized by society at large.[1]

What to do About it

Not sharing your experience will impede recovery. Being silenced by the world won’t enable you to heal.

So, if you can, share your story, and talk about your grief. Find someone who will listen, and who really understands.

You deserve to be supported. 

Don’t carry this alone.

The only cure for grief is to grieve.


[1] https://www.affairrecovery.com/newsletter/founder/infidelity-how-betrayed-grieve-properly

There is a Sacredness in Tears

You’d think that purchasing a graduation dress for your grand-daughter would be a source of pleasure. A source of happiness. After all, you really wanted her to know she’s beautiful.

But not if you found yourself in Auschwitz years ago, and you never had the chance to mark that milestone in your life.

This was the experience of Dr Edith Eger, a teenage survivor of the Holocaust. She found that she was weeping after buying that new gown.

Weeping unexpectedly, and uncontrollably.

Why?

She was weeping for the good things that were stolen in the camps.

She was weeping for the dreams that now can never comes to pass. 

For we don’t just mourn and grieve for all the heartache in our lives.

We also need to grieve for all those things we were denied.

So, it’s not just for the trauma, and the damage from our past.

It is also for the good things we had wanted, but can’t have.

We need to let the tears flow freely for what could and should have been.

All the great ideas and plans; and all the normal hopes and dreams.

For Dr Eger, this included simply going to a ball. And the chance to be admired. To enjoy being beautiful.

How does this apply to us?

In this blog we tend to focus more on those who’ve been betrayed. But any kind of trauma can affect us in this way. For example …

We may find we need to grieve because we can’t relax and trust (because our spouse deceived us, and has built a life on lies).

Or, perhaps we need to grieve because we’re not ‘the only one’ (as our partner was unfaithful, or has paid for online sex).

Or, perhaps we need to mourn because our children’s lives have changed (as their parents are divorced  and, thus, the family’s not intact).

Writing our own list

So maybe it would help if you could set aside some time, to think about your losses.

All the trashed and broken dreams.

For the things that didn’t happen,

All the stolen fantasies.

For the multitude of losses you have buried in your heart.

So why not start that process, and allow yourself to grieve.

You will find that it is healing.

It will soothe, and bring relief.

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief.”

– Washington Irving

Putting a Limit on Grief?

How long does grief last?

Should we all agree on a period of time that is reasonable for mourning a death, or a loss?

These are questions that are asked by psychiatrists when they are revising the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – also known as the psychiatrists’ bible.)

But how do you put a limit on grief? Is two years too long for the death of a marriage? Is five years too long for the loss of a child? Is eight years too long for repeated abuse? Is ten years too long for a genocide?

Surely grief doesn’t follow some set timeline.

And perhaps we shouldn’t ask it to fit into a box.

Taking a Deeper Look at the Dark Emotions

In fact, perhaps the dark emotions we associate with loss, like sorrow and despair, aren’t really dark at all. Perhaps they are quite normal, and deserve much more respect.

Why? Because they tell us crucial things about the human heart.

They tell that we love.

That we’re able to love.

That we greatly value love.

And we long to be loved too.

This means that the loss of something precious and loved is a terrible, heartbreaking, distressing thing.

It something we never, ever wanted to happen.

And something that we wish we could reverse …

And yet we can’t.

Society and the Dark Emotions

So perhaps the dark emotions – as society describes them – are called the dark emotions not because they are wrong … but because most societies can’t handle them.

Hence, it wants us to repress them, and pretend they aren’t there.

But when we, and other people, cannot tolerate these feelings – when we are expected to act as if we’re absolutely fine – then we’re left alone in that pit of pain and shame.

That is not a good thing.

A Better Solution

Instead, if we can give ourselves permission to walk towards our pain, and to honestly experience all the awful, dark then, in time, we’ll likely travel to the other side of grief. To that place where light and darkness are in balance, once again.

And that is much more likely to heal us in the end.