In the wake of tragedy, collective or personal, there is a modern tendency to shy away from our grief, rather than to embrace it. After being impacted by collective events like the Paris attacks, Beirut bombings and the ongoing Syrian War, we have a shared grief that needs to be processed and, if allowed, that can ultimately lead to healing.
Although grief is a natural process, many of us were taught from a young age to contain our feelings and to act like we’re OK even when we’re not. Emotional pain and grief can be so frightening that we try to push it away and distract ourselves to avoid truly feeling it. C.S Lewis said “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
Witnessing someone else’s grief can be confronting in that it reminds us of our own past losses or ones we will face in the future. By accepting our own grief we might find it easier to have empathy for another’s heartache.
What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught? What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway? Grief and the love of life are twins, natural human skills that can be learned first by being on the receiving end and feeling worthy of them, later by practicing them when you run short of understanding. – Stephen Jenkinson, Author
A Chance to Heal Our Deepest Wounds
When natural disasters or other globally traumatic events occur, there’s a collective experience of shock and grief. Often there’s widespread media coverage of the event, which reinforces a sense of national tragedy.
People feel the need to share their sorrow and acknowledge loss even if the event hasn’t directly impacted them, and rituals such as funerals or spontaneous tributes and shrines are important therapeutic steps in the grieving process. It builds a foundation for the transition to a new beginning.
If we allow ourselves to experience the full impact of our grief, it has the power to heal the deepest of wounds. Shock is usually the first response to loss. It’s a protective transition into intense and overwhelming feelings that range from despair and anger to relief and joy.
People sometimes try to pull themselves prematurely out of their grief. They resist it because they think that what they’re experiencing is perhaps not normal, and carry thoughts about grieving that prevent real healing from occurring.
We Are Born Knowing How to Grieve
There could be pressure from friends and family, or a self-imposed expectation to move on. An “aren’t you finished grieving yet?” attitude rather than “Have you grieved enough? Have you cried enough?” How long it takes is individual, there is no time-line for grieving. We are concerned that openly letting out our sorrow will make other people feel uncomfortable.
Each culture has its own mourning ceremonies, traditions and behaviours to express grief. In a culture where there is an absence of real ceremony, where death is not fully integrated into life, holding back strong emotions might even be considered virtuous.
Yet we are born knowing how to grieve, crying naturally to release tension and purge emotions. Positive expressions of our grief can be healing, whilst suppressing it can be destructive and inhibit our ability to genuinely connect with others.
Grief Arises from The Soul
Grief undermines the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and the sanctioned behaviours of our culture. Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul. Contrary to our fears, grief is suffused with life force… It is not a state of deadness or emotional flatness. Grief is alive, wild, untamed and cannot be domesticated… It is truly an emotion that rises from the soul. – Francis Weller
By embracing our grief, we have the opportunity to not only heal our deepest wounds but also to tap into the creative force of those once-buried emotions. From this place of openness, we then have the power to take control of our own healing journey and inspire the world around us to do the same.
My 32 year old son suddenly died 6 months ago and I grieve every day. I imagine I will for the rest of my life. What I have discovered is that when someone sympathizes with me and shares my grief, I feel connected to them in a special way that helps me heal. In a way, by feeling my pain, if only briefly, they allow me to let go of mine, and that creates in me a feeling of gratitude and openness for their emotional generosity.
The ineffable sadness, although intense, is shared, creating a healing bond to the life source of others. This special bonding, I think, is the basis of so many rituals around death, and is what allows us to survive horrendous loss. In addition, those who survive a loss and those who share in it benefit from the grief process and it gives a new perspective about what is truly important in life. What is important about this article on grief is the idea that love is the only thing that has any chance of healing our wounds, and that even with wounds that can never heal, the attitude of love and gratitude makes life and its tragedies possible to bear.
My teenage Son and I recently lost his Mum. She died a beautifully serene death, just 2 months after a late diagnosis of stage 4 cancer of the oesophagus. She departed on her own terms, having shunned the trauma, pain and degradation of chemotherapy and chose instead to be clear and present as much as possible.
That was just over 3 months ago, but what has truly shocked us both has been the reaction of certain family (who all live far away) and a couple of supposedly close friends, all of whom initially offered their love, compassion and all sorts of help and support, but soon after seemed to ‘flip’ over into some kind of business mode devoid of empathy whereby they reacted as though grief was some kind of competition! I’ve tried to explain to my Son (and myself!) how some people are able to feel, accept and express their grief, but some work so hard at switching it off or suppressing it that they can unintentionally become extremely insensitive and sometimes cause all sorts of anguish to those who are most affected. I think it’s perhaps a form of regret or guilt tinged with envy, but it’s very sad to see people who claim some degree of spiritual understanding acting so terribly judgemental, even to the point of gaslighting!
It’s almost impossible to know why someone does such things, but it’s probably best not to have them around you, or their opinions occupying your mind like unwelcome guests! Harder still to love them and wish them the best for their difficult lessons, but it’s worth aspiring to!
Thanks for a wonderfully insightful article, I’ll be back for more! <3
Valuable tension between Stephen Jenkinson positing grief as a learned skill and as a valuable and valid on-going approach to living with death and loss and, on the other hand, grief as something we are born knowing how to do as we move away from grief through a cycle to acceptance. A valuable demonstration of the contradictory meanings and interpretations pointed at by those using the word “grief”.
We are not alone…each one of us has our own story
Thankyou so much for this article.. i have been trying to heal past trauma and greif.. lots of it.. but didn’t know where to start or how to heal.. embrace the greif and feel it.. then turn it into empathy and love.. thankyou
Wonderful article in alignment with my practice. As a Certified Grief Specialist, I educate my clients about the incorrect information they may hear concerning their emotions. I place high value on “Grief is Normal”. And of courage I encourage tears. We must continue to embrace our pain and grieve from our hearts not our heads.
A good article, the only thing that I find different for me is this idea that love is a skill that must be learned and grief can be the same. I did not learn love as a skill, I gave birth to my son and daughter and instantly tapped into the built in power of and sense of pure love… a beautiful breathtaking feeling. I did not need to learn that skill, it was there. I lose my son suddenly and learning to grieve as a skill feels completely different and almost impossible.
Wonderful article about how we deal with Grief and how we can join our energies with our separation and loss of partner-friend-companion-family and strengthen ourselves, our Being.